The Gospels and Letters of John were written in the midst of theological debate. One’s place within the community was defined by one’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah. At first, believing Jews distinguished themselves from others in the synagogue by their confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Then, when the community of believers separated from the synagogue, their confession defined them over against the pagan, Greco-roman world.

Alan R. Culpepper: 1998

Okay, I admit it; I’m often coming back to community as a theme. In fact, were I to be completely honest, I would say that it is central to my own longing that lies at the centre of my faith. And, if I continue on this trajectory, I guess it is also why I am so invested in the necessity for healthy and effective leadership. The promise of a healthy community depends on the leadership that models it.

The quote from Alan Culpepper, I believe, offers a pretty interesting way in which to read the Sacred Stories about the Community of John, and generally the Gospels and the New Testament. If you’re looking for something to read this summer … use this lens for the New Testament: the text should be read in the context of communities that are in conflict – both internally and externally – in their understanding of who Jesus was and what it means to be community. Read this way, suddenly they feel very real … especially in their comfort to claim who is right and who is wrong … orthodoxy is a pretty old temptation!

Triumph of Orthodoxy

I recently had coffee with a friend who shared her own hope for community and the difficulty it takes to make that happen. The conversation ranged from the secular to the spiritual and how, more often than naught, regardless of context it can feel like an uphill battle at times. Whether it’s something that ranges from a question of theology – so who is God? What about Jesus? – to the very practical reality of living besides one another – ‘how do we respectfully address conflict’ to ‘whose turn is it to do the dishes anyway?’ – community, wherever and however it is lived out takes work and, sometimes, one wonders (not necessarily inappropriately) ‘why bother?’

So, here’s the difficult transition … rest assured, however, it is about community! The other piece that has been formulating, perhaps even fermenting, is what would an intentional community look like … I know, I know, I have talked about this … but I am thinking more specifically now, and in particular in our United Church of Canada context. And even more pointedly within The Conference of Manitoba Northwestern Ontario in Winnipeg Presbytery.

Winnipeg Presbytery is wrestling with the idea of church growth and what does and can that look like? We are also wrestling denominationally with shrinking attendance, generational divides and demographic hurdles. One of the consistent things that arises, vis-a-vis the Emerging Spirit findings, is that people are wanting community and are, once trust has been established, willing to commit to it. If you look to our Brothers and Sisters south of the 49th there are intentional communities being established, quite often grounded in a faith perspective. It is my feeling, hope and inference that it is time we begin to start to consider this as a possibility, one that also requires some action much sooner rather than later, and I would like to begin to offer my inner monologue to others to help, through challenge and reflection, what that might look like.

To conclude the conversation part of the blog, I will present some of the ideas in a bullet format. Hopefully, as the conversation unfolds, there might be an opportunity to more fully flesh out some if the ideas. This fall, as Winnipeg Presbytery continues to consider what’s next, perhaps this might be a discussion that evolves into a proposal …

These are just an outline of some of the thoughts that I have had and are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to nurture a conversation. Some things to consider, again in no way reflecting a complete list, are:

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