Posts Tagged ‘church’

Welcoming the Stranger – Again.

December 4, 2010

Will Willimon (Bishop in the United Methodist Church) has posted on how some churches have been focusing on increasing their attendence ratio (i.e., actual attendence figures by comparison with membership numbers). He includes something which I’ve been banging on about both privately and publically – the need to be welcoming. At least some church leaders are getting it. Specifically, he speaks of:

• Mike Skelton (InnerChange) and Mike Edmondson (Helena) who both stress the need for a culture of hospitality.
• Mary Bendall (Tuscaloosa First) who has initiated a fine program that trains greeters and hosts to begin the welcoming of guests right from the church car park.

Well done! Keep up the good work!

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Chris Wright: Integrity – Confronting Idols

October 27, 2010

This is a link for Chris Wright’s talk at the Lausanne conference in which he challenges the people of God to confront the idols of power and pride, wealth and greed. He calls the Church to repentance and simplicity.

Integrity – Confronting Idols.

Recent Methodist-Anglican Dialogue in Ireland

October 25, 2010

As most of you will know, the Lausanne Movement for mission and evangelism is currently meeting in Cape Town. In my humble opinion, the holy grail for more successful mission is a unified church. What better witness could there be to the powers and principalities than that they are forced to say of us “see how they love one another”? In fact, didn’t someone say at some time something about being one as he and his Father were one? Or, some wordy bloke, who wrote lots of letters, scribbling some piffle about being one body with one baptism under one Lord? Yeah, you vaguely remember hearing that somewhere, don’t you?

Anyway, over the past few years in particular there seems to be genuine hope that the dialogue between the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Methodist Church in Ireland, which has led to a Covenant between the Churches, might actually bring us down a path towards eventual unity (or something like that). Who knows? One can dream. Anyhow, as I’m very, very slowly trying to get on top of Anglican and Methodist history and theology at the moment, I thought it might be of interest to my fellow ecumenical dreamers if I sketched out what’s been happening on the little emerald isle. Thankfully, a very good friend of mine, the Rev. Peter Thompson (peace be upon him) who is Rector of St. Michael’s Castlecaulfield and St. Patrick’s Donaghmore is on the inside and in the loop and will keep me right as I proceed with a few posts dedicated to summarising the dialogue (based principally on his thesis and bending his ear).

So, to follow over the next while will be posts briefly outlining the divisions between the Churches from the beginning of Methodism to the unity in India between Anglicans and Methodists, and through to a quick depiction of early 20th century dialogue in Ireland. Further, some description of the contribution of the Joint Theological Working Party in Ireland and the Covenant which was agreed upon, as well as how matters might be furthered. At least, that’s the plan. We’ll see what happens 😉

Welcoming the Stranger: Dundonald Elim

October 22, 2010

I know, I know, I’ve been a very naughty boy and not posted here for a couple of weeks. Life has been rather busy and the blog is rather low down on the priority list. Nonetheless, I know you’ve all missed me, but never fear, I’m back!

I’ve been rather consumed with church issues this past while as there are a few major decisions looming not too far ahead. So expect a fair amount of church-related musings on the horizon. Anyway, to follow up on an earlier, grumpy post (rant/moan), I thought I’d better balance it with something more positive. Without boring the pants off everyone by rehearsing my faith and church journey, I’ve been to a lot of different churches with lots of different theologies and lots of different styles of worship. Over those years of church-sampling, it’s been difficult not to rate/score their various facets: worship (hymns/songs); preaching; doctrine/theological precision (IMHO), and; welcoming the stranger. This post concerns the final element – and by far the most welcoming church that I’ve ever visited (about 10 years ago now), the Elim church in Dundonald.

Founded during the years of the First World War, Elim is a Pentecostal denomination with over 500 churches throughout the UK and Ireland, and which works in more than 40 other nations. Its name comes from the biblical Elim (Exod. 15:27) which was an oasis in the desert, visited by the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. Thus, the aim of the early Elimites was that their churches should, similarly, be places of rest and refreshment. Growing out of the Welsh revival, the Elim movement carries with it much of the ethos of the holiness movement, a “congregational” ecclesiology, and an emphasis on evangelism. In fact, its theology is distinctly reformed and within the broad scope of very, conservative Evangelicalism. However, its special contribution to the church universal is its perspective on the person, work and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Firstly, the Elim movement is Trinitarian but advocates the double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son (filioque). Secondly, while the Spirit is active in the work of convicting of sin, repentance, regeneration and sanctification, according to the Elim movement, “the believer is also promised an enduement of power as the gift of Christ through the baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following. Through this enduement the believer is empowered for fuller participation in the ministry of the Church, its worship, evangelism and service.”

As someone who had recently left a variant-form of Pentecostalism, visiting the local Elim seemed an eminently sensible thing to do and I’m very glad I did, for it left an indelible mark on my views of what “church” ought to be. As a complete stranger, I was very warmly welcomed at the door by two greeters. After this good, initial impression, I’d barely managed to get bum on seat before someone sat down beside me and introduced himself – “William”. Yes, I still remember his name. He chatted with me and sat with me throughout the service; I was not left alone as a faceless, nameless stranger, anonymous and insignificant. In that simple act of reaching out to an “other”, William, and the church he represented, demonstrated with ringing clarity what it means to lavish Christian love and care. An outsider, I was nevertheless made to feel like one of the gathered saints, there to praise the God of love. I’ve never forgotten it.

Ultimately, I couldn’t assent to the Elim’s views on the person and work of the Spirit, which always walks a tightrope – those without the special “baptism” of the Spirit almost inevitably struggle with seeing themselves as second-class citizens of the kingdom (common critique of this type of pentecostal belief). However, in no church before or since have I ever seen the newcomer and stranger so welcomed. I don’t know whether this was solely the policy of that one church in Dundonald, or of the whole Elim movement, or simply one particular member acting alone, but if all Christian churches would instigate such a policy, what an incredible impact we could effect! Churches can be some of the coldest, most cliquey, unwelcome places known on God’s good earth – and it’s something we can and must change.

For more information see: Elim UK or Elim Ireland.

Today at Church…

October 3, 2010

I have a very convoluted church history; having moved from a variant-form of Pentecostalism to Anglicanism, and having visited/attended more churches along the way than I care to remember. One of the things I love about the Anglican tradition is its liturgical focus and emphasis on the Eucharist. I always look back to my forefathers in the faith over the centuries – truly the communion of saints. Nonetheless, an awful downside is the fairly atrocious choice of really dour hymns which are squeaked out each week – I mean, who really sings these passionately and with gusto? I don’t think it’s physiologically possible. Worshipping in the company of angels, it ain’t (at least, it doesn’t feel that way a lot of the time). Still, no church is perfect and I shouldn’t complain, but I’m feelin’ kinda grumpy today – and it’s my blog. Anyway, given that I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, I slept in this morning (ahem, again) and found myself at the local Methodist (which starts 45 mins later). The singing/hymns were just as bad. It’s funny, but it makes me nostalgic for my Pentecostal days; hands raised, dancing in the aisles, swinging from the chandeliers – well, ok, that’s exaggerating – slightly. But at least worship really meant giving God his proper worth. So why is it that when I do occasionally attend my old denomination, I end up feeling at my most liturgical? Maybe the contrarian in me will never be satisfied. Anyhow, the sermon was very good. Frankly, it was a model sermon, something to emulate and to which I paid very close attention. The minister was evidently very intelligent, yet he managed to address the entire congregation in a very clear manner without the hint of condescension or ‘dumming-down’. Twelve minutes proved more than sufficient to get his points and essential message across with impressive clarity. As someone contemplating ministry, both the content of the sermon, its delivery, and its presentation, gave me much food for thought. I’ll definitely have to go back and hear him again.

Anyway, as I’m having a moan, let me share a major gripe. For the love of God, why can’t any strangers be properly befriended when they walk through the doors of a church? No one, not even the people I was squashed in-between, spoke to me, not so much a smile or nod in my general direction to acknowledge my existence. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this in my spiritual vagabondage, but it’s just so, so wrong! If I do end up in ministry, I’ll be drumming it into the congregation that proper greeting and welcoming is not an option, but a mandatory requirement. I can’t imagine how offputting this would be for a non-Christian who has managed to summon up the courage to step inside a church, and then gets left to their own devices – especially if that person is as strongly introverted as me. Seriously, how hard can it be for our churches to arrange for a few of the friendlier extroverts among the congregation to be on the lookout for newcomers? Nonetheless, the minister himself was very warm and made time to welcome me (even amidst the rushed exodus of congregants). He greeted me with a double-handed handshake, asked me my name, and where I normally worshipped etc. In other words, he made a genuine effort to reach out – but that’s something which needs to replicated by everyone in the church. OK, moan over.