By Rick Jones
Published: March 2007
Related Topics: Outreach
By the time you read this even the most relaxed of parishes will have completed Vestry: That meeting of the Church that reminds us how institutional we really are. Institution is a bad word for many. The post-modern attitude to religious institutions is not positive. Many people, not just younger people today, see religious institutions as suspect at best, and irrelevant or dangerous at worst. They believe we are out of touch with post-modern society, backward looking, inflexible and judgmental.
What goes on inside our buildings is unknown to increasing numbers of Canadians. The occasional media attention to our differences vindicates, for many, their negative attitudes toward the Anglican Church. As Secretary of Synod, I value our Anglican ecclesiastical structure which has a good governance structure, allows for visionary leadership, and resources to be maintained and made available for mission from generation to generation.
The problem, it seems to me, is not with institutions in themselves but with 'institutional thinking.' Thinking that is backward looking, inflexible, dogmatic and self-satisfied.
There are many examples of institutions with 'institutional thinking' but there are also institutions that can be large, well organized and progressive thinking at the same time. Organizations that take innovation, quality and service seriously and deliver to real people in the real world, you know who they are! What would such a diocesan or parish institution look like?
It would meet people's needs on their terms, not institutional terms. Gathered worship on Sunday morning is the bedrock of our institutions, but it isn't the only way to be the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ comes into being where Christians gather. Many of our parishes, my own included, can no longer afford the luxury of being the Body of Christ in the same forms.
We are looking with interest at the creativity of St. Aidan's Church, Oakville. With the leadership of their new rector Cheryl Fricker and in cooperation with St. Jude's Church, they are reinventing themselves as a community-centred church. Taking the needs of the people in the neighbourhood seriously, they are using their facility as a community meeting place, offering alternative worship in the Taize style, and continually innovating, as they meet people on their own terms. It is unclear what forms the Body of Christ will take at this point. It isn't clear what the facility will need to look like. The wonderful thing is that this congregation is not using 'institutional thinking,' doing it the same old way and hoping that, "They will come."
The small group movement in many of our parishes that invites people to meet in homes, in parish halls or coffee shops is another example of the Body of Christ in different forms. At Holy Trinity, Hamilton, the Reverend Vicky Hedelius works with children and parents in the Tapawingo Daycare Centre, to bring the Christian Story, for those who wish it, into the circle time every day. Christian nurture is happening in a secular setting.
At St. Paul's, Westdale, two blocks from Mc Master University and Hospital we are wondering if we really need to create a coffee shop meeting-place to invite the hospital and student community into a new relationship with us. Can we risk other ways of being the Body of Christ?
Pete Ward, an English theologian, has coined the phrase "the liquid church." A lovely image of a Church that isn't solid but can flow out, permeate, and reform into different shapes to be the Body of Christ in new ways for new people, people who would never find themselves at home in our solid Sunday Services. We may be an institutional church but don't have to suffer from 'institutional thinking.'...
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