The Parish Church
As you read through November's Ashwell News you will find the word 'Mission' several times. I will have preached on Mission twice by the time this issue comes off the press, and the PCC will hopefully have heard back from the diocese about having a Mission Accompanier on our journey towards producing a Mission Action Plan. Many dioceses have encouraged parishes and benefices to produce a plan, and the results of some of these efforts are online. Just click on 'Church' under 'MAP EXAMPLES' at www.churchmaps.co.uk/.
I don't know who said it first, or where, but I'm sure I have heard the phrase, 'Communicate or die'. It's the title of a book I may never read, but it strikes me as an absolutely vital truth that churches need to acknowledge. Communicate, or die. Although ... I would put it differently, especially if it is going to be said by a church. I'm naturally awkward enough for threats to be counter-productive so I'd much rather say 'Communicate and Live'.
Communicate and Live'. Obviously, it depends what we communicate. I could go on for hours about how wonderful Apple Macs are, but to my victim - sorry, listener - it might only feel as if they had lived a very long time.
And, of course, communication is a two-way process. Long gone are the days when people in the pews were merely consumers, spoon-fed ipsissima verba by a clergy 6 feet above contradiction, and repeating those certainties to the world outside as if they closed every question that life could ask. Nowadays the church must also listen, if it is to communicate; we must hear the questions asked of us by real life, and thank God for that. We must communicate, and when we do so with joy, reverence and faith, we become more fully alive.
That sounds to me like an interesting Mission Action Plan. Communicate and live. Slightly light on detail, perhaps, but none the worse for that. Engaging in conversation with people about what makes them and us feel truly alive, or what fills them and us with fear and diminishes our lives, is a way to take part in the coming of the Kingdom of God. As long as we are genuinely making the effort to continually educate and refresh our faith and as long as we take a loving and informed interest in the world around us we will have life-enhancing conversations. In those meetings, if we are open to what one psychotherapist called 'the flow of felt meaning', God will bless us and the people we meet. After all, at the risk of sounding all metaphysical, God is ultimate meaning.
Jesus told the disciples that the Kingdom of God was in their midst, or even, depending on the translation, within them (Luke 17:21). The Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us that mission is finding out what God is already doing, and joining in. All around us God is trying to communicate with us. Communicate and live. Do we have anything more important to do?