Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Missional Notes

A Canadian Anglican--a member of a parish that has recently severed its relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada, so it's fair to label him as a "conservative"--has published this piece in the National Post. Do read the whole thing, but here's what piqued my attention:
Is being an antiseptic church where only wholesome families and saintly, celibate, straight singles could fit in — a kind of Stepford Church — an accurate picture of a parish like St. Hilda’s? No. If it were otherwise, I would have to leave.
William Temple, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said: “The church exists mainly for those who are not its members.” All parishes should concentrate on attracting people who are not Christians or churchgoers. Whether or not they are living out of wedlock up with someone — of the opposite or same sex — is immaterial. The hope, though, would be that their perspective and lives gradually change as they become followers of Christ in his Church.
I would much rather attend a church with a high percentage of un-churched gays who are honestly seeking to live according to the Gospel than one with a high percentage of straight cradle-Anglicans who are not. And I don’t think that this would necessarily be unappealing to a gay or straight non-Christian. To say, “we believe in trying to live according to Biblical principles, even though we all may fail to varying degrees” has, I suspect, a more honest ring than the note of desperation in, “come to our church and do or believe what you want”.
I can certainly add my own hearty "Amen" to this. But it raises a host of secondary questions, particularly for liturgical and sacramental churches for whom a liturgically rich celebration of the Holy Eucharist is normative Sunday morning fare. I am ever more of the mind that a key element in the Church's response to the rapidly emerging post-Christendom era is to find ways of relieving the Sunday Mass of the burden of serving as our show window to the world and the primary portal through which an inquirer makes first contact with the ecclesial community.

One dimension of this response involves creating social architecture in parishes by which an unchurched/dechurched individual can experience authentic koinonia without ever entering the nave, or even the church grounds. We need to find ways to make them say, "What was that, and where can I get some more?" The second dimension is to cultivate forms of corporate worship that are non-eucharistic and that are more directly accessible to the unevangelized and uncatechized. People have an innate need to worship, whether they consciously realize it or not. But the Eucharist is not for the uninitiated, particularly with the sort of liturgical accouterments that appropriately feed the souls of those who are evangelized and catechized.

Solemn High Mass is solid food, and is likely to induce spiritual indigestion in those who haven't been carefully and gradually prepared for it. Where's our version of breast milk, strained carrots, and Cheerios?

4 comments:

frcartercroft said...

Dan,
I think the Taize Worship Service can perhaps be one of the entry points into the Anglican ethos.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Dan:

I lead a mid-week Morning Prayer Service at St. Philip's, and I believe that the Services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline would be very welcoming AND very Anglican for an non-churched person.

Blessings,

Deacon Francie

David Handy+ said...

I'm glad you're looking to explore some options, Dan. But besides coming up with non-eucharistic worship possibilities, I think the bigger need is to develop other ways that seekers or non-believers can build relationships with Christians and come to faith in Christ. That could be through support groups of various sorts, seminars (say on parenting or other family issues), healing services, or courses like Alpha.

Bruce Robison said...

Interesting question, Dan. When I arrived at St. Andrew's we had at our 11 o'clock a big choral Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month, and on Easter Sunday, no matter which Sunday of the month it fell on, and a full English Cathedral Choral Matins all the other Sundays. I loved the Choral MP, but for reasons too complex to get into here, we now only have it on the schedule on the second Sunday of the month, with HC the rest of the time. But lots of folks told me that MP was for them a "seeker's service," one that allowed them to "be present" as they were not-quite-yet-ready to affirm the kind of faith commitment they felt necessary to receive Communion.