Saturday, September 01, 2007

September 2007

Dear Friends

Questions for Reflection

I closed my last “… from the Rector’s Desk” article with two questions for reflection: “Why do you choose to express you Christian Faith within an Anglican environment?” and “Why have you chosen Corpus Christi as that Anglican environment?” – I wonder if you’ve taken some time to reflect on them? And if you have, what interesting insights your cogitation has raised? I spoke to someone just this morning who is considering joining us: we appear to have a social conscience, and our more traditional approach and leadership structures create a secure spiritual environment. What’s your insight? Please share it!

The Mission of the Church

As you may be aware from my August article, I am grappling with what it means to do mission from an Anglican and Incarnational perspective. Eddie Gibbs, Anglican Priest for a number of decades, and retiring professor of Church Growth at the School of World Mission at Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary, has some helpful insights in his first chapter that I share below:

The nature of doing mission in Southern Africa is complex. In our more rural communities there is still a high level of cultural cohesiveness and a community commitment to traditional values, and the Church still plays a significant role. However, impacted on by Western norms and a global economy, our urban areas are increasingly what Eddie Gibbs in his book Church Next describes as “multiethnic and socially stratified urban societies impacted by modernity and postmodernity, where there is increasing differentiation and fragmentation. Society is splintered into a complex range of groups that collide with one another and reconfigure like the coloured glass shapes in a kaleidoscope. Furthermore, individuals find their own lives compartmentalised among the workaday world, home, leisure pursuits and participation in voluntary organisations.” I see reflections of our Corpus Christi community in these words. For many of us Church (a voluntary organisation) is compartmentalised into Sunday morning: not that we exclude Spirituality and Faith from the rest of our lives, but that the pressures of life are such that time for Church is just not available elsewhere in the week. As Church we need to find new ways of doing things that enable the mission of the Church to do more than survive: we need to enable it to burgeon abundantly into life.

As Anglicans we generally are averse to change, especially those of us who hail from an older generation, and if change MUST happen, PLEASE let it be slow and incremental! Eddie Gibbs says that, “… in the culture of postmodernity, change is discontinuous rather than incremental. It comes rapidly and without warning.” How do we as Church respond – other than putting our heads in the sand like Ostriches? There is a need for flexibility. There is also a need for rapid response, because the next change will be upon us and it will be discontinuous, it will be out of relationship with the previous change attack. Strategies of mission and ministry that worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, and may not work today.

As Anglicans we are used to people coming to us, we are uncomfortable with going to people. Again, Eddie Gibbs reflects that in our growingly postmodern society “Churches cannot stand apart from society and invite people to come to them on their terms. Rather, churches must go to people where they are and communicate in terms that will make sense to them, addressing issues that shape their lives and speaking their language.” He goes on to say that the Church’s response “… will need to make the transition from an invitational strategy to one of dispersal, with a sustained commitment to infiltrating each segment of this fragmenting world.”

As we grapple with the nature of postmodern society Eddie Gibbs also reflects that effective mission “necessitates an unconditional acceptance of those who are content to live with ambiguity, and it requires humility to communicate in open dialogue with those who hold a pluralistic worldview.” As Anglicans, are we comfortable with this perspective? For those of us who grew up in Apartheid South Africa we grew up in (fabricated) mono-cultural environments that the Church – at parish level – largely reflected. I am reminded of a conversation with the Churchwarden soon after my arrival at Corpus Christi in which Corpus Christi was declared an “English-speaking Congregation”: an effective attempt to avoid the growing multiethnic and intercultural nature of our parish. Yes, we are uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable or not, the approach proposed by Eddie Gibbs is deeply INCARNATIONAL, and if you cast your mind back to my comments in August, Anglicans are by tradition deeply Incarnational in our theology and practice. What is required of us is a willingness to embrace a society in transition, and rather than feeling threatened, to embrace change in all its discontinuity and chaos. We need, in Eddie Gibbs’ words, to “be prepared to witness with vulnerability and humility from the margins of society.” What is our model? – none other than the early Church! We need to re-embrace the Gospels, the Epistles and the history recorded in the Book of Acts, as well as the writings of the early Church Fathers. We need, too, to re-invest in our Anglican traditions and profound symbolism.

Honesty and authenticity are the marks of effective Church mission for both the present and the future; the Gospel of God’s grace, and not the Gospel of traditionalism and legalism. We need to shed the image of judge, and take on the role of “fellow-traveller” with those who are caught up in the uncertainty and often hopelessness of postmodern, urban society … and so draw them gently into relationship and wholeness in Christ.