The Light at the End of the Tunnel
at the end of 1999, just before the year 2000 when everything went wrong, Cathy wrote these words for The Prodigal Project, about church as we knew it:
I have noticed that some people have moved their churches into cafés. I have noticed that some people have hacked out the pews and brought in little tables and chairs. I have noticed that the leader may remain seated when he speaks, and the musicians may have cups of coffee next to their guitars. I have noticed that sometimes we change the way our church looks, but I wonder if we have changed the way the church actually is. Have we changed the way we are being church together or just the way we sit together?
What are some of the base premises on which our worshipping communities are built? What do we value? What informs the look that a passing participant might see/find?
Informality, intimacy, realness, safeness, the genuine, the low-tech, the casual… the lives revealed and lived together. Food, drink, conversations. Coffee, cake, yarning. Tears, laughter, jokes, hugs, applause. Self expression: ideas, images, sounds, voices, movement. Grace – what can it mean? What are the implications of saying that all are welcome?
In the context of meal, of friends and wine and dreams, let us wipe the slate clean of our presuppositions and begin to ask some basic questions about the gathering of the people.
It’s about asking questions, without presupposing the answers. Asking basic questions. Stripping back, rather than building up or adding on. Reflecting on what we have done in the past. Considering what we find meaningful now.
Not just asking – Do we need to make any changes to the physical environment of the church? but, “Do we want to meet in the church building? Would another venue be more appropriate? Where? and Why?”
“How do we become a community, create a gathering, which is safe, real, intimate, authentic? How do we recognize our own pasts, our current issues and needs, the culture all around us, and where God is already at work in our lives?”
since 2000, after all the hospitals and prisons and breakdowns, we’ve found ourselves a saying: “If it’s not as good as dinner, I’m not interested.”
so, after all the years of trying to integrate a meal into our church gathering, we’ve given up and made meals our church. after redesigning our churches so they were more like cafes, we’ve realised that the cafe can be our church. after running ourselves ragged trying to loosen the controls of the prayer book and the old liturgies, we’ve abandoned ourselves to the chaos of true community.
it’s a big commitment, cooking three courses a couple of times a week – but still easier than organising a whole service and setting up all those chairs, and at the end you know the spirit was with you. it’s hard to get any work done if you’re prepared to drop anything, day or night, to spend a couple of hours hanging out in a cafe – but we know more about each other’s lives than we ever learnt over cups of tea on sunday night.
and it’s good, it’s very good.
we still help host an event, an exhibition, a jamm, here or there (eight o’clock sharp and free for all among them, and they’re founded on the same understandings of love and grace, and the hope that christ will commune with any two or three who gather in his name.
but we’ve discovered that the old rhetoric – all christians are saints, all believers are priests, every meal can be the eucharist, miracles happen every day – makes even more sense on the outside. all ARE welcome. we ARE forgiven, as we have forgiven others. we DO go in peace.
informality, food, coffee, tears, laughter – all the things we longed for, with the integrity we struggled to find.
it’s safe, real, intimate, authentic, and best of all, sustainable. Because it’s not an institution, there’s nothing to protect except each other; there’s nothing to lose except the morning; there’s no commitment except to be friends with whoever needs a friend.
i could go on and on.
Andrew Lorien June 03