Commitment-Phobe: Putting Church before community?
Does my church put itself before its community?
What do you do in times like these? Gather, I guess. But does gathering make you community? I gather with a large group of people every Sunday to praise God, to hear Scripture, to reflect on the week and the world, and to pray into situations. Then I go home and rarely gather with those people again. That is my choice, because I worship at a church that is not within walking distance. In my part of London that means that I don’t worship at one of six churches closer to me. And of course, my church cannot represent the whole community, because it is a Christian church, and although Christians of other denominations attend, people of other religions do not.
So what is community? This was the theme of an evening service in our church earlier this year. I was left with two lasting visions: one was of Margaret Thatcher’s famous ‘There is no such thing as society’ speech, and the other was of Desmond Tutu’s words about ubuntu, the Nguni word that expresses that all humanity is interdependent, so that no one can call themselves free if even one person in their community is oppressed.
Mrs Thatcher said: ‘It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.’ Is this something that we can end up doing in church, as we wrangle over the right way to worship or grumble about the lack of donations to fix the roof? Do we look after our own relationships with God or our building before we look into our wider community? My church is filled with a mixture of keen-as-mustard believers, those who are there for tradition, those wanting a place in a good school, and those who are lost in some way and want help. I wonder if in all the focus on evangelising the people within our congregation we are forgetting to help the lost ones and we are forgetting about our role in the world…
This is an extract from the March 2017 edition of Reform.