Church and community

Once, the Church was integral and focal to communities, such as villages, that already existed naturally for other reasons. The problem now is that church has to invent community around itself to function, and most of us haven't time or energy for this process. So people turn up and consume whatever has been prepared by others; church as TV, as a resource that refills rather than takes out.

The process works as follows:

1. People have no wish or no time to get involved in the actual making;

2. People turn up, consume, and go feeling renewed or refreshed;

3. If the 'worship product' consumed doesn't satisfy their needs, people will shop elsewhere for one that does:

4. If the Church is perceived as offering nothing of interest or nothing that can satisfy felt needs, people will look elsewhere for 'spirituality';

Certain forms of Buddhism are popular because they can fit into the modern lifestyle, ie they can be practised in private, for a few minutes each day; they scratch the spiritual itch but make no major demands such as community or public and accountable commitments; they touch all fashionable concerns while allowing the individual to decide just what to do about them, with little perceived comeback for non-performance [ie hell].

This raises a question: does Christianity lend itself too easily to a work ethic, ie work for salvation or else? This may be contrary to 'salvation by grace', but in many [most?] Christian circles if we are not seen to be doing 'good works' we are perceived as spiritually unregenerate, and therefore we feel ourselves to be under pressure to 'perform' to avoid censure and to prove our spiritual health. This becomes yet another 'work pressure' at a time when we are already overburdened and seeking refuge. Indeed for many people just turning up at church week by week is a chore, done, ironically, to reassure others about their continuing spiritual health. and for every person who seeks community or commitment, there are many who actively shirk such things.

So what we want now are religions that affirm [ie repair] without making demands [we don't have the time or resources to meet them]. Let's be honest: most of us are too exhausted by the demands of modern living to make our own worship. That's why we pay vicars to get on with making worship while we deal with the kids, the boss and the groceries. And in truth, those of us who do make worship happen without being paid a living for it still haven't really cracked the problem. What we do may be authentic, but it takes even more time and effort than the usual sort, and so often proves unsustainable. We haven't worked out how to slot worship into our lives in a way that enriches rather than takes out. Worship becomes one more task to do, rather than a relief from tasks, a sabbath as intended.

We are burdened by forms of spirituality created to frame the seasons of an agricultural world - a world whose speed of life was attuned to the maturing of corn rather than the arrival of email. What forms of spirituality are appropriate to frame the life patterns of an accelerating urban culture? Medieval spiritual forms were a series of communal events, in which those who of necessity lived and worked as community found their community made sacrament, village reframed, revealed as Body of Christ. Should spirituality centre around events, that are exhausting to create and which demand synchronisation of diaries to attend [and invariably some can't make it]? How would a Christianity that wasn't centred on a weekly event work? Can worship be a guided 'space' rather than a task or event? A void rather than another solid in a too solid life? And how then do we make community?