So (rather than assume you know the church calendar) this is time when church-life begins to peak prior to the summer lull. The May-long-weekend marks its beginning and often – in The United Church of Canada (UCC) – the gathering of our regional bodies (church-speak Conferences) is the pinnacle and then people often disappear until the fall! I think it’s partly connected with an agrarian context that is still part of our story and also the reality that summer – especially in the Canadian Prairies – is rather short!
Last week, I had the geeky-goodness (and often resulting exhaustion) to be in the tech booth: you know Power Point, videos, tweeting and doing a lot of stuff on the fly. People often think tech people are grumpy. I think, however, it’s more because we’re in a shared collective Flow, meaning we’re not completely playing on the same field of reality as others … Regardless, for the 90th gathering of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, I got to be in one of my happy zones!
Being in that happy place means been pretty sedentary and sitting for vast amounts of time through the entire day of learning, business, and worship. So – during one of those moments – I was privileged to hear the reflections and speeches of those who are walking into a new stage of their ministry: retirement!
One of the retirees – during his sharing of experience and hopes, challenges and dreams – offered the following: when he starts looking for a faith community in which he will begin to worship, the worship experience and the Reflection have to answer a simple question each time he leaves: so what? Easy, right … I mean no pressure on the musicians, worship leaders and faith community … Joking aside, it certainly is both thought provoking and appropriate to want something other than to be merely entertained …. Need alone bored!
When we talk about what it means to be the church and what’s church’s role, in church-ese we’re talking missiology. What’s the mission of the church? What’s She called to be both to the faith community and to the wider world?
There have been times (in the last 2000+ years of journeying) that Christian communities have been able to answer that well and succinctly. Not always to the benefit of others, but the clarity has often been grounded in a well-meaning intention. Though – admittedly – not always lived out in ways that have been generative for everyone. Some might even challenge whether Christians simply hide behind ‘good intentions’ …
So What? Well I’ve been musing ever since then. And here is where the question has taken me:
As many know – whether UCC particularly or within the larger Christian milieu – we’re facing changes that are huge and have not been seen in generations. Even at the time of the founding of the UCC denomination 90 years ago – though it occurred in a time of shifts and change – culture and Christianity were still (generally) not differentiated in Canada. That – most certainly – is no longer the case.
So … here’s the so-what-punchline: if Culture and Christianity have been intimately intertwined for some time, what does that mean when they begin to unravel and gratefully so (in my opinion)? And – in this untangling – it seems we are presented with binaries that at one time seemed able to coexist:
- On the one hand church (when internally focused) creates a cohesive identity, while on the other the church is called to go out into the world;
- Sometimes the church (in the safety of community) nurtures and transforms members to attain their potential, while at other times, the church must walk in the midst of suffering caused by human systems. In these difficult places, we leave safe places in order to offer liberation from the oppressive realities all people face (regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual identity to name only a few of them)
- And in these binaries, how might we imagine new ways to begin to reconnect that which now seems asunder?
Here – ultimately – is where this ‘so what’ musing has gotten me: regardless of the ‘truth,’ the Good News we long to share (thought certainly relevant and longed for) is seen (from a secular vantage) as simply a judgmental and manipulative tool. Church is seen as a particular social institution that has forced religion on people in ways that have not been transformative, but destructive. How we choose to respond to that critique, ultimately, begins to address whether we can adequately answer: So what?