“You have to change to stay the same”, said the abstract artist Bill de Kooning. He recognised that to do the same thing while all around you changes is not to do the same thing. It’s a challenge for the Church, an organisation which is naturally drawn to do the same thing as its founding events, the Jesus experience, are 2,000 years old. The social environment of Hampshire is changing and the church will need to change to engage with this dynamic context but this involves the risk of upsetting regular parishioners, and takes energy and endurance.


We could start with the purpose of the church. We are to be people who recognise that we are blessed by God, a blessing we experience in Christ Jesus and then share. We are to be salt of the earth and light of the world, as we seek the best for our society and share our faith. However, our inherited model of church involving building, vicar and Sunday morning is struggling to engage with contemporary people’s lives. It’s time to become re-immersed in our context.


Of course this is nothing new. In the 1960s Vincent Donovan wished to share faith with the Maasai of Tanzania. He recognised that his understanding of church was contaminated with Western assumptions and practices. To share he had to embrace local practices. We’ve lived with continuous change for several generations and the church has, just about, kept pace. We’re now in a period of discontinuous cultural change; contemporary change is disruptive and unpredictable. If pollsters have a hard time, so much more the church.


To resonate with our context, we need to encourage dissent within the church. Dissenters are those with imagination, those who can see ways of bridging gaps, and the best dissenters are “dreamers who do”. According to the Catholic priest and anthropologist, Gerald Arbuckle, for the church to engage with contemporary culture you need both “pathfinding dissenters” who drive the change on the ground, and “authority dissenters” in a leadership position giving space and encouragement to those pushing the bounds. Leaders can either facilitate or squash cultural engagement, and the church can be primarily for our society or for church members.


It’s hard to imagine new ways of being the church. Sometimes it feels as if we’re in a room and the only available world view is from that room. However, in any building there is a room next door with a different view; a view we can see if we can only move into the adjacent room. If we can see that view then we can embrace new possibilities, it’s the “adjacent possible” view of change. We can either stay in our room where we are comfortable and where we can consolidate our own view of church; or we can embrace different ways of being church and of engaging with society. As a church we need to turn away from narrow models of Christian life and recognise God’s image in those who are not in our image.

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