This week I answered the Census question about religion. With the steady decline in Christian numbers, this is a time to ask about the future of Church. The stories of Jesus’ ministry and modern culture converge for me in three features that I would love to be marks of all churches as Habitats for Spirituality. They are the Ministry of MeetUp, the Dignity of Difference and the Holiness of Monday.
I am glad for the name of this congregation. It may appeal to many of our contacts who are spiritual but not religious. But I can see a new sign up: ‘Habitat – the Church of the Meetups: all people, all ideas welcome’. In a MeetUp church, conversations to attend to stories are essential to being the Habitat we hope to be. Our WE time shows how evangelical a meetup experience can be for speaker and listener. In the ministry of MeetUps, not just the minister but all the people find voice to speak of the spiritual, the holy and the divine in their own lived human experience.
Dignity of difference is the title of an edgy book by Orthodox Rabbi Sacks that affirms our capacity to transcend tolerance with true embrace of one who is different in belief or lifestyle. In our MeetUp Habitat, such differences do not hinder our seeing what is holy in other lives and their story,
Dame Edna would perhaps call Holiness spooky. We know about the holy ground in front of Moses, but there is nothing holy in land or buildings other than the holiness of encounters that happen here. Our homes can be just as holy.
Perhaps our churchly Christianity has made us dull and blind to the holy around about us everywhere, that can transform life. Perhaps ‘hearing’ and responding to our many SBNR friends in the Church Alumni Association, often burnt out or alienated by churches, is the key to a vital future.
Participants in the living church are attentive agents of Monday Holiness, holy moments of love and forgiveness and fresh insight in family life that transform relationships; moments of empathy and solidarity in which we bond with a total stranger; moments of inspiration that empower us to act for justice, for ourselves or others; moments of serendipity that open up opportunities far beyond our limited plans.
To be a true spiritual Habitat, let us be more alive to the divine we meet on Monday, in the Other and in the natural order. Let us see ourselves in an I-Thou relationship of respectful conversation with the experiences and ideas of others. Let us also honour our Self, both our pain and our hopes, and ideas. Like each of us, the institutional Sunday church may be dying, but this living spirituality of the Way of Jesus will ever live.
The rich and compelling irony of scripture is that wandering nomads become channels of divine blessing for all, that a dead man on a cursed cross becomes a source of life to those who follow his Way. We are the evidence this most promising man who died at 33 is no mere tragic, because his death did not extinguish what he brought to humanity.
If we can be part of the living church, attentive to the holy in every time and place, every experience, every relationship, if we can meetup to tell our faith and life stories and listen to others, if we can embrace those so different to us in mutual commitment to the good of all, then we may be able to make real in 2021 what Jesus brought to the world 2000 years ago.
Like the Christ, the Church is both dying and living. Jenny inspired me saying ‘death and resurrection’ is a primary metaphor for her faith. What more need I say? Dying is OK. Living and dying are not alternatives.
Can we be ‘spiritual but not religious’, and not dependent on the institutional church?