by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
So I was ranting and raving again on Sunday morning at church. “Preaching,” they call it in some places. I don’t know what it’s called at Ecclesiax. Whatever it’s called, it often involves me getting up in the midst of the community and sharing some stuff that’s struck me about a particular passage during the week.
The past couple of weeks we’ve paused in the book of Philemon. Generally we follow the lectionary, so this pause is a bit of a change of pace. We’ve been in Philemon two weeks, and we’re going to be there another few more. As I told everyone on Sunday, it’s more because I’m lazy than that there are any deep theological insights to be gleaned from a book 25 verses in length.
But seriously. Whatever. I’m finding it a good way to really dig deeply into the essence of community, to spend so much time with one short, digestible and manageable piece of scripture. And since we always build discussion time into the sermon portion, it’s good to be able to mix up the conversation and focus on different aspects of the text, and how it might play out in our community.
Philemon is still a bit unwieldy, actually. And even if we spent 10 weeks on it, I don’t think I’d exhaust everything that could be said. Tho if anyone from the community is reading, I’m not going to prolong this for that long. Don’t worry!
I only stuck my foot in my mouth twice on Sunday (that I know of…there were probably more). The first time, I realised it after the words had left my mouth and mumbled an apology to someone in the congregation. The second time was a little more haphazard and wasn’t caught until it was pointed out to me after the service.
We’ve been talking for a while about what’s essential and what’s non-essential in our Sunday morning worship services. In one of my more, well, enlightened, moments, I said something like this:
It’s actually not just about those little boxes that need to get filled in. In fact, we could probably reinvent Sunday mornings completely, remove a good chunk of those boxes. Remove art worship. Remove music. We could change everything, and come sit around here for an hour in silence. The Quakers manage to pull that off, and nobody seems to complain.
But I guess what I’m saying is this. If there are certain things around here that are important, well, we’ve all got to work together to sustain them. And if you’re here, and you’ve got a vision from God. A vision for this place, and what it could and should be, we need you to speak out and share it. Because if we don’t share our dreams and visions together, if we don’t test them out on one another, then we’ll never know if these dreams are something that an entire community can get behind.
One of the struggles we’ve had in the past is to move from dreams and visions to living out those visions in the present. And I’m not going to tell you it’s going to be easy…but family, but marriage, but community isn’t easy. We’re real people with our own real gifts and our own real problems. But we’re a real people, we’re God’s people, and a people called to work together to see God’s kingdom come more fully to earth.
I mean really, this is standard fare. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. We’re a congregationalist community, and there shouldn’t be these huge divisions between “lay” and “ordained.” Those words don’t even really exist in our context. Members of any given church community need to be encouraged to minister with their God-given gifts, and empowered in doing so.
But that’s not really the problem. The problem, as I found out later, was pointed out when a rather Mischievous and Gleeful Visiting Teenager rushed out to meet me in the hallway:
M&GVT: “You know what you said about worship services? And Quakers?”
M&GVT: “Well my mom’s here today, and she’s a Quaker.”
ME: “Hah. Well. Hmm. Eep.”
The conversation with M&GVT’s mom afterwards ended up being good. She was gracious and laughed at the situation. It turns out her son always pokes at the fact that “all they ever do is sit around in silence.” Of all the things to say, on any given Sunday, you sort of figure you’ll be safe mentioning the Quakers (there are probably less than 1000 in all of Canada).
But I think after through this whole conversation with her, I did discover something that I’ve been thinking through on and off for a long time. Maybe what Quakers do in their meetings is exactly right in certain times and in certain places. In the midst of a culture of doing, how often do we listen to the movement of the spirit in our midst?
I’m not suggesting throwing everything out the window in all cases. Not at all. Just that we tend to do so much of the talking that maybe, just maybe, it’d be worthwhile to shut up for an hour and listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
And if we’re moved with a song, we sing. If we’re moved to share from scripture, we speak. If we’re moved to smile; if we’re moved to tears; if we’re moved to dance; to paint; to write a poem, well, it’s all good.
I discovered all of that, and I discovered the importance of never making examples of Quakers. In my experience, they come out of the woodwork at the most inopportune of times.