'Who Are You?'
This is such an important question. But how do we answer it? It is a question that God asks us again and again, and a question which we ask Godself. This story is my story, not all of it just part of it. It documents four experiences of church that was 'a bit different'. Being based on my personal experience over 12 years it is therefore suspect as historical data! What is important is the shape, not the final details.
Future was run on a sunday night at an evangelical URC church. Future was run by people in their twenties, and had a strong sense of alternative culture. Last year I remade contact with an old friend of future, we met at a Goth club, and I discovered he was playing with another old friend from the group in a Sister's of Mecy Style Band. Future was the time of NOS and of Greenbelt being relevant and exciting. Future was in some ways a youth club, but encompassed more than that. There was a strong sense of community, of welcoming community, even if you smoked, drank, or had sex. Long before 'belong, believe, behave' became fashionable Future was living a vision that much of the church is still incapable of embracing.
Future was far less about its own culture and far more about other peoples. There was bible study, worship, prayer, snooker, snacks, candles, arguments, sleepovers, the whole thing was dynamic. Part of that dynamism was based on space, Future had its own space, a basement, for young people this was somewhere that was not home and not school or work, but was theirs. Future was not the most popular group, there was often a sense of suspicion from the broader Evangelical Church. Because Future had doors that were open, many seemed to feel they were too open. Like many emergent groups Future was stifled by its birthing tradition rather than empowered by it.
I would not be a Christian if it wasn't for Future. I am still a Christian, and I am still alternative in my culture (despite some dull periods). When life became difficult for me recently it was Future's faith and engagement with real life that got me through. it provided a foundation.
Cell was and is in many peoples minds a popular management 'fad', it certainly has its critics. I remember being very excited about Cell Church when I first read about it. I remember being less excited about it when I realised that it was a management technique borrowed from business as much as from the bible! This particular Cell was part of a small evangelical charismatic church. It was a group of around half a dozen people.
Cell is based on Welcome, Worship, Word and Witness, but it soon became clear that this structuring had to be more flexible. The evangelical charismatic model of worship, with a guitar, was not suitable for such a group; soon the Cell began using creativity and art in worship. One night we sat in a circle, passing colored threads, sharing how that color spoke to us of God. Another night we wrote a poem together. Week after week people brough different ideas and meditations.
Community was strong, their was support for one another and genuine concern. The group seemed open, however Cell is very intense, in reality the model of inviting people to Cell seemed unrealistic - it is not open enough. The structure of Cell Church also taxed the Cell - because of the wider demands of church programmes it was unable to truly develop organically as a cell really does. Perhaps it was a mutant?
Looking back the simple structure of Cell, the four W's, is an effective way of running a small group. even if 'Church is the the Cell' is not my mantra. This group nourished me at a time when I was finding the Evangelical Charismatic tradition increasingly uncomfortable.
Sacred Three was an alternative worship group in a church within a moderate Anglo-Catholic tradition. The group developed out of the ideas of a group of teenrs and twenties into a group which had people aged from 8 to 80. Sacred Three started around a liturgical center, reflecting the worship of the Church it was part of but pushing the boundaries. Items were used in worship; creative activities using objects that did not demand a particular meaning, but instead were open to interpretation by the individual. Stations were also used, activities with a clearer meaning. All of this was anchored in a pattern of evening prayer. Much of the material in these pages stems from Sacred Three.
Sacred Three was not separate from the wider worshiping community, it reflected the Western Catholic tradition with readings from the saints, and followed the church year. Worship was created by the community rather than individual leaders. Sacred Three for me represented the emergent in healthy relationship with its birthing tradition, transforming it rather than being smothered by it.
Sacred Three helped me begin to think about Liturgy in a creative way. Written liturgy became an oppurtunity rather than the enemy.
The Meditative Eucharist is a long way from Future. It is a Church of England communion service, based around liturgy from Common Worship, and drawing as well from Iona and Taize. There is bread and wine. There is silence. There is incense. There are candles. There are vestments. There is chant. There is reading from scripture. There is prayer. There is poetry. There is a 10 minute sermon. It is in form a traditional communion service - and yet it attracts a wide age ranging congregation, increasingly people in their teens and twenties.
There is community - the service is at 5.00pm, so when it finishes at 6.30pm there are drinks at a local bar - but demand is not there. You can come and slip out, worship God without signing up for a rota. It is open, especially to people who wouldn't describe themselves as 'straight', it attracts christians, budhists and atheists. Med:Euch is honestly emergent, it is Church of England, it is Other, it does not pretend not to be church, and it is growing.
My time at the Meditative Eucharist saw it grow from a regular congregation of about 12 to a regular congregation of 40 or 50 taken from a far wider pool of people. Of all the alternative forms of church I have been involved with it was the most sucessful and the closest to 'Traditional' worship. This Church was my home while I trained for the ordained ministry.
'Where are you?'
Another very good question. One for which there is as yet no answer. Watch this space.