Recent conversations I’ve had with some Anglicans worry me. Why? It is not because I hear them promoting “me” over “we” nor it because they are losing their commitment to the church. The thing that worries me is that their meaning of “church” and mine seem to be drawing farther apart. Their meaning of “mission and ministry” and mine are out of focus with the Marks of Mission. I’m left with the troubling impression that when they agree about “we”, it means only Anglicans. These folks want to get their church “right” before worrying about the “other”, the “stranger”. Some are defined by their buildings rather than acting in the world. Recent posts on this website confirm that there is a wide gulf in our thinking.
The Rev. David Burrows, in re(using) infrastructure to engage the wider community raises the challenging question about what the church is to do with its vast real estate holdings – our church must be among the largest landowner organizations in the country. Is it our job to maintain all these structures for worship or should we deploy them for mission and ministry? From a stewardship perspective, how can we be strategic in our use of assets to effectively carry out the Marks of Mission? Surely this means stepping out into the community and recognizing that “we” is a much more inclusive term than some think? Burrows parish decision to deploy their surplus assets for the community’s use means they are living the Gospel and serving human need (Mark 3).
In the same week we heard from The Rev. Alex Parsons who argued in Building: A New Identity? that many of our buildings (churches) are there to serve the faithful and thus are empty much of the time. I don’t disagree with Alex’s assertion that we are to some degree shaped by our structures, and that a quiet presence as an outpost for God in a community is a good thing, but symbolism is not enough. Mission and ministry through the Marks of Mission will have little to show if the effort is merely symbolic and will still define “we” very narrowly. Hopefully they can move from proclaiming (Mark 1) to teaching and nurturing (Mark 2) and beyond to acting for social justice (Mark 4) or caring for the environment (Mark 5) in the use of the space.
Even when new people show up, there are often challenges. Sharon Harding tackles the difficult challenge of children in churches in An Open Letter to Parish Councils and Church Leadership – surely they are the very foundation of the future of the church. Many are doing a great job of welcoming this “joyful noise” but there are those who sternly expect five year olds to be as solemn as they are! This is the thing about inviting new people to worship and join congregations – it means inevitable change. In many parishes where the average age is retirement or higher, a new crop of five year olds is just what is needed to call us to mission and ministry in the wider world. What a great opportunity for nurturing the newly baptized into a life of social action in community.
So what has all this got to do with stewardship? Everything. My friend, the Most Rev. Archbishop Douglas Hambidge gives stewardship workshops where he asks three questions: (1) what has God entrusted to me/us?; (2) what am/are I/we doing with that trust?; and (3) how does God benefit from what I/we are doing? These questions apply to all the examples above. Whether it’s a glut of real estate, a struggle with how to use our facilities or the response we have to a joyful five year old we need to continually re-ask ourselves these questions. The Marks of Mission provide an excellent framework for determining and calibrating our response. It may even help us redefine what we mean by “church”.