Being Church

Earlier this week, the Anglican Journal published my article exploring thoughts on what brings people to church. In this day and age, when we’re endlessly chattering about the “nones” and “dones,” what is it that brings people to, or keeps people coming to church?

Over the past decade, I’ve had this conversation with more congregational leaders than I can count. And it doesn’t matter how many folks I talk to, or what the denominational context, but the assumption always comes back to music. Change out the music, infuse it with something hip and fresh, and suddenly you’ve got a product ready to sell. That’ll bring them in.

But what if it’s up to more than our marketing campaigns, facebook ad buys, and edgy new ways of being church?

What if it turns out, as my friend Jesse reminds me, that it’s been up to the Spirit all along? And what if it turns out we’ve been pushing her aside rather than inviting her into the work that we claim to be doing for the sake of the church, or the kingdom, or the gospel, or however we’ve framed it?

These days, Rachel Held Evans’ latest book Searching for Sunday is getting a lot of (well-deserved) press. Some is positive. Some is negative. The typical arguments against her writings are being rehearsed from fundamentalists, about how she doesn’t get it, about how the sacraments aren’t biblical, about, well, just about everything except the beautiful prose that narrates her particular journey as an evangelical into a liturgical church.

This morning I combed my blog archives looking for an old post that I vaguely remembered. I eventually found this three-year old entry that inspired me to write once again today. In April 2012, I wrote:

In all truth, I feel a bit church homeless. Anglicanism has felt much like home for the past four years, but that also involved the planting of a church that really takes some of these things into account. Now, in a new town, I feel at a loss. Are there no others out there who feel this way? Is there nobody in Vancouver who thinks the way I do? I don’t know, Rachel. They’re probably out there. And like me, they’re probably fitting restlessly into some other church’s pews waiting for something new to come along.

And that’s been the story. It’s been the story of this evangelical who is more-or-less at home in Anglicanism, who still feels like a bit of an outsider, and yet is seen from time to time as a fresh voice advocating for young people in the Canadian Anglican church. It’s been the story of someone who feels naked and vulnerable, as though maybe there isn’t room for me and my off-the-wall ideas, and that I should not hope that the church will change enough to weather the storms of decline it finds itself in.

But then, where’s God in that version of the story?

The vulnerability comes when I take time to wonder. Am I alone in this? Is there nobody like me in this place? Is there room for me to be me in this church, or am I still wandering in the wilderness? Where and how and when will the person I am be valued for who I am, and not who I could be? Am I just yelling into the wind, or are there others in this tradition who are seeking more of what I am seeking – a place where we may have journeyed beyond the culture wars, but where we can bring some of the gifts of evangelicalism with us?

Are there others here in Vancouver on the fringes of the church – no matter what the denomination – who miss people who talk about their faith with passion and conviction?

Are there others who value familiarity with scripture and gain life from intensive bible studies?

Are there others who are trying to work out what it means to cultivate a holistic personal spirituality?

Are there others who crave sermons that step on toes, and cause us to re-evaluate our assumptions about the world, the gospel, and our role in light of all that?

I realised while on retreat this weekend that this is the community I’m still craving. That I need more of these people in my life, as well as those who I’ve been blessed to meet in the mainline church and the wider world who do challenge my assumptions about the way it is from other directions.

I guess I’m looking to be a part of a community that listens deeply to God’s call together, and then goes to do something about that. Together. Like Jesus-followers. Like disciples. Stumbling, fumbling, dumbass disciples who are trying to get it right, and doing miserably. But are doing it together.

This is the kind of community that is on my mind day and night. This is the kind of community that needs to be called more fully into being. Not just because it’s the community I crave, but because it seems to me that God might actually use such a community to extend love and redemption and reconciliation and justice and forgiveness in this city. The way God uses all kinds of church communities.

Three years ago, I wrote:

I just wonder who has the guts and the vision to pull it off.

And a year ago, I realised that the asker of the question sometimes has to reckon with the possibility that part of the answer might lie within. And I’m grateful. There are some of us. We’ve made a start.

I guess I’m just wondering. Are there others out there with similar hopes, with similar visions who are feeling the winds of God’s wind blowing fresh, and who want to figure out what it means to live in that spirit, right here in Vancouver.

St. Mary’s Church, Indian River photo by Flickr User Steve Sutherland. CC BY 2.0

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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2 Responses to “Being Church”

  1. Haig

    Thanks Andrew. I resonate with your message. Heading back home later this month for business (and some pleasure). Vancouver is wonderful and a hard place to crack at the same time, if you know and love the city. Hang in there – God wants us to thrive – and we do need community, I believe, to do that.

    Reply
    • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

      Haig – Grateful for your response (and hope we can catch up when you’re in town!). I don’t know how to do it without community. And to be sure, I experience community in many ways. One of the aspects that I’m craving right now is in terms of people to pray with – and yet even with that, God has started to open some doors.

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