Sunday, 3 July 2011

Listen, Build, Engage, Share … an article written for a Danish web portal

Sometimes we only write because other people ask us to write. So thanks to Christian Cohr Arffmann for asking me to write. Now my jottings have been translated into Danish. Perhaps I will get around to writing the four other particles I thought about as I was writing this. It's not very edgy, but perhaps that's what you get when you ask a church bureaucrat to write. Oh dear is that really what I am? aie!
Anyway here it is ... and you can read the Danish here.

The future of the church is not behind us. That may sound obvious, but often in western Europe our vision for how the church should be is modelled on how things were in the past. Yet globally today’s church is youthful, it’s growing and it's engaged with people in their daily struggles for life, existence and meaning. Millions of people in today’s world continue to be inspired and transformed by the words and story of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s difficult to know how many Bibles are being printed in China today; nearly impossible to count how many meals Christians serve to the world's hungry each day. That should be reason to hope and give real energy for the future. We need to listen to stories of hope and change and allow ourselves to be fed by them.
In rural Tanzania a young Anglican community worker, employed by a Lutheran agency, encourages people in civil society to take action to safeguard their right to water. Working with local mosques and churches is an important part of that advocacy and education. To make a change in people's daily lives in a meaningful way, building bridges across denominations, across religions and engaging with civil society is essential.
Across the world working for transformation, development or education means tapping into the extraordinary network of professionalism, creativity and community that is the church. Not many other organisations have the inbuilt capacity for national and international advocacy while maintaining strong local involvement.
Sometimes in western Europe the picture looks different. Of course some parts of the church will not continue in their present form. There are institutions that will not survive, buildings that will be closed. There is pain and grief when things die. There are also real worries: will there be churches committed and able to take the agenda of social justice and peace into the future? It can be a frustrating and very challenging time for institutions, desperate to hold on to and assert their identity.
Nevertheless, I believe that what is emerging is a complex picture of new ways of belonging to church and practising faith. People will shop around for a community which "fits" their needs at a particular time in their faith journey. At the same time there is enormous gospel creativity, new forms of church - not so based on denominations - are emerging. People want to bear witness to the gospel that inspires them, be involved in practical service with the suffering and dispossessed, using church buildings in new ways, discovering both a new monasticism and a new ecumenism - look at the exciting development in the harbour of Hamburg, where 18 churches decided that instead of building their own places of worship, they would pool their resources in one ecumenical centre. Others like the Moot project in Britain live out their faith in small groups in the heart of vulnerable communities - daring to live alongside and share with those whom society would rather forget about or scapegoat.
So are we dreaming the right dream for the future? Do we want something big and powerful when the future of the church - at least here in western Europe - may lie in something smaller but much more transformational. Worldwide most Christian churches exist in the context of being minorities. This needs to inform how we dream and hope. We need to let those biblical kingdom visions of yeast, seeds and hidden treasure inform our theology of hope more clearly.
One thing I believe I discern in the current situation of the church globally is that many Christians are learning that there are people working for peace, justice, health and service from all parts of the church.
The World Council of Churches recently held an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica. At the gathering in Kingston extraordinary stories were told, a common spirit for peace with justice was discovered and celebrated as we read the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace. The stories of the encounters and experiences of Christians and churches working for social justice and to overcome violence will go on being told.
The Quaker theologian Grace Jantzen repeatedly points to how Christian theology needs to focus more on that which is "natal" rather than that which is "mortal". Human beings are made for life. Are our churches able to do that?
We need to be challenged by social media and networking in the way we build the future. We need to find ways for our stories of life, hope and inspiration to go "viral". But we can be encouraged by social media, which focus on four key words: Listen, Build, Engage, Share. That’s not a bad starting point in charting a path for the future of the church.

1 Comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.