Most conversations about new forms of church or christian community are about rethinking the table at which the disciples sit. True confession: this project doesn’t emerge from any interest in that table, or even really in the disciples. i think the really interesting stuff of the gospels is the other stories – the tables Jesus went to where the disciples weren’t invited, or where they were so absent no-one thought to mention their presence – the afternoons at Mary and Martha’s, the nameless person’s house where Jesus met the syro-phonoecian woman, dinner at Levi’s house, dinner with Peter’s mother, the ‘water into wine’ wedding table. I think they’re the fun tables.
– from a post I wrote last year.
I’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about the fact that many of the assumptions about what shape expressions of faith and community should take are debunked completely when one takes them into another culture and context, especially one where we don’t play host. Our language and patterns of being and behaving are stripped away when we don’t hold the knowledge or the power, when we don’t get to decide what happens, or what meaning it will take; when we are invited guests. It’s a very good place to be.
[This is a bit of an historical paragraph about structural stuff before talking about why i’m bringing this up again no…!] This alt worship project is part of the Commission for Mission [CFM] in the Uniting Church’s Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. Over recent years the Synod has been reconfiguring the way it resources mission in local congregations [the recent restructuring / focus on resourcing of presbyteries is a primary means of this]. What it’s meant is that the CFM no longer needs to take a primary role in consulting with / resourcing congregations. And that’s making possible some new things…
This week, the CFM has announced some structural changes. The old Mission Planning unit [MPRU] is to be reconfigured, and a few other independent streams of work that have been formed over the last couple of years to explore the edges of the church’s thinking about community, mission and presence, have been drawn together to create a new unit, named Culture and Context.
The Culture and Context Unit will have as its broad aim the discovery of new ‘language’ [in its broadest form] for faith that resonates with communities outside the mainstream. In practical ways, various people in the unit will be focussing on different areas: taking lead roles in some inter-faith work [in schools, disability services and chaplaincy]; exploring and extending chaplaincy education and development [in prisons, mental health institutions, hospitals, etc.]; through liaison work with schools [including a great ‘schoolies with a cause’ project], and the development of a road trauma memorial project with the victorian government. I’ll be continuing to work in alt worship, although we’re going to re-title this project so that it more accurately reflects what it is – the exploration of expressions of spirituality in postmodern contexts. I’ll also be co-directing the unit with Adrian Pyle, who will be focussing on the development of spiritual intelligence in communities and organisations.
At its heart, this new unit won’t be on about working in these areas on behalf of the church… we’re on about a serious exploration of what theology, spirituality and transformative community looks like in places that the church often doesn’t reach, or where it doesn’t know what to do when it’s there. In essence, we’re going out to to be guests at some of those different tables, in order to discover more clearly what hope, love and life look like when we’re there.