My colleague and Nephew The Reverend John Hounsell-Drover has a blog entitled “Thoughts in Progress.” I like that title and I like his blog! John is Priest and Rector at St. Mary’s Church is Corner Brook. Among the storehouse of his talents John is showing himself to be a thoughtful and insightful blogger. It is heartening to read the thoughts of a priest in Newfoundland and Labrador with good insight and progressive theology. I have been subject (and I use that word intentionally) to the authority and structure of the church in Newfoundland and it cannot be assumed that those who lead the church have a good command of the priesthood of all believers.
John had a rather well thought our blog today that spoke of the need for change and spoke of the persistence to be patient enough to let yeast and flour do its work. Interesting combination of “thoughts in progress” on church and on change – slow as it might sometimes be. Here is and excerpt from that blog today;
“We are crippled by our structures (material and otherwise) and a lingering over-reliance on the few (clergy) to minister to the many (parishioners). Until we see the whole membership (body) of the church as the ‘ministers’ and church buildings as merely (dispensable) tools we will be domed to maintenance, navel-gazing and justifying self-serving social clubs. There is much that must die for the church to grow: buildings, parish structures, bureaucracy – especially duplicity and triplicity – to start."
I agree wholeheartedly! Henri Nouwen writes that, “solitude is the furnace of transformation.” Yet we cannot hear God for the noise of our being. When the church – no the “People of God” – get mired down in institutional chatter, they drown out the quiet place where the Spirit weaves Her wisdom. Often as church we are frozen in fear. There are those in the church, many of whom are ordained, that fear transformation and change because it may mean having to risk being vulnerable. It may mean that we have to risking loving. Being the people of God, being the church is NOT about a building, NOT about a Prayer Book, NOT about which hymn we sing, NOT about what we bless and do not bless, etc. Being the People of God IS about love, IS about forgiveness, IS about tolerance and acceptance, It IS about dialogue and inquiry, IS about faith, and it IS about transformation and change.
This is not easy because the institutional church is fearful. Read these words of Bishop John Shelby Spong.
“Institutional Christianity seems fearful of inquiry, fearful of freedom, fearful of knowledge-indeed, fearful of anything except its own repetitious propaganda, which has its origins in a world that none of us any longer inhabits. The Church historically has been willing to criticize, marginalize, or even expel its most creative thinkers. The list would stretch from Origen through Erasmus to Hans Küng. This institution seems far more eager to expend its energy defending its limited truth than to see its holy words for what they are-mere pointers toward the reality that limited words always distort and can never finally capture. “
We must ALL as the People of God take a serious accounting of how we can engage in good dialogue and debate. We need to be courageous enough to see that, we no longer in the world which gave birth to ideas that are no longer practical or progressive, or productive. This means that we need to have courage to practice the triage that John is writing about. That is to say, we must be able to have the dignity to say farewell or goodnight to communities that have given a good and full life. We need to have the courage to invest time and resource into communities that are building and growing. We need to have the courage to question the leadership of the church when it has lived in duplicity, and yes John, even Triplicity! We must have the courage to be the yeast and allow the word of Jesus to take hold. In my mind that means that there are times when we must knock the dust off of our sandals and move on. This is NOT the work of just the ordained. In fact I would argue that it will not happen of it is the work of the ordained. Among us there is too much fear, too much insecurity, too much jealously to make change happen. Don’t get me wrong – the good news is that Jesus called a similar band to build the church. I have for more confidence in the leadership of the church when we have the strength of the large multitude charging forward. This hard work of change is more accurately, the work of the priesthood of all believers. This is, in part, what our baptism calls us into. So we must all step us and take seriously the promise to “continue in the apostles teaching, the fellowship and the prayers in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.” When we promised that, it did NOT mean that we would day the same prayers for ever, that we would sit in the same old pew forever, or that we would even see the institution as the same forever. So we all have to take on the conversation of being church is a changing world. Let’s put aside the institutional chatter, and in solitude, engage in intelligent dialogue and inquiry.
Thank you John for having the courage to express the need for change and the need for all of us to e BE the church – not just people who show up once a week to worship in it!