“Too often the church has turned away from this challenge and sunk into a bourgeois, conformist respectability… At such times it is almost indistinguishable from the world, it has lost its saltiness, it’s light is extinguished and it repels all idealists… Only when the Christian community lives by Christ’s manifesto will the world be attracted and God be glorified. So when Jesus calls us, it is to this he calls us. For he is Lord of the counterculture.” John Stott, (d. 2011)
Many clergy take Monday off. Last Monday, I went out the back door, walked past the rabbits in the backyard, said hello to our dead cat, Winston… (I buried him under the crab-apple tree five months ago)… and walked into the parish hall. Wall to wall people! Who are all these people, I wondered? I then realized: “Oh, this is Monday… the Senior’s Exercise Class which has about 35 people. There were the pre-school parents, and their almost 50 children, the church money counters and the stewardship chair. I spoke with a man who said he was leaving the church, and then his wife who said that they were not—they didn’t—and someone was in the photocopy room apparently photocopying The Collected Works of Charles Dickens.
I am not sharing this with you to give you the impression that St. Andrew’s in Grimsby is an especially busy place. In fact, quite the opposite! I am willing to wager that most Anglican parish halls, most Anglican church offices, are all very busy places. In fact, for all the money we spend on this or that trend of ‘reaching out’ to the community around us, we might be better off having folks come in and sit in the office every now and then! Those folks would probably get a better idea of what the Anglican Church actually does in their community. I have no doubt these visitors would find our work compelling!
The problem with all this busy-ness is that we Anglicans rarely see it for what it actually is. Our life together in the Anglican Church of Canada seeks the glory of God in the life of humankind. Our vision of the glory of God is humankind fully alive, to borrow a phrase from Irenaeus, a Bishop in the second century.
This is why we want seniors to exercise, why we want good pre-schools for our children, why we lobby for affordable housing and visit the palliative care hospice. This why newly singled folk are invited here to gather together. This is why and how those who mourn are comforted.
I was startled to read John Stott in the above quote from Suzanne Guthrie’s meditation resource ‘The Edge of the Enclosure.’ I have felt so many the times the truth of the great evangelical: that the Church is often indiscernible from “bourgeois, conformist respectability.” And how often, Lord have mercy, is the Church a vessel of un-converted, unchallenged racism! How often do we leave unchallenged views which are directly opposed to the vision of Christ: “I was a stranger and you invited me in…” How often have we in fact not invited the stranger in! Lord, give us eyes to see! Ears to hear!
We need to look again and consecrate our business (busy-ness) with a fully renewed and refreshed consciousness. This consciousness is nothing less than the mind of Christ. This is precisely the living prayer of St. Paul for us all.
The next time you walk into a busy Anglican church office or parish hall—look again! Look with the eyes of Ireneaus who saw the glory of God in humankind striving for health, nurture, and renewal. Listen to John Stott’s appeal that we hear Christ’s manifesto to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
In so doing, the presence of God and the community of God will blossom before your very eyes—this revelation will change you and our culture.