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Recognising New Forms of Christianity

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I am a Cistercian Associate – that’s akin to a Benedictine Oblate or Franciscan or Carmelite Tertiaries. These are ways of living out the Cistercian, or Benedictine, or Franciscan, or Carmelite charisms – and beyond monastery and convent walls.

I recently read Sister Teresa Jackson’s insight that oblates express new forms of Benedictine life:

At a time when there are fewer traditional vocations to the Benedictine life perhaps we need to ask whether a new reality is staring us in the face and we are failing to recognize it because we keep looking for what is past. We are standing at the tomb of Benedictine life as it has been, clinging to what we have known while a completely new form of life is calling our name.

Perhaps we do not have a vocation crisis, after all. Perhaps the vocations are just coming in a new form that we have trouble recognizing.

And as I read that article, I kept thinking I was actually more reading about new forms of Christian life than new forms of monastic life.

I have said before,

We have previously learnt from David Putnam’s Bowling Alone – people are still bowling; they are just doing it alone and not joining bowling clubs. People are still seeking meaning and spirituality – they are just doing it alone.

Churches, the Anglican and other mainline denominations, no matter how often they are reminded, are stuck in a parish paradigm. Christian life and ministry may be happening in schools, homes, workplace, and so forth – but, however often people may ‘protest’, time and again at official diocesan meetings I (and everyone) am asked to fill in what parish I belong to. Belonging to a school or other ministry unit just won’t do.

Parishes, of course, are part of the Christendom we are now post.

And younger people simply don’t work on the 10am-Eucharist-at-St-Anselm’s approach. The days of meeting at a certain time at a certain place died with the invention of the cell phone. Young people head to town and then message friends to meet. The church has not got the paradigm shift. What priest goes to a church building on a Friday evening and sets a viral message going, “Hey, I’m at St Anselm’s – see you here in half an hour for a Eucharist followed by pizza before heading into town to party.” Sunday is also changing in the post-Christendom world. Sunday morning always at 10 am is not the future for many for whom Sunday is simply another work day. It’s not even the present.

What ways can you think of that Christianity is changing? And needs to change?

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14 thoughts on “Recognising New Forms of Christianity”

  1. Jonathan Streeter

    Absolutely. I think we are seeing the fallout of the death of what Marcus Borg called “supernatural theism” (the belief in a big ol’ god on a throne in heaven). As culture turns (returns?) to a search for what is cosmic and unifying, our beloved old (11 a.m. in the US) church service model is ready for the dustbin of history. I truly do not know how the coming generation will find and celebrate the cosmic unifying god but I suspect they will.

    I attend church services with the mindset that I attend classical music concerts — these are lovely museum pieces that still have majestic relevance in small ways, but are not the day-to-day experience of the great majority of people. They are out doing other things.

    1. Yes, Jonathan. And I see part of my vocation, as a Christian and a priest, as pointing to those “other things” where there is truth, and beauty, and goodness (God), and, like salt, encouraging the good and minimising the bad. Whether they name “God” in all this becomes a different issue. Blessings.

  2. Annette M. DeFay

    I believe there are small pockets of persons who are committed to conventional worship and very effective in spreading Godly good. We should be careful of generalization.

    1. Thanks, Annette, I’m not sure what part of the generalisation we should be careful of? I don’t think the generalisation denied these “small pockets” – furthermore, this picture is a very Pakeha perspective. In other places and other cultures the picture is different. Blessings.

  3. I am reading this in Tucson, Arizona where we face the same dilemmas. How to engage adults, young adults, families, and teens into liturgy and community are difficult. Maybe we are being called to small faith communities in which we gather to share faith and the parish supports us. Not sure how that would work with fewer priestly vocations. But, the idea of gathering together for fellowship and worship sounds like the early Church. Maybe we could learn something from our forefathers in faith.

    1. Thanks, Karen. Yes, I’m sure that in the post-Constantinian church, we have much to learn from the pre-Constantinian church. Blessings.

  4. Charles Plantz

    An aspect of the problem (at least in the USA) is the fixation of mainline churches with Average Sunday Attendance. There is no way to take account of those who are active “members” of a congregation’s various ministries,but who may not attend regularly (or at all) on Sunday morning. Thus the vitality of a congregation is overlooked, while all sorts of decisions and assumptions are based solely on ASA.

    1. Thanks, Charles. You will be fascinated that we have no way here to determine what our ASA is! Blessings.

  5. Towards the end of the last millennium businesses started to achieve greater stock control through a “just in time” methodology. This idea spread to education and remains prevalent today. We don’t for example, depend on all knowledge coming from specialists when we can go online and Google away for better or for worse!
    With in the realm of Christianity we need to recognise the importance and beauty of past forms but be so aware that in them they can be a pathway to irrelevance. Change by itself is no answer, but having the capacity to sustain relevance and be open to what that means is critical. Relevance both in form and substance is the connecting rod that strengthens us all and challenges us in ways we may find uncomfortable like it was two thousand years ago.

  6. Yes, Church going on a routine basis is on the decline, but in some cases, churches do have other activities that bring in people, not necessarily into church.

    We run a number of clubs and young peoples groups who use our hall and facilities, including scouts etc, but also lunch clubs, coffee mornings and also take services to older people where they live.

    We are always intentionally seeking people and are blessed with the support of people who many not attend the routine services, but come to events run by us, and do associate themselves with the Church. We don\’t try to recruit them as members, but seek to pass on the good news of the Gospel in how we demonstrate our love for all.

    Our church is well attended (compared to others in our deanery) and numbers on the electoral roll remain stable, gaining enough new members will to make the commitment to replace those who die or move away. we maintain communications via a dedicated facebook page, and so, although they might be miles away, the majority of members on facebook, are actually former church members or those who\’ve been in church and are still interested in communication with us.

    I don\’t say that this is a model for everyone, but it works for us at this time, but our mission action plan is developed reguarly as we try to look outside the church building to meet people and answer their questions. Maintaining our service schedule, providing worship accessible to all, well done and inclusive.

    Perhaps we need new imagination, but we can only work within our resources of people willing to serve – but trust in God and his providence and prayer has at least given us the opportunities to reach new people, as I have found by just being available in an open church, being prepared to go out of it when necessary and finding people who might never have thought of being a Christian.

    The witness of many of our congregation active in the community also counts, they are able to talk about their faith when people ask, and that can be a starting point. Seeds sown now, bearing fruit in the future.

    Lots of strategies for church growth out there, we acknowledge them, but some of the more ones like planting churches into existing congregations being used in England at the moment are causing pain and disheartening existing faith full congregations.

  7. Here’s something we’re working on in our rural part of Canada.

    Ministry Profile of a Community Spiritual Companion

    General Purpose of Community Outreach Responsibilities
    One-quarter of the CIF pastor’s responsibility will be to create, support, or guide community connections that will help people of any faith or no faith explore life’s meaning and purpose. This may be done through participation with other faith organizations, membership in social action and community committees, involvement in special events and/or individual companionship.

    As a companion, guide and fellow seeker (Community Spiritual Companion), this person works collaboratively in the community to promote spiritual well-being which includes love and justice.

    The goal is to empower others to do the work of theological reflection in their own lives, encouraging wisdom in response to questions of meaning, purpose, and hope for the future. The companion fosters lay leadership growth that links personal spirituality with life in our communities.

    The Community Spiritual Companion promotes social justice and sacredness for all by engaging with spiritual, theological, environmental and current world issues. This is done while seeking to be sensitive to the traditions of the local community and the trends and influences that shape the life of our community.

    Pastoral Attributes (excluding the ability to ‘walk on water’):
     Personal relationship with Jesus Christ and ability to model the discipleship of Jesus (love, acceptance, grace, compassion)
     A prayer-full approach to all activities and connections
     Ability to ‘meet people where they are’ and offer spiritual support free of any imposition of personal beliefs
     Ability to listen openly and deeply to individuals who may have a faith, may not have a faith, or who may be seeking personal meaning
     Ability to ask discerning questions to help individuals explore their life path
     Knowledge of and ability to network with community agencies and groups, helping build stronger and just communities
     Flexibility and humor in the face of challenges
     Ability to discern activities God is leading them into, rather than becoming over-involved in many things
     Ability to monitor own time and energy and be true to their own needs for rest, growth and connection
     Willingness to be supported by a compassionate ‘accountability’ group

    1. Oops, thats a 3/4 time position. Only 1/4 time to church stuff. The congregation carries the rest.

    2. This is a wonderful description, thanks, Ken, of a reality that some are already living into and others moving towards. Blessings.

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