I want to pick up from my last post and consider an implication and approach to ecclesiology that differs somewhat from what is often presented. As I continue to wrestle with questions about the purpose and function of the local church, my conviction is that one of the reasons it exists is to make the community or neighbourhood in which it is located better. And this is even for people who want nothing to do with the church and Jesus and think they never will. I originally wrote most of this in November 2019 and later suggested it as a framework to shape a church I was working at then. I think there is something to this, something worth trying, at least.
When I was a child, before we moved from Tumbler Ridge, I lived in a world that seemed so big. I was surrounded by mountains and trees. We would bike down the street and circle around by cutting through the park behind the houses. Looking at the map, the park is not nearly as big or as long as I remember but the awe, wonder and imagination of a child made it seem that way. That childhood imagination is such an important thing. When we are children, we can imagine a world of so many more possibilities than the one we currently live in. But for a few moments, I want to return to the time when my imagination was a bit too big and lose myself in it and its possibilities.
Imagine a building where you could walk by and see people constantly coming in and out. People of all ages, races, types, with various interests and hobbies… all people. A building where people know: ‘if I go here I can be who I truly am and no one will judge me for it- a place where they can feel safe and whole and secure’.
Imagine a seldom-used kitchen that comes alive with a ‘kitchen basics’ class, with 10 people in the class. Half of the students are new to Canada, refugees and immigrants from afar who feel a bit overwhelmed by the differences in ingredients they find in Canada and just want someone to help them feel a bit more comfortable with things. A couple of college students are sick of cafeteria food and take-out but are not sure how to cook. Across from them are a couple of single parents, their partners did most of the cooking and now they need to learn. Finally, there is an older widower who just lost his wife who had cooked for him for many years and he knows if he continues to cook her recipes he can keep her memory alive, once he learns the basics.
Down the hall, a small group of people are gathered in a circle discussing a new book. Every second week they meet, a new book in hand, ready for another lively discussion. Across from them is one of the many ‘anonymous’ groups that regularly find their way through this space.
Upstairs there is the launch of an art exhibit from some local artists. It is nothing special, no one famous just some hobbyist with a place to show off what they are so obsessed with that they work on it until 2 AM night after night.
This evening is rather busy, a lot is going on. A couple of days later is a much quieter day. Only one room is full, the big one on the main floor, there is some music playing and almost everyone is joining in. As the music stops, someone shares some reflection and a story of hope in the midst of the travails of the world. A moment later, they are dismissed with encouragement to continue to live with that hope.
Yes… this is a church, but a church that offers itself as a building of hope and safety to the community.
The three legs of the church model I am proposing.
- Corporate Christian Worship focuses on the alternative subversive narrative of the table/cross; confession/repentance and forgiveness. The foreshadowing of the restoration of all things.
- Missional Communities are a microcosm of the church at large but they gather in homes and neighbourhoods to discuss, discern and participate in what is going on in that area.
- The Community Center is the place outlined above, where we allow hospitality to be encapsulated in how we use the property we have been entrusted with. People have needs, can we use the space we have to offer opportunities for those needs to be met.
More work and thinking needs to be done about this approach, and I am doing that. It is by no means novel or unique but I think it is a more healthy understanding of ecclesiology in post-Christian Canada.