Posted 15th November 2015
This entry comprises the start of a proposed time-to-time series of descriptions of the story of a small church congregation seeking viability in integrating with its local community. For the sake of some confidentiality we shall name it the Milpara Congregation. The stories will be a composite of the experiences of a number of separate congregations but describe events and activities which actually happened. We invite viewers of this site to send in reports and comments on their own experiences in integrating church and local community.
FORWARD TEN YEARS?
The Milpara Congregation is keen to continue the fellowship of its members and to maintain a Christian presence in its community. It recognises, however, that with the ageing of its members (average age in the area of 60 years) the drain on their energy and likelihood of insufficient financial backing to maintain a full-time minister, it needs to have a serious look at planning for a way forward.
One of the members suggested the formation of a small cell of committed people to plan for the future with a vision as far as the next 10 years – Committee 2025.
The first meeting was held this week in a relaxed two-hour session over lunch. There was an encouraging attendance of six people.
There had been no expectations, of making decisions on the day. In fact the aim was just to encourage participants to make a list of ideas, no matter how wild and woolly or impracticable they might seem. Following this meeting they were to seek ideas of other people as well and then, given a 10-year perspective, take time in selecting suggestions and throwing them open for the congregation to discuss and in due course perhaps take action.
It turned out, however, that the results did not get that far. All seemed to agree that the world at large, whom we would hope to attract to the Jesus way, are largely ignorant about what Christianity means and illiterate when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Strong contrasts arose, however, as to how to respond to this environment.
The main difference on the surface (although there are other deeper implications) was in relation to the value of facing newcomers with our traditional religious practices in activities other than worship services. Such religious practice would include prayer, hymns and preaching, Bible reading and the use of religious language – “God-talk”.
One side reckon that we would not be true to ourselves or demonstrating to the people in the street what Christianity was all about, unless we required people to accept these religious practices when non-members were associated with us, even when not in the context of a service of worship.
The other side, see public religious practice as not being at the heart of the gospel. To them compassion, forgiveness and loving one’s enemies is closer to the spirit of Jesus. In a world biblically illiterate and unfamiliar with the essence of Christianity, religious practice can inhibit or even repel people whom we wish to associate with us. An instance is recalled whereby one member on a “secular” walking-group excursion insisted on saying a “Grace” before meals. The other members of the group were offended by this.
There is a need to work around these difference in finding policies and practices which are attractive to people outside the church so that we can draw them to Jesus. Until we have a clearer vision of the way we see expression of our faith in the future, we are going to find it hard to agree on what practical steps to take.
It can be said that in seeking to bring the local community to freely interchange with its church congregation Milpara favours the second approach. As long as it does not compromise the principle of love we may actually reinforce that key principle by not insisting on our own religious practices but by “doing what the Romans do”.
So, although this Committee 2025 did not make any firm decision for action and the way forward may be more of a struggle than might have been hoped, there was unanimous agreement that there should be more of this relaxed analytical discussion – with or without the lunch – and it was agreed to carry on with it in 2016.