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41 church deconsecrations and counting—but I believe in the “and then” Gospel!

GrayhameOf the four gospels my favourite has always been St. Mark’s. Since my days in seminary studying biblical languages, I have been fascinated by the simplicity and the enthusiasm behind the storytelling of Mark’s Gospel. For me, the text portrays an almost childlike excitement as the author shares the life changing experience of knowing and choosing to follow the person of Jesus Christ. The story seems to always be propelling itself forward in a somewhat clumsy collection of Jesus episodes that are pieced together by the same repetition of words over and over.

In English we would say: “and then…”

And then Jesus went to Bethsaida. And then some people begged him to touch a blind man. And then Jesus put saliva on his eyes, healing him. And then Jesus talked with the man. And then his sight was restored. And then he sent him away to his home. And then. And then. And then….

The story never seems to lose momentum because the Gospel is always being driven by God’s action in the world. From this action stem the activity of the Christian Church as it seeks to be followers of Jesus and become more and more like him through faith lived through action.

Throughout time the early Church has become the Church that we now inherit within the Anglican faith and tradition today. But the question I always find myself asking is this: have we lost our momentum?

Does the Church of today still have the childlike excitement, the clumsy enthusiasm, the flexibility and the momentum in the living out of our own encounters with Jesus in today’s world? Or have we lost something along the way?

I’m a 34 year old Anglican priest. I grew up in the days of large confirmation classes and cozy traditional worship services, but within my lifetime all of that has changed. My sorry claim to fame as a young minister is that I have witnessed the deconsecration of 41 Anglican churches and counting.

If this number astonishes you, know that it’s likely that I have closed more churches than any other Anglican priest in the country.

Before anyone comes to the conclusion that I may have a fetish for stalking the most grief-stricken of church services, allow me to share that I have attended this many deconsecrations because I serve my bishops as their domestic chaplain and consider it a privilege to offer my support to them in what has become the most difficult part of any bishop’s ministry today – that of marking the final chapter in the life of a struggling congregation.

Each time I have been present at the deconscration of a church building, I have asked myself these questions: so, what’s next? Where is the “and then” part of this story? Where is God continuing to work in the world and community around us when our ministry comes to a close?

I ask these questions because I believe and know that God’s work doesn’t ever end when we close the doors of a church. This is not because I am naïve or following a sense of blind faith. It’s because I have experienced renewal of the Spirit first hand in my own ministries shared with others. I’ve even experienced a closed and deconsecrated church brought back from the grave, perhaps a first in the Anglican Church of Canada!

My hope within the episodes of this blog is to share my experience of the “and then” Gospel with you in a way that enables us to open our eyes to the possibility of rediscovering growing and vibrant ministry even at the times when we experience utter failure. If this is of interest to you, stay tuned! and we’ll explore the “and then” Gospel together.

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