I read this Tweet yesterday :
“When did we see you at the border and turn you away?”
And Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the thousands of Guatemalan men, women, and children at the Texas border, you did to me.”
How should the Church react to such a plea?
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians says
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those were near. For through Jesus we both have access to God by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” *1
When, and by whom, this was written is still heavily debated. It’s most probably before the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem but how soon after the resurrection of Christ is difficult to discern. *2 What may be clearer is that Church, as we know it, was far from the scene! Those following Jesus would have frequented the Synagogue but also have developed a passion for meeting with fellow believers in suitable houses. There was a leadership of sorts, but with little or none of the pomp and ceremony of today. The hierarchy of the ‘church’ would have been minimal. I sense a rich debate between those who attended such ‘house groups’, listening and (hopefully) constructively arguing points, as was the vogue of the times, to getting a better understanding.
I have been to Durham Cathedral today, trying to grasp the enormity and significance of the place. I have been afforded the luxury of seeing films of the history of its construction, the development from being a Benedictine Monastry to becoming an Anglican Cathedral. I watched as myriads of, today wind-swept, visitors wandered in and looked up at the vaulted ceiling, the differently carved pillars, passed by the tombs of Bede and Cuthbert. I noted those who lit candles, who attended a time of prayer in the Feretory, those who looked in astonishment at the architecture. The steward told us that this was a “living church”; hence the times of prayer and communion on offer each day, and she recollected the services of thanksgiving for the Mining Unions. I also noted the cost “£15 per minute” to keep the place going.
Personally I struggle with this tension: of maintaining such a structure based upon the tradition, the legacy of those thousands of years of prayer, that heritage, that history, and how it can adapted to meet the needs of those in the 21st Century.
It brought me back to rural churches. Was there something I could consider at such a site as Durham Cathedral which could apply to rural churches?
Many towns have a number of churches in various forms or denominations. Many are also struggling due to falling roles, reduced membership and/or Sunday attendees. If ‘Church’ were to be truly ecumenical, what might it need to do to adapt?
What might Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists need to amend to meld together? What golden thread might they wish to hold onto tightly, those redlines?
I thought of Outler’s Quadrilateral: Scripture; Tradition; Experience; and Reason. Scripture can take many forms for the ‘word of God’ can be forthtelling through the Bible, prayer and prophecy. It also needs interpretation and discernment. Tradition may be considered that template which is the starting point, based upon history and formation, from which we move forward : it may not be something we adhere to, not be constrained by. Experience, based upon our context, is what we can draw from today. However, we must be careful that we carefully define from where this experience originates. It is a bit like ‘snowball sampling’ where errors or bias can be inferred if we only ask those who share our own opinion – often seen on social media polls.
Do we ask of the experiences of those who remain or those who have left the church?
Lastly, reason may be the culimination of the other ‘legs’, again based upon context, so we can draw together what scripture, tradition and experience has given us.
So what of the original tweet?
Given our scripture which inspires us to make disciples, our tradition which is heavily focused upon prayer, the experience of declining membership and of reduced spiritual involvement, we are left with reason. Does the church remain within focal points such as large buildings, often costly to run, or become more transient in terms of moving where the need is, focussing upon people-centred activity.
As respondents have said before there is merit in such buildings as cathedrals but the church may need to consider where may be the focus in the decades ahead, with reducing financial funding.
I’m constantly drawn again and again to Acts Chapter 2 and the revelation of the Spirit, not to a church, but in a house, and where a movement started. Yes, by 28 October 313 Christendom was formed, but we may wish to consider our path now.
What are your thoughts?
*1 Ephesians Chapter 2 v17-18
*2 Fowl, Stephen.E., Ephesians : Being a Christian, at Home and in the Cosmos, (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), p. 18.