Thursday, March 06, 2008

March 2007 - Transition towards a greater inclusivity

Dear Friends

Transition …

Transition is another word for change, but one that reflects a journey: a move from one state of being to another. Life in the 21st century is full of change on a complexity of levels, often leaving us “changed out” and desperately seeking constancy. One place that we seek this constancy is in the Church, and yet the church itself is only a microcosm of the greater world. The Church is impacted by the society in which it exists, and is drawn into the transitional journeys of the communities it serves.

… a journey toward Christ-likeness

Corpus Christi is in transition, we are on a journey. This journey primarily should reflect a movement towards deeper Christ-likeness; our Christ-likeness embracing the transitional journeys of our society. One of the ongoing transitions in our society is a move away from racial discrimination towards a greater wholeness of relationship on the basis of our humanity, and while our new Constitution embraces this, we still struggle with unchanged attitudes (as seen recently on the campus of the University of the Free State). There are other areas of concern in our wider society, including the disturbing growth in xenophobic behaviour with its basis in ethnic discrimination given increasing momentum by the huge influx of refugees from Zimbabwe in particular, not to mention the draw-card our economy is to others within the African continent.

… a greater inclusivity

As our South African society struggles to deal with these complexities a real opportunity develops for the Church to give leadership in this arena. One of the defining imperatives of the Church is to be inclusive in embracing all of God’s people. Mission and Evangelism from an Anglican perspective is to invite people into the Christian community and for them to be converted through involvement (rather than insisting people should be converted prior to being welcomed into fellowship as happens in some other denominations).

Being inclusive is an Anglican value. It is one of our Corpus Christi values as well: “… we offer inclusive, flexible, reverent and dignified worship opportunities”. What does it mean for us to be “inclusive”? Our roots as a parish are in the English speaking, high-church Anglican tradition. We began our parish life as a largely “white” Christian community in the early 1980’s. However, the picture has changed and we find ourselves in 2008 an increasingly diverse multi-cultural community with a broad representation of African cultural origins from both within and beyond the borders of South Africa. There is need for us to find ways to reflect this increasing diversity in our worship if we are to be true to our value of inclusiveness.

How to be inclusive is the challenge we face. Use of different languages, while being an option, is a difficult one due to English being the only language common to us all. The use of any other language automatically excludes someone from fully participating, yet says to those who do understand, “You are welcome in our midst!” The Liturgy in our Prayer Book is another uniting factor that offers room for creativity. Perhaps the answer is not in language, but in creatively exploring our set Liturgy from different cultural perspectives. Music can also be a powerful instrument of unity in the midst of increasing diversity, but requires a willingness to move beyond the British Colonialism of Hymns Ancient & Modern (even if revised!).

… constancy a barrier

All of this, however, undermines our deep and compelling desire for constancy. The response at our Annual Vestry to my Rector’s Report underlined this desire, and was reflected in the comment, “Why change what’s working well?” - A valid question. A question, though, that seeks to maintain; not a question that grapples with the imperative of our Diocesan call to become more mission focused, more evangelistically orientated.

The crux of the matter is that we are in transition: we seek to give Gospel values to this transition, making it a journey that we seek to direct and form. It is not a journey that we can control because it is a transition whose imperative is driven by the society in which we live; a society itself made up of a variety of cultural perspectives, themselves in transition. As a Christian community we are moving from a place that we understand and can define to a future that is emergent, but not yet clear. Our fear is letting go of what we know and have come to trust, and stepping out in faith to a future that is glimpsed dimly.

… a call to “Go!”

Even as I encourage us towards greater inclusivity in our worship (which will translate into greater inclusivity in other areas of our Parish life) I am not sure what this greater inclusivity looks like, I have no clear picture of where I want us to go. What I do know is that I have a deep desire to find out, to explore the possibilities, to move beyond our current boundaries.

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you …” (Genesis 12:1-2b; TNIV).

I hear the call for us to go to a new place – a new place of greater inclusivity, greater unity within our growing diversity – and I hear that we will be blessed. That was enough for Abram to comply and to be obedient. Is it enough for us?