On the eve of my birthday BBC 2 was showing a programme called ‘Things to do before your thirty’ I’m willing to put money on my list being slightly different to theirs; Getting ordained is not as popular as it used to be!!! As I edged towards my quarter of a century landmark on Sunday and prepared myself for the onslaught of many people surrounding me on the eve of this momentous occasion for the sole purpose of celebrating my passing of time, I decided to meet up with a wise, sensitive and lovely friend (who also happens to be my brother in law) and who has started his walk towards 30.
One thing I love about my brother in law (among many!) is his intellectual engagement on a plethora of subjects. He invests his thought time in any topic that takes your fancy and he does so, not in a arrogant, intellectually superior way in order to show off, but in a caring, selfless way that says “I care about what you care about.” It means you can guarantee a great conversation with him and you leave feeling like you’ve learnt something new about yourself and the world around you… or at least about obscure music that’s played on 6 Music (one of his favourite topics!)
Of the many topics we discussed one stands out as particularly significant.
Fresh Expressions: The agreed process of dividing the church?
We began to discuss my placement next year and trying to work out if it could ever be ‘church’. I told him about my current thoughts on how theatre and church inter-related and where there may be potential of creating an expression of church through the theatre company model of relationship. I also started to try and formulate some thoughts on the dispersed community model of new monasticism and its potential for creating a worshipping theatre community made up of nomadic actors, directors, designers and technicians (see Riding Lights Theatre Church post). I talked about this image I was once given of a man dressed in tribal garb standing in the middle of a wilderness, underneath him it read “I am part of a tribe”. Next to this picture was an image of a block of flats, people crammed together in pokey bedsits in rows and rows, underneath it; “I am so isolated”. We both agreed that society in this country has a culture of opting into ‘community’. Centuries ago communities were a natural part of life and they weren’t created around a hobby or approach to life but around the desire to be in community. Now we join communities that share our values or approach to life, around a common interest such as a sport or leisure activity. We go out and find other people who are like us. Communities are rarely about different people coming together to be in community for the joy of being in community.
The church, surely, should be a place where people from all walks of life come together and grow alongside each other; where we learn from each other and where differences grow us rather than destroy us. I reflected, after our conversation, on the recent Synod centring on the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England. How do we live together with such opposing approaches? The concept of community seems so simple and yet we can see how difficult it is. I feel i need to say something, I won’t linger on it more than this one statement, the two Arch Bishops, Rowan and John, acted with such Christian integrity striving for the minority group at Synod to feel loved and respected.
The church should be a place where people can come together and not share cultures, interests or approaches but who all worship Jesus Christ… but most churches today fill its Sundays with ‘Family services’, ‘Youth services’, ‘Informal Service’, ‘Formal Eucharist’, ‘BCP’ and any number of Fresh Expressions or creative approaches to worship. Is this diversifying our worship and giving people the many different options of how to meet God, catering for all tastes, actually the way forward?
My brother in law and I discussed the term ‘tribal’. Are all these different groups meeting in one churches actually creating different tribes? Is the ‘tribal’ approach to worship dangerous?
The term ‘tribal’ brings to mind gang warfare, conflict, disagreements and friction but my brother in law commented on the Biblical narrative and how God worked within the tribal system. He called Abraham to be a tribe, Israel was divided into tribes and in Revelation there is no mention of destroying tribal boundaries but it claims that all tribes and all nations will have the Good News preached to them. The Bible seems to suggest that cultural divisions are ok, God knows that we are all different and that He can work with that but division is not good.
‘Unity does not equal uniformity and diversity does not equal division’
As I think about how a Theatre community could be an expression of church or ‘tribe’ I must remember its unity to the wider church, not just around the world but through history as well. Fresh Expressions could easily be seen as more opportunity for people to make a value judgement on the worship a group of people and to create ‘the right way’ but God’s church is bigger than that and Jesus is bigger than that. Fresh Expressions are not about doing new things for the sake or doing new things, they’re not about being ‘trendy’ or pandering to the whims of some. They’re not about short changing the gospel for the sake of getting people through the door but they are about creating communities that are organic and natural… I guess, like Abraham and the Levites, tribes are called out from a larger whole to be a certain thing for the good of the whole and for the glory of God.
I pray that there may be a theatre community called out to dedicate itself to communicating the story of God to all tribes and nations and tongues so that all knees will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!