kester blogged yesterday a piece on whether what has emerged is retreating
i rang him to chat about it (old school conversation?!). i was thinking i wouldn't blog about it even though i was implicated as some sort of a sell out by working with institutions - can't see much point in getting defensive. i suggested to kester that his post was romantic tosh! well today he has blogged about our conversation saying that i said that so i'm left with little choice but to say something...
here's a few thoughts.
i say it's romantic because the track record of people leaving institutions to effect change whether in political or religious life is pretty poor. it seems a romantic idea of course. but the new institution free zone is also run by broken humans so can be as life denying or life giving as the institution it left which is also run by broken human beings. in fact my own experience is that new things have a tendency to become more dogmatic and controlling than the very things they left with no system in place for passing on leadership - check the house church movement of the seventies as a case in point. this view was re-inforced for me when i read nation of rebels which i have mentioned on here before which has a pop at guardian reading lefties who sit at dinner parties theorising about change and being counter cultural. heath and potter point out that change is invariably from those who have engaged in the political process over the long term, gone on civil rights marches, campaigned and so on. in that sense being alternative may be a poor strategy for change.
secondly the church is not an oppressive or repressive regime at least not in this country! i'm not sure what churches kester has being going to but they sound like a cartoon. there is plenty of research around that suggest that if you have a local church in your community it will be full of people who make life better giving themselves away on behalf of others in the community, getting involved in soup runs, parent associations, prison visiting - generally all round kind and caring people. ok it's not news to say that there are churches that are time warped or frustrating or with controlling leaders - welcome to broken humanity and an environment of massive cultural change that virtually every institution has struggled to navigate. but at a time when there has been an amazing amount of permission giving and creativity and energy around new forms of church i am baffled at kester's depressing take on church. rowan williams and desmond tutu must be up there on his hero list?!
thirdly for change it is wonderful to have newness at both the centre and the edge. i am a stuck record on this - apologies. but i have tried to celebrate with generosity both organic/emerging communities that have left institutions. and those that have either renewed from within or been birthed in and out of institutions. i thank god for both and for the loyal radicals who have remained faithful and the pioneers who have sailed off the edges. that is how change happens. again kester suggests there is nothing happening in the church in the uk - again i am absolutely baffled how you can say that at a moment when the energy around newness has been noticed by so many other people. i was at a weekend this last weekend full of inspiring people sharing faith and creating community in mission - half organic outside of structures and half inside - not that that was a question/judgement that was bothering anyone who was there. i actually think there is a whole wave of small organic communities meeting in homes that is probably the kind of thing kester is hoping is happening! but as an example of old and new the recent day with old monks and nuns meeting and sharing wisdom felt to me much more like a picture of the hopeful exchanges that are taking place as the church (an organic system after all) self organises for the future.
fourthly i suggested in my conversation with kester that perhaps he should start homeschooling as he is teacher before accusing people in another sphere for selling out by taking a paid role in an institution. you can't have it both ways. he works for a privileged institution (privately funded) that has entrusted education to professionals for an outcome of enabling them to learn and grow to presumably earn a crust and grow up to be creative human beings. well the church exists for transformation (the liturgy after the liturgy as discussed in the last post) and appoints professionals to enable a learning transforming community. there are crap schools and there are crap churches. but get some consistency kester - in the comments on the post you even recommend to readers to go to church house bookshop to buy your book - purrrrrleeease!!!
and ordination... well of course it has problems. and i'm sure we share many frustrations on it. but the church is going to recognise and appoint leaders - of course it will. though simple economics mean there will be less paid roles. self funding and bi-vocational is the way forward for pioneers i have no doubt. the church has also recognised that the current cultural change is calling for a different kind of leadership and created a new category for that. why be surprised that people are going for that? and it's not for the money or to run back to mummy - i really don't believe that. it's not an easy path - ask anyone doing it. of course some people are leading outside of that - and great. let's have both! i do worry of course that the power of the old will swallow the new.
and as for me selling out - i choose to connect with both the centre and the edge. i've tried to be bi-lingual i guess. i am currently developing leadership training. i suspect most of that will be for people not getting ordained but i really hope some that are getting ordained will be able to go this route because i think it will be brilliant! why not?
i also don't buy the overall narrative that kester spells out of what has emerged retreating. it's his own story - of vaux and communities that did leave institutions. but a ton of us have never actually left. i have always been part of a community that is part of the church of england. that doesn't mean i always will. but my gut instinct is that i want to be connected in to the wider body of christ historically and globally and the c of e has enough space for creative communities to thrive within its edges. i appreciate that the narrative kester spells out is shared by others but it's by no means the dominant one. but i totally appreciate people on that journey and the contributions they bring. i loved what vaux had to offer and was saddened to see it go.
back to kester's new book which i'm half way through and enjoying. he mentions this in his last post that to mature as persons is to take responsibility as parents to bring the new to birth. people taking the risk of putting legs on ideas and living christian community life in the way of christ whether in the institution, on its edges or beyond its edges are all a gift to the world as they take up that mantle.
kester and i are good friends, we regularly take the rip out of each other, support rival football teams and send fruity text messages around games to each other. so please don't read into this anything more than a conversation we have had and are having and will have over a beer. i am not anticipating writing more posts on this - enough said, maybe too much