Closing a church:7

Someone said to me recently ‘You’ve been affected by that church closing haven’t you?’ Well, yes and no. Yes: it was the first church I was sent to, you can’t minister dispassionately- wherever you go it is part of you, it is part of our family history and I know people to whom this feels like the end. No: it happens, the purposes of God are bigger than one local church and it is somewhere that I have left.

What it did do for me is lead to a whole lot of thinking about why I do what I do, the changes in postchristian Britain and the importance of ‘church’. To be honest, I have a whole lot more time for someone who describes themselves as athiest, ‘searching’ or ‘hurting’ than someone who describes themselves as ‘Christian’ but never gets involved with Christian community as their lives are ‘too full’: heck, dispense with the label then….

The last thing that came to mind was the biggest: Resurrection. I don’t mean ‘resuscitation’ (I thought a lot of praying in the past in Christian circles for ‘revival’ was more akin to praying for ‘resuscitation’….maybe some things should just die); our ‘grand narrative’ is resurrection….and stories about grains of wheat dying so that life may come. Often our role is just watching, waiting, praying and looking for signs of resurrection. Often that resurrection looks nothing like what has died: even when the exiles had returned in the Old Testament, their lives filled with the promise of restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem, many reacted with dismay at what replaced it as it was smaller and less grand. There was a clear sense that God had abandoned them… but resurrection/rebirth of a kind had happened.

And I guess that is what I would want to say to myself, to anyone when a church closes; we live in the bigger story of resurrection and Hope and even if I cannot see a future and only a stone rolling in front of a tomb, in the words of the old sermon: ‘That was Friday; Sunday is coming’.

Each Wednesday, for the last 7 few weeks I posted some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a church:6

I’ve heard it said too much; too much that it became a cliche- ‘God’s ways are not our ways’. By ‘too much’ I mean that faced with questions, longings or just plain ‘shit happening’, it has been said because just staying open and listening and not saying anything was too much for the listener and they had a need to close down the difficulty by using cliche. Openness and brokeness are too much for some people.

But….. what if you could apply a version of that to a church closing? Maybe sometimes it is ‘the will of God’ and ‘God’s ways are not ours’ (and even as I write that, my teeth are grinding over the cliche) & holding on and fighting is just wasting energy.

Maybe we are not God. Maybe God is.

Just a thought….

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a church:5

I came across this a few weeks back by a Church of England Bishop writing about a scheme to combine 3 dioceses into one:-

‘I understand what lies behind the fear of change, loss and uncertainty……. But, this is what the church is called to model in every generation – for our rootedness is fundamentally not in our institutional shape (as if this were directly established by God in creation), but in our courageous and prophetic faithfulness to the mission God has entrusted to us’.

http://nickbaines.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/imagination-and-denial-contemplating-change/

It doesn’t need saying, but maybe because of that, it does; nothing is certain. I know that from doing funerals: death is amazingly random. Likewise, if the current economic climate has taught us anything, it is that nothing under heaven is stable. We never reach a point of stability, however many baubles we surround ourselves with….and faced with instability we all face a choice somewhere on the continuum of looking after number one, or living openly and graciously, turned towards others.

On this, a closure of a church need not be a tragedy: God who holds ‘The Church’ may allow churches to ‘go’, or they may just ‘go’….. the point is the mission of God and the faithfulness to that; things may flourish and fade and there is nothing to be scared of. Any local church must never become an idol.

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a Church:4

I remember an acronym: ‘P.u.s.h”: ‘Pray until something happens’. Even at the time, I felt slightly uneasy about this: it seemed to edge towards a very mechanistic view of prayer- prayer, stripped of mystery or yearning and transformed into a business model that ‘gets results’.

But there is always the thought when a church closes of ‘did we pray enough?’ or ‘did we pray about the right things?’ I can’t answer those questions and actually I would be slightly depressed if I could- formulas and the attempt to find formulas for life are an illusory quest.

Most Christians talk about prayer like talking about going to the toilet: you assume people do it, but it is essentially a private affair and not one you would want to talk about in company. But it does strike me how often in scripture, Jesus is shown praying or the early church are seen as praying: not as purely a ‘spritual practice’ (horrible phrase: one of the many we concoct to seperate ‘sacred’ from ‘spriritual’)- but as something that makes their works of justice, mercy and befriending the oppressed etc meaningful and gives them power.

So I want to turn that question round: was prayer part of our lifestyle together, or essentially private and only wheeled out for the big occasions by the cleric at the front? These questions dog me continually- communal life robs you of intimacy: we develop hard edges. Prayer, together prayer (the main type referred to in scripture), is so hard as you have to make efforts to be vulnerable and stay so…and it is so easier not to bother.

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a church:3

Every Christian worship service I have been to has had confession and repentence as part of it. If you are outside the Christian tradition or hostile to it, that may sound like self flagelation. Done improperly it can be. As I age, I increasingly find it to be incredibly powerful: here is one space during the week when I am not the centre of everything, I don’t have to pretend and I can admit that I often mess it up. I can take the Christian truth that yes, I am made in the image of God, but also I am incredibly flawed. And cross the ‘I’ out- in this act, I grasp, albeit tentatively ‘ubuntu’ (It’s African- look it up), that I is ‘we’.

At the end of a worshipping community there has to be space to say ‘sorry’- sometimes we messed up:

– we ran away with our own agendas.

– we forgot that we are the only community that is supposed to exist for those that are not yet part of it.

-we fell out and never quite got back together again.

-we used each other.

etc etc…..

& sometimes those ‘messings up’ were never acknowledged and we lived like Pink Floyd : ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’.

…and then we say our sorry’s and recieve absolution, to recognise that there is no condemnation, but rather Grace and Forgiveness.

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a church:2

So, time for some hope; of a kind.

The last service in this church that is closing will be on Friday 24th May. This is a day in Methodist churches that is sometimes known as ‘Wesley Day’- a day when we remember John Wesley swapping a religion of constant anguish to a faith based on Grace. It is a day of celebration- or supposed to be. On that level, it is a suprising choice for the last day.

Often when I conduct funerals, the relatives ask that it be a celebration or say ‘s/he would not want us to cry’. Whilst I understand these sentiments, I will also try and trese out the tragedy and loss. I am wary of theologies or ways of thinking that ‘ignore’ pain. However, when something goes like a church, there is a neccesary place for telling stories & remembering the good times.

So; find people who can tell honest stories about when someone started following Jesus, when the building was packed, weddings, baptisms, good deaths, parties, celebrations etc. Make the telling ‘untidy’ (some ‘celebrations’ have been marred for me by over correct and thoughtful liturgy or voices bleached of all life and emotion) and partial: you can’t hope to cover everything.

…and as John Wesley once said in his delightful 17th century English: ‘If thou art constrained to bless the instrument; give God the glory’.

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Hiraeth:3

I promise I won’t pine for North Wales in any more posts after this one: plenty of deep insightful theology coming next week kiddies.

This is an incredibly bad photo:-

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I take incredibly bad photos….

I took this in my favourite cafe in the whole entire universe: Nino’s in Rhos on Sea. I love Starbuck’s, but Nino’s is the kind of independent sea front cafe that corporate Mcworld has nearly destroyed. Fantastic: ‘lived in’, small-ish, views, owner who knows everyone. And this is my favourite drink: a chocachino. Except he used to serve them in those glasses with metal holders that were so 80s (or 70s… or 60s..). A drink that has come down in price over 5 years….bendegedig…

That is really all I wanted to say- nothing deep at all. Except the place is one that I associate with children growing up…with memories….

It is also something that I long for in every place I live: Nino’s is where I learnt the art of long and deep no holds barred conversation over coffee. I used to meet up with another minister whom I really respect; who when times were tough spoke clearly and fearlessly on my behalf. Every 6 weeks or so we would meet up and ‘share’ (horrible, much abused evo word but you know what I mean).

I’ve learned now that I can’t survive without planning for such encounters and not allowing myself to get too busy for them. I experience ‘hiraeth’ for them as much as any physical place.

But now, leave me: for as I look at this picture I can smell coffee and toasted tea cakes, hear the clink of cups, the sound of the sea and the cry of gulls…..

…arglwydd dyma fi….. take me there….

Hiraeth:2

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That sense of longing has, for me and my wife almost become as Jews intone at Passover: ‘next year in Jerusalem’…. ‘Next year in Colwyn Bay/Rhos-on-Sea’.

It is not as if I don’t feel at home where I live now (and that has taken a long time to say); I know far more people, have far more connections inside and outside church (to that extent I feel much more human….. all of my work time is not spent inside christendom… I now know if I moved anywhere and being inside christendom all the time was neccesary I would go crazy), it’s far easier to act missionally….. blah blah blah. Hells teeth, part of my family comes from these parts originally…it is a source of considerable personal distress to find out that one is of Yorkshire ancestry…

It’s just that Gogledd Cymru feels like ‘home’….still. If ever I scraped enough money together to own a property…pause for feats of porcine aviation….it would be there……if ever the invisible hand of Methodism said ‘come over to Macedonia’ I think I would go.

I guess the tension is good; being a Christian is to have that feeling of exile. I’m just not sure where ‘home’ is right now…

Hiraeth:1

‘Hiraeth’ is a welsh word that is untranslateable in English. It means something like ‘longing or yearning for home’ (I know at least one welsh speaker reads this and may be able to correct me).

Last week I spent a few days in North Wales. We lived there from 1999-2004. We had no connection with the place before; we must have been one of the few people who lived in Lancashire who did not know it (‘Hey up luv…this Clandudno is good isn’t it…better than that Ross on Sea…’).

I don’t know what it is about the place (Colwyn Bay, Rhos etc), but we have always missed it and tried to get back for a period of time each year. It could be that it is that our children were born there, that we have retained (and developed) friendships there, that it was my first experience of full time ministry, that our time there was cruelly and badly ended……. I don’t know. I just get an intense feeling of hiraeth when I think about the place and a feeling of ‘home’ when I’m around there, when I’m attempting to speak the ‘language of heaven’ (cymraeg!) once again.

Is God trying to tell me something, am I just nostalgic or is it pure wistfulness?

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…I’m getting wistful again….

What I may well be doing today part 14

Is dreaming of cricket….

cricket rhos

…..ok I will have spent more than a few spare moments trying to get Radio 4 on longwave to catch up with the Ashes ( ‘I’m just going to check the oil/see if I left my yak in the car/see if the children are locked in the car/see if a meteroite has hit the car. I will be back when I have the score…erm when I’ve found it….’ ) and will have spent time watching the highlights (the place where we stay has British satellite).

Today I will be thinking of Glamorgan v Leicestershire at Colwyn Bay, although more specifically Rhos on Sea. When I lived in Colwyn Bay, and for many years after, I used to try and get to watch the one first class cricket match a year in North Wales. I won’t make it this year. Rhos on Sea, especially during that match, is my favourite place in the whole entire earth.

rhos on sea

You can watch cricket and in the lunch interval paddle in the sea and walk back. You can drink beer, eat chips and watch more cricket. And then in the evening reminisce about cricket at Nino’s on the front. It is a well known fact that it never ever rains and is perpetually sunny there and everyone smiles. Happiness. So think of me today, struggling to get by and slumming it in the centre of France…

By the miracle of WordPress I can bore you even when I’m on holiday….