Reading through Church in the Present Tense was a refreshing collaboration of thinkers and doers who are wrestling with the questions of transitions and practice in our given modern context. It attempts to give a “candid look at what’s emerging”. For the purposes of our cohort, we paid particular attention to the two chapters written by our doctorate mentor, Dr. Jason Clark. I value his thinking and writing in that I know it comes from deep theological reflection as well as a heart for mission in praxis. His chief interest is what it means to be ekklesia, not just historically, but missionally in today’s emerging cultural contexts. He proposes a kind of deep church: “In deep church we would not simply repackage the past or become fashion victims of the emerging culture, but rather we would aspire to an understanding of church embedded in the past while also fully engaged in the present.” (50)
Dr. Clark roots his ecclesiology in simple but profound terms: “Who we are is found in Jesus with others, the depths of which exceed anything we can do on our own.” (46) Ekklesia is clearly centered in and around Christ and it is to be done within the context of a shared story together. “The reality of the death and ressurrection of Jesus as the event that all of life should be ordered around, and our local community invited into.” (40) Dr. Clark wrestles with the fact that the gnarly beast of consumerism in modern capitalistic markets seek to steal this story away from the gathered people and rather root them in a consumer narrative where it is about the individual and the constant pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of boredom that sets the tone. “Consumer culture relates to beliefs as commodities to be used and marketed. . . . The machinery of advertising, consumer’s handmaiden, uses stolen symbols to promise experiences and ways of life, security and transformation to the congregation of consumer culture.” (40) So how do we find a way forward? He suggests we may need to look to our past: “Instead of the quest for a new radical form of church, we might do well to understand the church in history, with all its flaws.” (48)
Dr. Clark suggests a powerful way to bring the kind of orientation around Christ that the Scriptures call us to is to find a resource already present in church tradition, namingly liturgy. He says: “We all are liturgical in that we all have formularies that organize our lives around certain beliefs and practices.” (77) “Liturgy and ritual can form our lives around the reality of the universe that is the life of Jesus.” (83) What he is implying is that liturgy helps brings structure and form to our shared story together, the rituals are a welcomed infrastructure that helps us create sacred space in what would otherwise be ordinary. In particular he has found that the church calendar helps give form to their communal year of worship together. “One of the things we have found in my own community is the church calendar, a simple tool used in Christian communities throughout history that organizes the church year around the telling of the life of Jesus.” (80) In our house church community we have found the same. Being a small community we enjoy being in solidarity with the global Body of Christ and celebrating the church seasons within the network of all the churches in the world. The calendar brings a monastic rythymn of work, life, prayer, communion and even times of solitude. It makes our center church and the life of Christ, not the consumer calendar of shopping seasons, TV seasons, awards shows, vacation seasons and the gross perversion of historic Christian holy days. We want to live ‘in Christ’ while we live in the tangible world and culture. As I have often said, I am deeply comitted to ‘monking in the real world‘.
“For many of us, the Eucharist (or Communion or Lord’s Supper) is central to our liturgical lives. We seek to live in light of the church calendar, allowing it to serve as a reminder that we are called to become like Jesus and to order our whole lives after him.” (86) In our community as well, communion is a centerpiece to just about all of our gatherings. We practice communion everytime the people gather. Since our space is very familiar, informal and living space, having the eucharistic elements present and central when the people come helps set the tone that though we laugh and enjoy each other, this gathering is about worship. As well, we intentionally move from the common meal in the kitchen/dining area to the family room where communion will be partaken and other elements of worship. It sets the space apart from the ordinary and jovial to sacred and reflective. We recite the same communion liturgy each week, the sameness brings form to what is otherwise informal. The partaking of communion is a natural flow from the common meal table, it extends our fellowship of worship of the Christ in our midst. What was ordinary becomes sacred as we enter into the mystical union of the gathered community with the Christ in the elements. Liturgy helps us be church, as opposed to a small group or bible study. Our liturgical progression follows like this: 1) Common Meal 2) Responsive Call to Worship 3) Declaration of Faith 4) Psalm Reading 5) Worship Reflection 6) Communion Liturgy and partake 7) Scripture narrative reflection and discussion 8) Prayers for others 9) Benediction and Celtic Blessing. We have taken much of our liturgy from Celtic Daily Prayer, a resource put out by Northumbria Christian Community on the north coast of England.
For many years we did not follow any kind of liturgical flow, but the past few years of folding it in has really changed the tone and nature of our worship space, we find ourselves anchored in its depth and connection to a rich Christian history. Dr. Clark reflects the same: “Reciting together the Apostle’s Creed can function as an anchor in the storm of conflicting beliefs that swirl around and within me. I am regularly moved by the experience of reading a liturgical prayer or confession where the voices of individuals, including my own, take on the univocal voice of a community. In a world where we are used to hearing the sound of our own voice out loud or within an internal commentary, liturgy enables us to locate our voice in the midst of others, to find ourselves in the identity of others.” (81) In this way, I think liturgy is a powerful antidote to the problems of consumerism and individualism. We are not present to entertain one another, we are not seeking the avoidance of boredom, we are seeking the unification of our hearts around the risen Christ present with us gathered in the Spirit. As well, liturgy is not about the pastor and his/her voice, it is about the voice of all the people. I love having my teenage daughters present and listening to their voices amongst mine, this is family life together being ekklesia to one another and the world outside our doors. I believe that the very rectitation of these words is where even those who have not yet experienced the Kingdom of God can find a kind of ‘prevenient grace’, as Wesley put it, where they find their hearts being wooed by the One who created them.
Our church is called Ordinary Community Church. From our onset, we were interested in finding Christ together in the midst of the mundane and ordinary. Liturgy has been a way forward for us as we get in touch with a rich part of an ecclesial past. “The overwhelming amount of time in the church calendar given over to the ordinary is a reminder that most of life is about being faithful in the mundane of everyday life.” (82) This is the very place where we want to practice ‘monking in the real world’.