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Proper Church?

As someone involved in Fresh Expressions I often hear people say “when are they going to come to proper Church” -makes my blood boil, I get really angry! Still, deep breath, swing the coffee and write the blog!

The idea is that some expressions of Church are ‘legitimate’ and others aren’t, often it is the inherited forms of Church that won’t recognise Fresher Expressions of Church because for them it doesn’t feel like ‘proper’ Church, and in a way I can understand this.

If your Churchy experience has always been a formal service with choral music and robed clergy and choir, and this has been your experience for the past 70 years then recognising a gathering of families chatting, eating bacon butties and singing “Great Big God” led by a Vicar in a hoodie and skinny jeans as Church takes a bit of getting your head around.

One guy (actually not old, but old before his time) couldn’t get his head around Church in a pub, his world view had the sacred and secular kept removed from each other and bringing them together was ‘just not cricket!’

Yet to be honest most of this generation are used to cultural adaption often keeping up with their grandkids on facebook whilst at uni, with a mobile in their handbag for emergencies, and doing their internet baking on-line. Even the most stuck in their ways person must admit that every sphere of life has undergone change and transformation.

Sometimes Church is the one bit of life that has remained the same since before the rise of the generation that is called baby-boomers and these 70+ people think they might be able hang on until the institution sees them out. I have asked these type of folk “Do you want their to be a healthy and vibrant Church for your children and grandchildren?” Many say yes -or tell me that their kids wouldn’t be interested (which bizarrely is part of the point I’m trying to makes!)

The truth is ‘proper church’ idea of logically and theological flawed, but I can understand that the issue is probably for the people who say this sort of stuff is an emotional one: “we want people to like and value what we love”.

Sometimes when this works it is beautiful, Doris -in her 90s- in Salisbury once said of “Fun Church” our attempt at a Fresh Expression ‘Its not my style but I love seeing the Church full of kids’ and seeing her cuddling a baby during a worship time was something I spotted and was a precious moment.

My friend Sam -a young hippy- and Joan a traditional Anglican lay-reader (although wonderfully Godly and supportive) both enjoyed our silent service sacred space followed by compline and them both enjoying worship together was beautiful.

When we explore what many mean by proper church they mean a service in “Shakespearian English” wearing a uniform based on Elizabethean lawyers, taken from a model of the Roman Senate, singing eighteenth century hymns (in fact things like music groups and chairs rather than pews are actually more in keeping with the earliest forms of Churches!) -There is nothing ‘proper’ about it really!

In many ways it is like the Story in the Bible where David is due to fight Goliath and the King -Saul- loads him up in heavy and oversized armour and David is limited and constricted, and he says “I can’t fight in this” and so he shrugs it off and fights with a sling! A past culture made it impossible to fight a current battle. The old way had worked but now it needed a new thing, much of it was baggage from a previous era.

The new wine of the Kingdom of God -God doing a new thing- struggles to be confined in the old wine skins, in fact new wine in old wine skins causes the old wine skin to burst and the wine to be ruined. New wine needs to go in a wine-skin with the flexibility to retain and cope with activity of the new wine.

So what is Church? Defined by Rowan Williams as “an intention gathering around the person of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

At the start of the birth of the Church at Pentecost we read of ‘everyone heard the word of the Lord in their own language… and asked what must we do?’

Is this the call of the Church? So that people can hear the invitation of Christ in their own language, so they ask “what must we do?” -note “do” from yesterdays blog about Church being a verb!

I guess proper Church looks a bit like this:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

Proper Church is not trying to pretend we are still in the Victorian era with old fashioned and outdated traditions, but rather one that looks and acts like Jesus.

Proper Church is one which shares the good news of Jesus in a way people can understand!

Proper Church is one who make disciples that look, sound, act and smell like
Jesus! It is real community, it is devoted.

Proper Church is one that seeks to feed the hungry and takes the redistribution of wealth seriously.

Proper Church is one that loves the marginalised and disenfranchised!

Proper Church is one that worships by word and action!

Proper Church is prayerful and lead by the Holy Spirit.

Proper Church sees God answering prayer.

Proper Church loves one another and looks like family.

Proper Church will offend the judgemental and the religious but be good news for those who are broken, dirty and hurting.

Maybe all of us are a long way from being all that God intends his Church to be, but maybe as people speak derogatively about “proper church” this can be subverted into hearing and heeding God’s call to explore more closely want it means to be a community loving and following Jesus Christ.

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2 thoughts on “Proper Church?

  1. Nathan Wilson says:

    Thanks for this. A real push to keep going and not get pulled back to what the current churchgoers want and think church should be

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