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The middle way PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 28 October 2011 16:28

Entrance to Lego Church

It has been a quiet blog following the half-term holiday which I took off to be full-time dad with the family, and then this week trying to catch up with work.

This week, amongst all the regular ministry of the week, I've inevitably being led to thinking about the church; and to do so on three different levels. Thinking about the church at a national level, at a presbytery level and in our own local community there are striking parallels that have been going through my mind in terms of how we move forward, albeit the issues that face each level are different. [There's more...]

With the other members of the OneKirk group, I've been making final arrangements for our conference day tomorrow in Edinburgh, "What kind of church?" We have over a hundred folks pre-registered for the day which should mean that during the workshops there will be a healthy and good discussion about some of the issues that are raised by our guest speakers, Rev Peter Macdonald from the Iona Community, Rev Fiona Bennet on how we read the Bible, and Rev David McLachlan on the relationship between the church and community (both internally and externally). I just finished putting together the handbooks for participants last night, and re-reading the suggested discussion questions, it is definitely going to be a challenging and, I pray, a helpful and creative day.

Earlier in the week, the members of the Implementation Committee of Hamilton Presbytery, who are tasked with creating a new presbytery plan to match the requirements of the General Assembly to meet the reduced target for ministry posts and of which I am a member, met to finalise their thinking after over a year of consultation, discussions and many, many visits to local congregations across the presbytery. The revised plan should be presented to presbytery at the December meeting for approval (or otherwise!).

And then thirdly, we had our own meeting in St Andrew's with representatives of the Implementation Committee last night, when we heard from them the thinking for our own local part of that wider plan. Needless to say, this has been something that has been much on my mind and in my prayers over the last months as we have got closer to the point of decisions needing to be made for the church locally, and particularly what this means for us in St Andrew's, as I know it has also been for the members of the Kirk Session. 

The parallels I have seen in relation to all three relate to the divergence of views that are inevitable within a body like the church. At a national level, and this is something we will be touching on at the OneKirk conference, much of the divisions that have been hitting the news are related to matters of belief. This has become particularly heated over the question of what we believe God would have us do with gay and lesbian Christians living with their partners who sense a call to serve God through the ministry.

But we should make no mistake that this particular question is only the latest question that challenges us to think carefully about the nature of God, about the holy Scriptures, about the limitations of our understanding, and of the nature of our faith. I am reading a book at the moment called Paradoxy:Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them by Ken Howard, that speaks powerfully to our current intractable positions where folks from either sides of the debate fling verbal (and sometimes worse) hand-grenades from side to side. While I would be the first to admit that I lean to a progressive view, it has always been my hope and desire to see a way where those of us with different views can live together acknowledging our different expressions of the one faith, and rejoicing in the diversity this brings. This has always been a part, within my mind, of the purpose of OneKirk as a group. This is very challenging at the moment, with a handful of ministers from a more fundamentalist wing of the church going so far as to demit from serving the Kirk rather than to be in fellowship with others who have different viewpoints to their own.

In Howard's book, we read how he has followed a similar desire as a minister in his own Episcopal congregation in the USA, and he uses the term paradoxy (which I think I will use in my opening welcome in tomorrow's conference!) to express a possible middle way where we recapture the original meaning and sense of orthodoxy. Literally, orthodoxy means "right praise" and not "believing the right thing" which tends to be how the words is used today. Paradoxy could be literally translated as "that, which placed in relationship to each other, inspire awe and praise" (para = next to or in relation to, doxos = praise, awe or celebration).

The challenge is thus how we live together in a church where we all recognise that Jesus Christ is our Lord, the incarnate expression of a truth beyond our capacity to fully grasp, and allow the space for different expressions of our faith. It sounds so elementary, but living this out and allowing the space and grace for this to become a reality is challenging, to say the least.

The same thoughts have been going through my mind with respect to the presbytery plan, where the committee have been trying as much as possible to find a way through often very different viewpoints to find a way that tries to do justice to these different views. Balancing the desire to encourage mission and yet also to  practically move towards a resolution of the need to reduce ministries is challenging and also requires space and grace.

This will be the same for us here in Blantyre too as we think about the future, and in particular how we develop a proposed parish grouping between the three congregations in Blantyre with Hillhouse and Trinity that will enable us, through our diversity, to serve the one Lord in our community. If we do so with passion, it will undoubtedly be a commitment that will bring praise to God.

And on that note, our worship team, the Magnification Action Group, is going out tonight to share in some fellowship with each other at Carrigan's Eating House in Eddlewood, so I had better wrap up this post and start to get ready! 

Comments (1)add comment

Ken Howard said:

Appreciate your comments
Dear Peter,

How pleasant to run across your positive comments about my book, Paradoxy. It is encouraging for me to hear that the principles I articulate in the book and in my working conferences are being put to use. I'll be curious to hear more about what you think as you continue reading and how your colleagues in ministry respond. I'd also love to hear more about OneKirk.

BTW, you might be interested to know that on the PracticingParadoxy.com website we have been developing and posting free downloadable resource materials for applying the principles of Paradoxyin a variety of contexts.

Blessings to you and your ministry!

In Christ's love,
October 29, 2011 | url
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