Last night I took part in a discussion, one that I have taken part in before in different places and in different ways, and probably unsurprisingly I heard familiar arguments and laments. The topic was Community Cohesion, the resulting conversation centered around “what we can do for them”, and “how stretched we are already”. Yet again I am left wondering why it is that we miss the point with such regularity!
We have just entered the season of Advent, the season of longing and waiting, of looking for the coming of Christ, the one who breaks into our world. The season is two fold, it is a preparation for Christmas when we celebrate the world changing event of God’s coming in the tiny and vulnerable form of Jesus to reveal to us the love of God given as a gift to this world in need of revelation and love. We also look forward to a future in breaking and revelation, one that I have come to believe takes place through the church when we grasp the point that we truly are the body of Christ, agents of the coming recreative, healing and loving purposes of God. There was a time when I thought the breaking through would be out there, apart from my involvement, now I believe that I am called to join in, to be a part of what God is doing in our world today.
The mission/ direction of Christ is to come to, and to break through into our realm, to create a tangible bridge or a connection between heaven and earth, to show us that they are and have always been eternally connected. How odd it is that his followers so often don’t make that connection and so we fail to live as if all are connected and included. How is is then that as the church, Christ’s body on earth that we often miss the point, many times we set up events and we expect people to come to us, and don’t go to them except to invite them to come to us.
This has got me thinking so I am posing some questions:
How is it that when we are asked questions about our community that we don’t actually know the answers? How can it be that when somebody says what this community needs is a lunch club/ friendship group/ foodbank/ drop in centre… ( the list could go on), we respond by thinking that we need to supply it and bemoan the fact that we are already overstretched? Why do we think that we are alone in wanting good for our community?
Now I realise that I am being grumpy because there are many examples of good community cohesion, of inter-faith and multi-agency working, but I truly believe that if we took our calling to be salt and light seriously, that id we heard the Great Commission with new ears then we would live differently and probably suffer from less isolation and burnout. We would begin to be the good news, to live the Gospel out in our friendship groups, working and family lives in a way that the busyness of institutional church activities prevent us from doing.
Another thought is this, why is it that we are so fixated on keeping our buildings open? Keeping the church going so often equates to bums on seats, preferably on a Sunday morning and maintaining a building. What if there were fewer buildings, many people travel to a good distance to places of worship anyway, and more resources for mission? How would we be church without a building but with a million pounds? Or how might it be of we joined with others and had fewer buildings releasing some of our resources for mission..?
What would a church that met in homes look like, of course there are some, and you need only read Acts to find out. Would we dare to pool our personal resources and how might that impact our lives and the lives of others? What if we looked to be community more than we sought to serve our community as if it were something separate from us.
None of this is new or radical, and yet too often when we consider being church those same old questions are asked about how we serve our communities and we continue to fight to do what has been done before. We highlight Sunday as if all of our weekday efforts are to win people to Sunday rather than to share the day by day good news, we struggle with our buildings, we put on events and run clubs, we stretch ourselves to the limits and then retreat exhausted to our homes.
Surely there is another way…
Just Listen to the words of St Paul in the letter to the Philippians:
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing. (Philippians 2: 5-11 & 14-16)
And the words of Jesus:
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16)
Maybe when we talk about community cohesion we should think less about what we should do, and more about how we should be!
Maybe when we talk about community we should be seeking to be a part of something with others rather than serving others in the hope that they might join us.
This is not new as I have said, but it is something that we must continually rediscover.