Changing world, changing Church with Rev Vaughan Pollard (Rev Colin Martin unavailable); the evening was introduced by Rev Peter Garland (r).
There's no getting away from the fact that we live in a changing world. Vaughan found himself in a different culture when his daughter and her friend took Vaughan and his wife Karen for a night out in Spalding.... "what does the word 'Nightclub' mean to us?" he asked. Noise, drink, drugs, joy.... Vaughan asked the same question about what the Church means by comparison: 'Boring, peace, fellowship, friendship, empty...'. Vaughan noted that there were some similarities as well as differences. In the Punch Bowl, Vaughan said he didn't feel an alien; are these two cultures worlds apart?
According to UNESCO, a 'culture' is 'the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs' *. And again, according to a 17 year-old, culture is ' the way we do things round here - it's the way we are.'
When we return to visit a foreign country for a second or third time, we still find some things which are alien to our cultural expectations or norms. Vaughan and Karen revisited a village in southern France and were greeted with open arms. At the village fête, Vaughan was on his own - Karen was poorly. The feast included lamb and fresh mushrooms from the local valley. On discovering that he enjoyed them, the villagers offered to supply Vaughan with a kilo of the mushrooms, even overruling his concerns about taking them through customs. The mushrooms duly appeared a day later and were given for free 'because you are a priest', but Vaughan was later accosted by a tall villager who spotted him dancing with Karen: "Why do you English always lie? Here you are dancing with a beautiful woman!" A clash of cultures and misunderstandings.
The United Kingdom is now known as multi-cultural. There are 43 different languages spoken in Spalding alone. The churches are challenged in many ways - dealing with different ages, genders, upbringing. Rising consumerism is creating a much bigger challenge.
Canon Ian Silk introduced the term 'third place' to these lectures; leisure offers massive choice. In a multimedia age with so many TV channels and political parties, we live in a Pick 'n' Mix society. "It's up to you - you decide!"
The church has tended to take a dim view on all this; we are seen to limit choice, even to demanding that we all stand up for the next hymn. Is the culture we live in a friend or a foe? Perhaps it is both; perhaps we need to learn to critique the culture around us. We are in the world but not of it; we need to welcome it yet treat it with caution.
Some things we should challenge such as the mantra that happiness can be bought, or the demand that if needs are not met, then folk simply move on to the next thing.
As a church, do we provide services that meet the needs of our target groups or offer a 'one size fits all' approach?
When we look at Jesus encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria (as introduced in the devotion by Rev Peter Garland), we see our Lord breaking the cultural rules for the sake of the Kingdom. If he had followed the conventions of the day, he would not have spoken with her, let alone ask her for a drink. He talked, listened, challenged and started the process which saw her life being transformed and passing the gospel on to the people of Samaria.
There is a need to be Jesus-shaped people. Jesus is relational, incarnational, compassionate, real and genuine; Jesus would have called a spade a spade - he didn't dodge an issue. Could we be more like Jesus in today's society?
Eight mixed groups of around ten folk each discussed the following questions over refreshments:
* Think of a time when you last found yourselves in what you would call an alien environment.
- how did it feel? afraid, nervous, uncomfortable, wary of those around, keenly aware of the lack of confidence in yourself, awkward, left out and, perhaps, afraid of making a fool of yourself
- how did people respond to you?
- how did you react to the situation?
* Think of a friend who doesn't go to church. (Some discussed those who had faith but didn't attend a church)
- Name one priority in their lives - what do they make sacrifices for? Money, family, sports, hobbies, work
- What do they do for fun (Third place)? Please themselves, shop, eat out, car boot, family days out
- What issues do they have opinions about? Going to church, politics, immigration
* Taking your thoughts from the previous sets of questions on board, what might a church for the alienin our midst (in our community) - maybe even your friend - look like? A supermarket with a sports field attached
- When and where would it meet? Perhaps as a Churches Together tent at a car boot sale, offering service together to the community - lost children, teas and coffees, a listening ear and a rolling series of short services with a prayer, reading and opportunity to ask questions.
- What kind of services or opportunities for gathering would you provide?
- If we were to start with this person, what kind of church might we end up with and do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing? It's where Jesus would have gone to meet the people...