Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Filling the Empties: 21st C Gospel Transformation

When driving about the South Island it is easy to know when you are crossing from one diocese to another. The Conway River is the boundary between Christchurch and Nelson dioceses, the Waitaki River divides the Dunedin diocese from Christchurch. OK, it is slightly more complicated discerning the boundaries on the West Coast, but not so many of us drive there. The Bishop of South of the Waitaki, of the mighty rugby provinces of Otago and Southland, of awesome Fiordland, and the mysterious Stewart Island, is +Kelvin Wright. It is a long time since ADU has referred to his Available Light blog on which writing and photography are presented at a standard this writer can only aspire to. In his most recent post +Kelvin reflects on empty or ex church buildings with a point which continues reflection through recent posts here on the gospel. Here is the money quote:

"These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. ... A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, ...

The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.

The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well." "

I think +Kelvin and St. Paul the writer of Romans would get on very well together if Paul happened in his apostolic wanderings to cross south over the Waitaki River.

I want to return soon to the question I posed yesterday about the gospel and Christchurch. But here we have something to think about as we engage with questions of rebuilding our 'particular religious infrastructure.'


Jenny Chalmers said...

Thanks for your blog Peter, I'm not adequately qualified to comment on most of your posts, but I do have something to say about this one.
In a strange kind of way I think the church has fallen into thinking like the culture around the church, that is the 'its all about me' culture. The history of God's people is jam packed with people turning away from God from the Exodus people in the dessert who melted down their gold and made idols to the people called back to God and a just society by the prophets, to the people to whom the messiah came and so on. This is just one more instance of the people turning away from God.
In my view it doesn't matter how we turn ourselves inside out, in the end we are speaking to and trying to reach a culture of individuals focused on themselves. However, within this culture there is a cultural Christianity, the people who come to church to be married, to have their children 'christened' perhaps even the odd funeral. They regard the church as a touchstone of their beliefs. (I think that is about a half of the population and falling.)
It seems to me that the best the church can do, is what is being so adequately demonstrated in Linwood, is to serve others in the community selflessly.
This is not an adequate answer for the empty buildings of the Constantiniun era, I know, and maybe the cultural Christians want to keep those buildings as a symbol of their beliefs.
Regrettably many are now wedding chapels and in this regard we priests of the church sometimes have our patience taxed to the limit.
Nevertheless, it is an occasion to humbly serve and that is what we, the church are called to do.

Lucy said...

Hi there Jenny - it is FUN to be able to understand all the words, isn't it, and to have them all in English!!

Further to your comments, I also wonder how excited / confident / convinced / passionate ... we are about our faith. Good news spread fast.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jenny and Lucy for comments which lead the meme on.

Agreed, Jenny, serving others is vital. A concrete manifestation of the gospel of God's love.

Also agreed (I think this is what you mean, Lucy) we have opportunity to communicate our faith with the service (not necessarily with words from lips, but with (say) body language which communicates our enthusiasm and love for God.

Bryden Black said...

As ever, + Kevin prompts and stimulates. At our recent Clergy Conference + Victoria asked our own diocesan clergy of Chch this question: what do we suppose the Holy Spirit is saying to us at this time and in this place? Not that she was expecting or even wanting an immediate answer; rather, she was asking us to turn and wait upon God in prayer.

As a partial step towards simulating our own thinking as to possible answers, we were arranged into groups, with each person allowed just one proposal (initially), which we were then asked to ponder before God. For what it’s worth, this was mine: Who do we think we are - without our buildings? Back to + Kevin via a very different route! With thanks.