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Random acts of church?

Researchers have asked people to give one word for what they think of when they think of Christians. The most common word: judgemental.

Christianity appears obsessed with sex. In a bad way. From Roman Catholic priests to mega church pastors. Homosexuality, women priests, contraception, divorce, pre-marital sex – these are the issues that appear to dominate in Christians’ lives.

In a discussion, Kiwi priest Rev. Sande Ramage pointed me to the wonderful video clip above. She was talking about getting out of our buildings and being involved in random acts, bringing joy and lifting spirits with no agenda. Of having permeable boundaries.

On October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers to perform a “Random Acts of Culture” at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ – the world’s largest pipe organ – the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers. The intention is to have a thousand of such events, bringing the classical arts out of the concert halls and opera houses and into communities to enrich our everyday lives.

I have previously written about dancing as another model for evangelism. About living in such a way that people cannot help but catch the enthusiasm and join in. If you enjoy the above clip, then you may enjoy the one in Antwerpen’s Central Railway Station in Belgium.

Some discussions I follow on the internet think that the solution to greying churches is to rearrange the order of the service so that communion comes before the readings, or to get rid of robes, and so on. I have recently been writing to try and shift a focus to being a community on a spiritual journey (here, here, and here).

An Anglican insight is that parishes are about everyone in the parish – not just the Christians, not just those who go to church. How might we be church, do random acts of church, outside our building’s walls? How do we make our boundaries more permeable? That is a challenge of the video clip we enjoy.

How can we live our lives as a Christian community so differently that we provide joy in the lives of others and also draw others in to our different lifestyle…

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18 thoughts on “Random acts of church?”

  1. I wouldn’t say that Christians are overly obsessed about sex in either good or bad ways, but rather that the society that critiques the Church is obsessed with using sex as a way to pass their own judgment on Christianity.

    I think that the sex scandals are a good example as less than .001% of the clergy of any denomination are involved, but to hear the press report on it and it becomes less than .001% are NOT involved.

    In a society that is itself obsessed with sex — in tv, movies, politics, etc., when the Church does speak out on these issues, as we must as Disciples of the risen Lord, then we unfortunately that brings in the invitation for society to do what it does best — rebel against the message. And in this era of instant communication, that leaves THEM free to paint us any way they wish with us playing catch-up on apologia.

    Our ‘problem’ is not that we are obsessed, but that we have poor PR for our GOOD points.

    In Him
    Jim <

    1. Jim, I am not going to allow this thread to become focused on clergy sex scandals – part of the point is to shift the focus away from sex. But I cannot allow your “statistic” without comment. Your claim, twice, that only 0.001% of clergy are involved is pure fabrication and furthers the inability of Christians to accept responsibility in this grave issue. Around 4% is the estimate that I could find on a quick search in reliable sources.

  2. It’s not that the church ‘appears’ to be obsessed, it is that we are made to appear to be obsessed by our critics.

    When less than .001% of the Clergy are involved in scandals, the media makes it appear the opposite — that less than .001% are NOT involved.

    The problem is that society and the media are the ones obsessed — just watch tv at any time of the evening (there is no such thing as family prime time any more) and one sees the point. When the church speaks out FOR Biblical standards (which we are called to do), the result will be an immediate and opposing reaction from society, and thus the Church is left to play ‘catch-up’ in our apologia. What is the old saying: a lie will travel around the world while truth is still putting on her shoes.

    Add to this that the church herself has been infiltrated by the very people we are trying to reach, who then turn the church hierarchy against the faithful (and then launch their own campaign to make Christians appear judgmental and intolerant).

    In this era of instant communication, it is very easy for society to spread dissent among the people, while the church still hasn’t gotten used to even using COMPUTERS let alone internet media. Thankfully that is changing, but in the meantime, we lack the successful PR machine that an anti-God society uses so well against us.

    But when has this NOT been true? All we can do is remain faithful to the Gospel and to the Three-in-One who calls us to Himself.

    In Him
    Jim

  3. It’s seems so simple doesn’t it when we think of it like this – random acts with no agenda other than bringing joy. No surprises then that singing, over my last very difficult year, has been the one thing that has brought me the most joy, integration and accessible spirituality.
    The Myer’s clip reminds me of the amazing one from The Shawshank Redemption when Andy the hero locks himself in (symbolic twist) and plays opera across the prison sound system. It’s a moment of transcendence. No church, or prison system telling us what is right and wrong – just pure beauty, and subversion.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSzatzy8WvM
    May we break down the walls!

  4. Perhaps the church isn’t obsessed with sex so much as it is not sure what to think about sex so it is better not to think of sex at all. Of course trying not to think of sex is a sure method to think about sex all the time. I think the church has historically treated sex as “of the flesh” and tried to subdue this natural urge since the scripture often speaks of the flesh as a direct opposite of the spiritual.

    Since the church was dominant in society for so long and tried to keep sex secret so to speak, then of course society had a hard time not thinking of sex too. Perhaps if we all thought of sex as God ordained and perfectly good, natural, and spiritual then maybe the church and society would have a much healthier relationship with sex.

    As to society viewing Christians as judgmental I would agree. Love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are so easy to accept for ourselves, but so hard to give away to others even for those who believe in those aspects of the life of a Christian. God gave the church grace and forgiveness and the church made it a golden calf of ritual and religion. The grace of God and salvation is the bridge between our imperfection and his perfection. We should all hold the law to ourselves and grace for others.

  5. I like the thought about parish including the whole community not just those attending church. In addition to needing a focus on going deeper into God within our church, to remain vibrant I believe we also need an outward focus into meeting the needs of our community. There are lots of great churches in Christchurch that are doing that really well. No surprises they’re also the more “popular” churches.

  6. Catherine Port Alberni BC

    Just wanted to say hello and thanks for all the wonderful thought-provoking conversations. I’m in British Columbia, Canada and follow you quite closely. Please pass a hello along to Bishop Victoria for me. She is a friend/acquaintance from 1994 – 2007 and we miss her here in Canada.

    1. Sorry, Jesse, your comment is not approved. I really am not going to go down the track of “these clergy are worse than those clergy” drawn from clearly-biased sources. There are plenty of other places you can have that conversation if you like – but not on this thread.

      Catherine, thank you for your encouragement. Bishop Victoria was at a Thomas Merton evening I hosted last night at which a Canadian priest, Christopher Page, spoke.

  7. I suspect the reason ‘sex’ is a ‘hot’ topic in the church is because it is a ‘hot’ topic in the world – and there are a lot of people in church and out of church who tire of the conversation – but some people are trying to figure things out just like the conversations around ‘war’, ‘social justice’, health and healing –

    I think it good that conversations arise – I think it bad when conversations are used to push human agendas rather than the Gospel Message as proclaimed by Jesus, who did not abolish the law, but rather fulfilled the law and forgave humanity for crucifying him because of that – Now there is a novel idea for the church to talk about!

  8. David |Dah•veed|

    I am not personally aware of human agendas being pushed in the church regarding sex issues but I am aware of very gospel oriented agendas fully aligned with the message of Jesus.

    Padre, I agree that the idea of Random Acts of Church is a wonderful idea. I have now enjoyed both of these videos that you have brought to my attention. And they mostly bring a smile and perhaps a lighter heart for the moment.

    I know of a large church in Dallas, TX that touches its neighborhood. Mostly the neighborhood around the church is lower income, poor and illegal immigrant latino and asian families. For many years this congregation, the Cathedral of Hope, has adopted the local primary and secondary schools. They have a school supply and school uniform drive every year at the start of the school year so that every child has what they need to start school equal to everyone else. Closer to Christmas they have a mitten tree so that all of the children have warm socks and underwear, as well as warm winter outerwear; gloves, hats, scarves and coats. And they have a tutoring and mentoring program that touches hundreds of children in these schools.

    At Thanksgiving and Christmas they provide everything needed in a brand new laundry basket for over 250 families to be able to prepare a holiday meal, with all of the trimmings. Plus a toy drive to bring a gift to hundreds of children in the area. And they do it all over again at Easter so that families have Easter baskets for the children and Easter dinner for everyone. Additionally, at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter they prepare a big family style dinner open to everyone so no one has to be alone at the holiday. And although there is a short holiday service before the meal to which everyone is invited, attendance is not a requirement to eat, like in other more conservative churches nearby.

    Every summer there is a huge workday, and dozens of work teams scatter throughout the wider neighborhood and clean empty lots, abandoned yards and back alleyways, as well as, doing all kinds of general home repair and maintenance; like painting, carpentry, and plumbing.

    I will stop now, but there is so much more to share! The point being, where many large churches are mostly focussed inward and most “ministry” and “mission” is spent on the members of the congregation, these folks learned early that true ministry and mission are focused outward, and by being involved in so many lives, the inward needs are somehow met as well.

    1. Thanks, David. Yes – what a different church we might be if, for example, (even though difficult in practice) we thought of our statistics not in terms of numbers on our pews on Sunday, but numbers of people we helped Monday to Saturday.

      ps. as well as the two videos, did you also see this one that was linked from the Belgian one?

  9. [From the Webmaster: Half this comment has been removed on issues and comparisons I said we would not be pursuing]

    Oprah is going to feature the Sisters of Mary, Dominican, on her program this week; CBS also featured a report on Sisters who minister to teens in trouble in NYC; Jesus People USA has been ministering to the inner-city of Chicago since the mid-70’s; etc. There are a LOT of churches just doing ‘random acts of church’ in the world, but they don’t get the news.

    Our own parish of St. Peter’s Anglican ministers in many programs either from the church or by committed volunteers, including medical and other mission trips to Uganda and South American countries, and serving the poor at the local shelters.

    It is fantastic that the Church is still being the Church in the 21st Century in spite of bad press caused by a very few ‘bad apples’.

    As one minister says at the end of his program: Keep the faith — and give it away, too!

    Jim

  10. David |Dah•veed|

    “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”
    Often attributed to Francis of Assisi, the origin is actually unknown.

  11. I don’t think it COULD have been St. Francis, since a large part of his ministry was in dynamically preaching the word as well as living it.

    Jim

  12. Bosco, in my experience it seems that some (not all) church people confess a world of sin in one breath and heap judgment on others in the next breath. They accept grace and forgiveness for themselves yet can’t extend it to others. Sure there are untold numbers of people who can’t accept grace and forgiveness for themselves. I am sure most of them can’t believe that it is that simple. – regards – lal

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