Monday, May 14, 2012

Love one another and sit light to buildings

Last night I visited Campus Church, an independent evangelical student church (albeit with strong links and leanings towards the Anglican church). It meets in the Ilam School Hall next door to the Unviersity of Canterbury. I gather it might like to begin a morning congregation, but if it does so it won't be in that building as Ilam Baptist meets there on Sunday mornings. Two churches without investment in buildings as capital assets while sharing the same rented property is an interesting model in a city where churches, perhaps especially my own Anglican Diocese, are getting desperate for permanent (or 'permanent' as can be) solutions to difficult problems re buildings.

Generally churches are facing blockages to insurance payouts, massive increases (e.g. 530%) to premiums, dilemmas re rebuild/restore versus demolish and walk away or start again, and necessity of fund-raising (e.g. even with insurance payout, the repairs need to be to a higher standard of strength than the church building had before the quakes so costs will exceed payouts).

Yesterday's gospel reading, John 15:9-17, has something to say to us at this time. I cite just the last words,

"These things I command you so that you will love one another."
God is love and we are to love God, our neighbour, our enemies and one another. That is all!

A question I raised in my sermon was this: might God be less interested in whether we restore our current damaged cathedral or build a brand new one and more interested in whether we love one another? Similarly in respect of arguments in each parish about the future of our buildings: how we treat each other in the course of the arguments might matter more to God than whether we rebuild or new build, indeed whether we have a building or not.

My visit last night was a reminder that a church does not need to own a building in order to meet together. We can love one another without buildings being owned by ourselves.

We can perhaps go a little further on this line of reflection. The whole gospel passage, John 15:9-17, is of a piece with the great theme of John's Gospel, eternal life is given by God to those who by faith are drawn into the union of Father Son and Holy Spirit in an expanding communion of love. Does the church exist primarily for worship or for mission is a question we sometimes ask ourselves (and sometimes answer with the word 'Both!'). But John 15:9-17 points in a different direction: the church exists in love and for love.  God's love calls the church into existence; the church exists through love. Where members of the body of Christ do not love one another the church effectively ceases to exist. Where members love one another there is true communion or fellowship.

So, what is the purpose of a church building? To be a place of worship? To be a base for mission? We can answer affirmatively to both questions, but John's Gospel pushes us hard to think more deeply. The purpose of a church building is not only worship (love God) and mission (love our neighbour and enemies) but also communion (love one another). We think, rightly, that our communion services (i.e. eucharists, masses, celebrations of the Lord's Supper) are acts of worship in which we are empowered for mission. But they are also acts of love in which those whom God loves share that love with one another, bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ as signs of the sacrificial love of God in Christ which commits us to love one another in Christ ('love one another as I have loved you', 15:12).

A special challenge, then, for Canterbury churches at this time is that we love one another. Our rebuilds and new builds will not serve the purpose of communion if along the way we fall out with one another rather than love one another. The foundations of our churches do not consist only of piles and slabs. Love must also be woven into the foundations.


Father Ron Smith said...

"Last night I visited Campus Church, an independent evangelical student church (albeit with strong links and leanings towards the Anglican church"
- Dr. Peter Carrell -

In what specific connection, Peter, is this 'Campus Church' related to institutional Anglicanism. Is it in fact still 'wandering around looking for a home?'. And was your visit connected to an invitation to an 'Anglican priest' - or to a fellow Evangelical of 'no fixed abode'. I would be most interested to hear your opinion.

Perhaps some of your own student parishioners were looking for a venue to do something alternative to Anglican Evensong? the use of the word 'independent' has me wondering what, precisely is the 'Anglican leaning'?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I visited in order to keep in touch with life in churches round and about, because as D of E for the Diocese I think it important to understand the wider church scene (as far as time and energy permit). There are no formal links between Campus Church and institutional Anglicanism. It is an independent trust (as far as I can tell from its website) which is not under the oversight of any other church organisation. Its previous senior pastor was one of our vicars; its current senior pastor maintains good fellowship with a number of Anglican clergy.

As far as I know, no students in my current parish worship there in the evenings.

Robert F said...

When Bonhoeffer wrote about "religionless Christianity" he was really referring to just this point you are making (although certain radical theologians twisted what he said into so-called Christian atheism and secular Christianity): the church divesting itself of much of its armature and taking up residence in the world as the loving, and vulnerable, Body of Christ. But, Peter, can you have a bishop without a cathedral? Can a bishop oversee from a Chinese house church? "Imagine no Cathedrals, I wonder if you can."

Peter Carrell said...

Umm, Robert F, I have a bishop without a cathedral and she is functioning quite fine. Not least because her role is one of oversight and involves activity by way of visiting all her churches.

In the end, however, I think she does need a place to place her cathedra (chair). I do not think this necessarily needs to be large or traditional in shape. It could be quite a simple space.

liturgy said...

Umm, how many bishops does Tikanga Maori have again, and how many cathedrals?...