Serving Each Other; Serving the World
This brief tagline, Serving each other; serving the world, attempts to focus our sense of God’s call as an Andrean community in Newlands. We seek to live out our Christian faith both in the context of St Andrew’s itself (the Christian community we have chosen to align ourselves with) and in the context of the greater breadth of our lives. This is a challenging task as we seek to “… witness to our faith by the courage of our lives” (from the Collect for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost).
At our Church Weekend at Volmoed in April this year, we again explored what it is to serve each other and to serve the world: we spoke about Being Church and Serving our Neighbourhood. We drew on Eddie Gibbs’ book, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, which he wrote in 2000.
We were challenged by three images of Church: the traditional image where people are naturally drawn to the church, aided and abetted by a Christian society, where the focus is often maintenance-minded; the modern image where church is separate from society, marginalised but still has some influence; and the postmodern image where the church seeks to survive as one segment in a fragmented and polarised pluralistic world, where each segment fights for its right to self-determination and where the church cannot assume a privileged position.
The challenge we face at St Andrew’s is that the bulk of our parishioners have been formed by the traditional and modern images of the church, and yet our present context is increasingly defined by the need to interact with the postmodern image, especially if we are to reach younger families in our community. This is specifically evident in our inability to integrate young families who bring children for baptism into our regular Parish life.
Everything about being Anglican in the traditional sense translates into us being maintenance-minded by nature. Our mission and ministry is built around inviting people in to participate in the life of faith inside the church as institution. Our increasingly postmodern context demands that we decentralise our mission and ministry by taking it out into the everyday life of each parishioner, and to function increasingly outside of the institution.
Eddie Gibbs says, “From a strategy of invitation the church must move to one of infiltration, to being the subversive and transforming presence of Jesus” (page 218).
Serving our Neighbourhood
Having been challenged by these images of church, we moved into groups to reflect on how we could infiltrate our neighbourhood, which we acknowledged was an area of discomfort but critical to our future as a church community. In facilitating this process, and in wandering from group to group, I was very aware how deeply embedded we are in traditional and modern images of church: most group conversations drifted quickly away from infiltration to invitation; and in the plenary session afterwards the cry was heard, “We LIKE who we ARE!”
We were able to acknowledge that we are broken, imperfect, and recovering human beings who don’t really have the courage to embrace the postmodern image of church. We settled with agreeing to embrace newer technology and social media as a means of better witnessing to who we presently are, and thereby better marketing our traditional image of church, which has value and meaning for us.
A Way Forward
It is good to appreciate who we are, and to value what we do. There is meaning in the manner in which we presently live out our faith as St Andrew’s Church in Newlands. We do serve each other; we do serve the world, substantially. The future of St Andrew’s, however, lies in the postmodern image of church.
This is a paradox we need to begin to embrace, and live. The gift of the postmodernity is its willingness to hold the both/and in tension and to live with the paradox this creates. This gives us space to acknowledge our formation in and our enjoyment of the traditional image of church; and yet desire to become relevant for the sake of Christ in the increasingly postmodern world that surrounds us and forms our children.
We discovered on the weekend away in Volmoed that there are some tools to help us begin this journey. Eddie Gibbs was useful here, “The response to Christian witness to a person enmeshed in postmodern categories must be that of the fellow traveller” (page 29). We don’t have to have the answers, we don’t need to be the expert; we are only required to be fellow-travellers with those who journey with us through the breadth of our lives; and we need to journey with honesty and authenticity, allowing our witness to Christ to be marked with vulnerability and humility.
Who has God placed alongside you? Who are your fellow travellers? How are you demonstrating honesty and authenticity in these relationships?