Perhaps the biggest stretch for me was finding community at a silent retreat with 30 or so other people. How can one find community when you can't look at others let alone talk to them? After a couple of days I found that is was possible. Community was experienced in our common attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. With this revelation, practices like casting my gaze to the floor when passing by another ceased being cold for me and turned into a reverent awareness of the other. I felt like I was bowing to acknowledge my sister or brother as we passed each other in the hall. This community was formed by the awareness that we were on a common journey together. It was very rich.
It was easy to find community at Clergy College. All of us were partners in ministry. We were there to learn and get filled up, (this could be taken literally - the food was delicious and plentiful,) with knowledge and fellowship. There I found I had a common understanding with others, and a common need to rest, study and enjoy each others company.
And then there was the boys adventure week. We began as strangers. 4 Campers in their mid-teens, 3 Priests and 2 other Leaders. We did not have community at first, but community happened through shared experience. We shared our stories. Together we experienced things like stalking the lantern, canoeing during a down pour, suffering through my snoring... (I guess I missed out on that particular experience), and sharing adventures up and down the Saint John River all the while trying to figure out what it means to be a man of God. I feel closer to these guys now than I did at the first of the week because of the time spent.
I've been doing a lot of reflection in the past few months and even years about the need for the church to be a true expression of authentic community. Too often I believe we have been distracted by our agendas (to fill the coffers and the pew) and methods (you name the programs that, like fads, have come and gone over the past 20 years). This need for community came to a head for me while reading a book by George E. Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity can reach the West...Again. This book stressed how actions speak louder than words, that Christianity is caught more than taught, and that the most powerful tool for evangelism is Christian hospitality. Hunter painted a beautiful picture of the the Church as the Gathered Community. How do we move from buildings and programs to this kind of understanding of ourselves - and not just by knowing it but by living it?
How about a two pronged approach to share Christian community with those living and working places like the South End? The first is simply to eat with others once a week. The goal here would be to have fellowship with other Christians while inviting our neighbours, co-workers and people we meet on the street to eat with us. The aim here is simply to bless them through hospitality and to get to know them. Just picture it: half a dozen groups meeting weekly sharing the love of Jesus naturally with relative strangers around a dinner table. The only organization required is to know where and when the group is meeting and who is bringing what to eat. Simple, right? Who knows, maybe we could even organize larger community parties two or three times a year just to get the word out and celebrate this kind of community.
The second prong is to introduce people to the faith by way of a Christian Life Community (CLC) - or something like it. CLC's are small groups that approach the Bible and its members in very personal ways. I have nothing against Bible Studies - its because of a Bible Study on Romans that I am a committed follower of Jesus today. However, I find that sometimes Bible studies are intimidating to seekers, and they allow people to hide behind arguments and opinions so that real connection between people is difficult. In a CLC hiding is more difficult. Here's an example of an outline of a CLC:
- People gather and share how they are coming (Ex. I am coming frustrated and weary; expectant, hopeful, blah).
- There is a time to centre - either music is played or there is silence
- Scripture is read, followed by silence and the same passage is read again
- People are asked how the Music and/or the Passage spoke to them (This is done in order, and passing is always an option).
- After a time of silence people are invited to share how God spoke to them through other members in the group.
- Teaching (On prayer methods, Aspects of God, Bible, etc)
In my experience CLC sessions last between 1 and 2 hours. The merit to this approach for me is that it dispels the notion that you need to have a degree from a Bible College in order to participate. It also address pertinent questions that the Ven. David Edwards asked recently in regards to mission: "How accessible is God?" and "Can we provide a space for people to access God?" One of the basic understandings of our faith is that God wants to be known by us. Through these meals and small groups I think we can create the space for that to happen.
God is calling us into deeper community. We were created for it. It is when we gather together, like at my silent retreat, that we can discern our common journey through the highs and lows of life. It is through this awareness that we can discover common needs: namely to belong and to be loved - Just like my experience with Clergy College. And finally after we have invested the time the sense of community will deepen through the time invested and the experiences shared - just like Boys Adventure Week.
So... Anyone free for dinner?