Often – while trying to navigate change – there is a tendency to ask: “Who am I now?” Frequently – following conflict that has transformed – there is an inclination to ask: “What now? What next?” And – all to regularly – people and organisations that try to navigate uncertainty can find themselves paralysed, fearful and uncertain not only about what to do, but whom to trust. The church – as a body – is no different.
As mainstream Christian denominations imagine what ‘great’ might look like in the future, it becomes an exercise in imagination. Such endeavours, however, become difficult when it is unclear who we are supposed to be, not only to one another, but in respect to a secular culture with whom we seem – at the least – out of sync – and at the worst – irrelevant.
No matter how many experts we hire, no degree of a consultant’s wisdom, nor the depth of immersion of reading this or that, in my experience, is as richly rewarding or enabling as recognising that an intentional journey of remembering is where a community awakens. Remembering can be difficult, as it might highlight the assumptions that have developed over time. Remembering can be dangerous, as it holds the potential to lead us to places not only of lament, but to begin to risk. Remembering can liberate us from the anchors with which tradition and assumption weight us down.
Remembering is not an easy fix. Commitment to the work has to follow the passion to be part of something new – even if that new (in our Christian language) is very old: sharing the Good News! Remembering who we have been called to be, reconnecting with how we have done amazing things in the past, can rekindle us with the purpose that leads the Christian experience to risk, even if that means both literal and figurative death. Resurrection – not resuscitation – is central to what it means to be an Easter people!
Resuscitation, in my experience of rich conversation about church change and congregational development, can be symptomatic of our forgetfulness. Resuscitation holds onto a reality in which church has devolved to being a social club, intent on self-preservation. A history that continues to connect us with a short-term memory of what it means to be risk-averse, to be those who have been complicit in power. Resuscitation is – ultimately – grounded in a desire to be like we were with little to no change. Resuscitation is – in the end – about wanting what we had, so we can keep doing what we have done.
Resurrection, however, is about dying and being reborn. It is about seeing in new ways to share old messages. It is not about a redo, retry or play-over. Resurrection, invites us to connect with a church not at the centre of state, but one on the margins, free of the machinery that oppresses and harms. Resurrection is a remembering of being called to care for not just one another, but, also to help a world hurt and obscured from itself in the ensuing shadows of human systems. Remembering is vitality in the midst of sacrificing who we were, in order to be born again.
There is – however – no cookie-cutter model to remembering who we are. Each community, each person, each congregation possesses a wisdom longing to be (re)discovered. Yet – as the mystics have long taught us and is often forgotten in Protestant memory – it must begin in the discipline of study, prayer and contemplation. Listening – deep hearing – is not about solutions, but responding to a Creator who longs for us to recognise we are blessing, Beloved and meant to shine. Yet that awakening to remembering does not come quickly, but it does unfold richly.
So – in this time and place – with drawn breath on the precipice of awe, who might we hear we are called to be, who might we be reminded of who we are, if we listen …