Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Ways of Being Church

Lately I have been reading about new ways of being Church, or in other words, new forms of community life. While many people see the Anglican Church in the UK as declining, and perhaps it is, they at least have dealt with the issue with a national program called Fresh Expressions which can be found in the link at the end of this post. The Anglicans, like most other denominations are facing hard times these days mostly due to finances. Let's face it, those of us in full time parish ministry see the writing on the wall. How can our parish communities sustain our current situation. Most people don't realize the cost of maintaining a physical plant with high mortgages, heating and cooling costs, maintaining the physical plant, not to mention insurance and everything else. Several years ago Brian McClarnen and others created the Emergent Church movement as a way to try to "be Church." Smaller, more intimate settings, not focusing so much on building and material things but on true community life. After all, what do we read about in the Book of Acts? The early Christians focused on the prayers, the breaking of bread, and charity. They met on the "first day of the week' which was Sunday and then went back to work, mostly as farmers and day laborers. They certainly didn't have to pay insurance, mortgages, or cut the grass!

Fresh Expressions is just one way of dealing with the issue. The main problem is that most of us in "Church land" are not dealing with the problem at all. A friend of mine has a parish that has to deal with a major roof repair let alone upfitting the ancient heating and cooling system. Who is going to pay for this? People come and go in parish life. We live in a culture where people move for new jobs, homes, or work without batting an eye. Most people are not that committed to their local parish. They have other forms of community too, their local neighbors, YMCA, or other associations. Furthermore, Generations X'ers and Y'ers and the new "Millenials" as they call them are not interested in keeping large building afloat. But they are interested in community life that is engaging, serious, stimulating, and fulfilling. They are interested in learning about Christianity in a way that is honest and real. They are not interested in yard sales, sisterhood meetings, flower committees, or big buildings. They are interested in charity and helping others. They are not interested in Friday night bingo.

I am not sure what the answer(s) are but I am sure that we need to begin to think about them.