Over the last year and a half God has been birthing a vision in me about a different way to be church. I’ve been looking at different models and ways to be church. At the present time this is where it stands. Below you’ll find a framework for a different way to be church. Again, I stress that this is a framework. The purpose of such a framework is to provide a structure in which to build the life of the Church, not to be a black and white, this-and-nothing-else, mentality. Take a look. I’d love to hear responses and thoughts.
A different way to be church:
Much is being said and written about church planting in the Anglican context at the moment. For me to join the cacophony of voices in some ways seems redundant. However, I have yet to see a community express this vision in such a way as to resonate or identify deeply with my own. Therefore, I feel the need to put it down on paper. The following is a beginning. It will continue to unfold in the future I’m sure. Nonetheless, this is the starting point.
What follows will be divided into different sections. Each section represents a core understanding of the heart of the Community. Each section will highlight the starting point and a different facet of the ethos of the Community.
Rule of Life/The Four Practices
This idea is taken from St. Patrick’s Anglican Church, Lexington, KY., although there is some modification. Much of what follows is directly from their practices literature; which can be found here.
For many churches, if you want to become a ‘member’ of a particular church the path is pretty standardised. Begin by going to church on Sunday morning. Or you may come to the church for a specific reason – i.e. baptism, wedding, etc. After an initial period of attendance, you become more involved by attending a programme – a short course, a home group, etc. As you do this you get to know people to varying degrees. You begin to participate in more programmes. At a certain point, you are invited to lead/organise something. Lastly, you become a leader for a specific ministry. You are now giving time, tithe and talents to this specific church. By this stage you have become a member, whether there is a formal ‘rite’ depends upon the church.
This is the way most people become part of a local church. The specifics of the story may vary, but the basics are the same. This model of participation in a local church is affinity based. But what if we could be the church in a different way? What if we participated in a local community based upon a different foundation? What if church was not based upon the programme or what we do, but how we live and who we are as a community?
When we read Acts, we see the early church struggling to be the Church. But Luke doesn’t mention anything about Sunday school classes, Alpha courses, personal development programmes. Programmes or courses or Sunday school are not bad things unto themselves. They just aren’t mentioned by Luke as what the early church did. However, Luke does speak about that to which the church devoted themselves. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2.42ff) They devoted themselves to being a community based on these things, not based on the programmes they put on or how many ‘ministries’ they ran. They wanted to be disciples of Jesus and that was the passion to which they devoted themselves. This is the foundation for the Four Practices: worship, community, formation and mission. (For the sake of brevity, refer to the Four Practices from St. Patrick’s for a fuller explanation of the Four Practices.)
All that the Community does stems from these four practices. As St. Patrick’s mentions, the only thing that they commit to do is Sunday worship. Everything else is done based upon need and is only done as long as there is a need perceived by the community. In practise this provides freedom to the community to change and develop. No longer do we have do do something simply because ‘we’ve always done (fill in the blank – Alpha, Marriage prep, Sunday school).’
Moreover, the Four Practices form a Rule of Life to which every member commits. A Rule of Life is most closely associated with religious orders. However, Cranmer in the Book of Common Prayer(BCP) does many things to imply his desire for a Rule of Life to be the norm for all Christians, not just monks and nuns. For instance, Cranmer redacts the Daily office from 8 times to 2. This idea is evident to such a degree that the 1962 Canadian BCP includes at the end of the catechism a statement about the need for everyone to have a Rule of Life.
There are certain aspects of the Rule which will be common to all, such as regular attendance at the Eucharist or the Daily Office (the twofold office of Morning/Evening prayer being essential; the fourfold office encouraged – mid-day and compline in addition to morning/evening prayer). However other things will be specific to that person; a personal expression of their Rule.
Both the Four Practices and the Rule of Life form the core of the Community. Everything else flows out of this perspective. Everything else is inherently derived from the Four Practices and the Rule of Life.
Community is one of the Four Practices, but encompasses a broad swath of concepts. Community in many churches is found in a variety of settings. However, there can be a distinct separation between these community events and the community we live in on a daily basis. It is my belief that we must be intentional about community. Moreover, it is my belief that such a community needs to be local and close in proximity. (This was originally one of the outcomes of the parish model.) However, to simply live close to someone does not naturally foster community. The heart of this desire will be throughout the Community. However, the expression of intentional community may vary. For some, they may desire to live in a house with others, sharing meals, living space, etc. For others, community houses may be an expression of intentional community. Families, individuals may live in community houses which are in strategic locations in their neighbourhood. Co-housing may also be another possibility. No matter the expression a commitment to regular shared meals, the Daily Office, and a commitment to live in a posture of hospitality and service to each other and their neighbourhood will be the norm. The aim of any intentional community is to become more like Christ and serve His world.
Community in many church contexts has been viewed as optional or at the very least limited due to a variety of reasons (proximity, worldview, etc.). The purpose of a church community which intentionally pursues community with each other will hopefully have the outcome that this community will extend beyond the community to the surrounding neighbourhoods. The purpose of community is twofold. First, it is for the body to become through relationships more like Jesus. Second, the purpose of community is mission; where God has placed them geographically has meaning and intent. Therefore, intentional community leads us to be more like Jesus and take this to those surrounding us.
Celtic Abbey/‘Hub’ church/Minster Model
The third major understanding of the vision is what some have called a Celtic abbey or ‘Hub’ church or Minster model. For some people there are presuppositions, both positive and negative, which are attached to certain terms. Therefore it is helpful to begin with what this model will be, rather than what it is not.
An Abbey church is:
- a district (larger than a traditional parish. Originally were know as parochiae.)
- composed of a variety of sizes of worshipping communities
- local and regional (at the same time)
- composed of a variety of worship styles
- collegial in leadership (made up of both ordained and lay leaders. Leaders may serve in different worshipping communities at different times; though their local community will depend upon their locale.)
- missional (both local and regional)
- empowering to local communities
- both bounded and centred (set theory)
- outward looking
- able to use resources regionally
An Abbey church is not:
- a revamped expression of a diocese
- a parish with small groups
- defined by ‘parish’ boundaries
- led by the ‘1 priest’ model
- resourcing only 1 parish
The abbey model fosters both a local and regional, inward and outward focused community. Moreover, with local worshipping communities coming to worship at the ‘abbey’ at least once a month (this would probably be much more frequent in the beginning), there would be a distinct identity which is aptly expressed in the concept of dual citizenship. Lastly, the abbey church fosters holistic and organic expressions of worship, in their broadest sense – art, dance, music, commerce, creativity of all kinds.
For further discussion of the church as abbey see here:
The three sections above – the Abbey church, the Four practices, intentional community – are the three pillars of the vision which God has been birthing in me. Each of these pillars is practised to one degree or another in varying contexts. However, there is a tendency in many expressions to favour one of the pillars over another. For instance, St. Patrick’s in Kentucky where the Four practices originated, does not seem to have a deep desire to express intentional community as described above. (This is not intended to be a criticism, rather an observation. I do not know the extent to which they foster community. I can only surmise from thier website.) Another community strives to embody intentional community, as many neo-monastic communities do, yet do not fully express the missional nature of the church as abbey or express mission in the same way as found in the Four practices. Others take aspects of the Abbey church, such as ministry to the marginalised (found particularly in the charism of the Franciscans), and place them above other expressions. My hope and prayer is that the three pillars will provide a suitably balanced and sustainable way of being the Body of Christ, the Church, and living this call wherever God has called us.