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Tongariro Crossing

Lessons From Holiday

Tongariro Crossing
Doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

I had chances, on holiday recently, to reflect on the way that different church communities engage with visitors and newcomers. [I have already put up one post from my holiday about engaging with children in the Eucharist].

I think with NZ house prices now at such extreme unafordability that, if we had a NZ version of Monopoly, it would have to be going round and round the board getting income and paying rent but never being able to buy any property, and, with Christchurch’s building of our new city squeezing every last dollar out of every last square metre (I fear our vision of “a city in a garden” is being reduced to “a city in a planter box”), I’m very conscious when I come across a church complex on prime land and the sign indicates it is only used for an hour or two a week. At least, please, have the church building open daily for prayer and quiet reflection. Why are you not offering daily morning and evening prayer? And a period of quiet meditation together? Mindfulness is in, people! So, yes, on my travels I saw too many church buildings declaring they were used at most a couple of hours a week – and my guess would be by very few people. Can we justify this? And what is the message to the community?

One church building, on absolutely prime real estate in a city, had no indication whether it was open or closed until you got close to the front door where there was a printed sign giving opening times but, to get in during these opening times, you had to ring a doorbell. I’ve never seen this before. You can guess the end of the story: I was there during opening times, but when I rang the bell… nothing happened.

Your signs must be 100% accurate. A friend of mine, during this summer period, twice (for two different church communities) went to a service as advertised (including on the large notice board) to find that there was no such service.

Pretty much universally, in backpackers, motels, and camp grounds, my experience is that there is no information about the local church. There will be cards, leaflets, etc. about everything local (from paid events, free worthwhile things to go to, to doctors etc) but nothing about church, where it is, what time it is, what sort of a welcome and experience you might find. Still pretty regularly, there will be a Gideons-placed Bible. But a welcome to a local Christian community… No. Why?! One suspicion of mine, within an Anglican context, is that we are now so congregational minded, so lacking in any sense of being part of large body (with whom we share, almost franchise-like, in common prayer) that reaching out to visitors is not perceived as benefiting our local community. Sure, they might put a few dollars onto the collection plate that one time they visit, but, if from a visit to our church they end up becoming regular churchgoers, these visitors will do so elsewhere – and how does that benefit us? It won’t be thought through this crassly, and certainly never articulated – but tell me that a lot of our evangelism and outreach isn’t motivated by the concern that our local little club will die out. And then who will look after our pretty, expensive, valuable clubhouse that’s only open a couple of hours a week…

What do you think?

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9 thoughts on “Lessons From Holiday”

  1. It seems that the LDS Church beat all of us to this. The only time a single LDS congregation has a building by its lonesome, is when it is the only congregation in a small town or a very large geographical area. Otherwise, two, three and four congregations sharing a building is the norm. In locations, such as So Cal, where land prices shot up years ago, the Mormons started building buildings that were basically two buildings joined back to back so that there where two chapels, one on each end and two congregations could meet at the same time.

    Their buildings usually have a basketball court/multi-purpose space directly behind the chapel which have movable walls and can be opened for more seating for very large services/meetings.

    1. Oh that we might learn from such models, David, with the concept of spaces that are usable in service of the community as well as allowing our sacred space to expand when needed. Blessings.

  2. Many churches seem to use gatekeepers. They look you up and down to see if you’d be a social asset to their circle

    1. Yes, First Baptist Church in Dallas (Southern Baptist) used to have ushers at the doors to turn away anyone Black or Latino. When that obvious racism became no longer PC, they used their own money to start Black and Latino congregations elsewhere. Then the ushers would steer folks to those churches. To this day it is a sea of white faces, but perhaps not as covertly racist.

  3. Hi ho Bosco. Is this true of our wider communion? Sometimes I feel the congregational has been replaced by the tourist centred mission. I too recently had a chance to reflect on the ‘open door’ or otherwise of our churches abroad. On a miserable winter’s day in Dorset I went for a look round Christchurch Priory (Christchurch – our sister city, but as you will appreciate not the place after which our city is named). It is a beautiful building and I thought yes Evening Prayer, looked at the board, 5pm summer, 4pm winter. The temp and rain left me in no doubt which season I was in and as it was a little after 2pm I grabbed a paper and sheltered in a nearby pub – The Thomas Trip if you’re ever there. Anyway a pint, maybe two later, I returned for the advertised evening service. The well cloaked volunteers were closing to visitors (the porchway sign said this would happen at 4pm). I told them I was there for Evening Prayer it was 3:50pm. They informed me the service was at 5. I pointed out the sign and they assured me once more 5pm. Mid Jan and they hadn’t adopted winter trading? Weird thought I but hey these guys had the cassocky things and surely knew better, so off I marched back into the rain. There are only so many pints one can justify prior to prayer so this time to a coffee shop, my offering for the plate was being seriously depleted by this time. Anyhow at 4:50 back I trod, it was pitch black by now, and still raining. Stood there for 25 mins, walked round the building, no sign of life. Indeed as is the way in many English churchyards the Priory was surrounded by graves. The place was alive with people who were dead! All this rather long winded way of saying the Priory and those charged (volunteers I know) with keeping open seemed a tourist attraction rather than a living community of faith. An opposite experience to yours. Reminds me if our +’s comments on our Cathedral not being a museum. I think the Priory in Chch may well be! All good things to you. CP

    1. Thanks, Cameron. This flip side is also a reality in some places here, and I’ve experienced it overseas too. Blessings.

  4. Bosco, ACANZP is going to have to put you in charge of a team to tour the country in a black van testing the accuracy of signs, setting up WordPress websites, and roughing up priests and wardens who won’t get with the programme.

    I’m grateful to see your question about why there are no daily Offices in these big urban squatter churches (like my own). That’s part of our Anglican DNA to begin with, and such an important way to exercise a ministry of presence as the “Body of Christ in place.”

    AND, for those of us who belong to urban parishes, what a way to minister to those who work in the parish but live elsewhere! A short, quiet (and easy) midday prayer service — not a Eucharist, which presumes a baptized and “reconciled” community — would, I think, be very attractive to people looking for some sort of spiritual breather in the work day. Weekday services can be a very important part of the spiritual life for those trying to make progress in it.

    (On the orders of my own spiritual director, I started attending a Friday midday Eucharist at an Anglo-Catholic parish near my work, and I can’t begin to describe how important this has become. Apart from grace and peace, it has had the advantage of taking the pressure off the Sunday service: I can put up with any nonsense that might assault me with much greater equanimity.)

    Over the New Year’s holiday I tried to attend an advertised service at a church near my parents’ home that is my default “holiday church”. I had been burned once before by their (northern hemisphere) “summer schedule”. So I checked the website, and I checked the church office voice recording of service times. On arrival, I was encouraged to see the time listed on the big church sign out front. I pulled on the door. Locked. I knocked. No answer. I waited for ten minutes. Nobody turned up.

    Asking a parishioner about this later, the response was typical: “We always have just one service on New Year’s day, because people are on holiday and nobody comes to the early one.”

    How do they know that nobody comes to the early one if they cancel it and don’t tell anyone, and no one is there to see if someone shows up?

    My friend promised me that the new rector was very tech savvy and would attend to updating the website with this sort of information.

    1. Thanks, Jesse. Years ago, whilst travelling in the UK, I came across a city Anglican church which had a (significant – I think it may have been 20 minutes) silent time attached to an office at least twice a day. People working (or living) in the area could come to part, one or the other, or both. There was always a good-sized group – including many committed to Christian Meditation or Centering Prayer. The office could be lay or clergy led. With Mindfulness trending, and lacking the negative baggage that even “spirituality” is beginning to get, where is the church? Blessings.

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