Life 103

Monday, December 26, 2005

church according to me

Our final assignment in the class I just finished was to write a paper describing a church I want to plant, lead or be serving in the year 2015. We were charged with describing the beliefs, values, mission, demographics, structure and purpose. This is essentially my Church Theology final paper:

I am a Quaker because Friends teach of God’s immediate accessibility through Jesus Christ and encourage women in ministry. Friends have been instrumental in helping me develop an intimate relationship with Christ and among Friends, I have experienced his transforming presence personally. I have remained a Friend because Friends’ values mirror the values of Christ and contemporary Friends continue to seek ways to live out his love and life on earth. Despite my background and gender, I have experienced the embrace of God through those who have encouraged me to live, serve and lead among Friends. In 2015 I imagine I will still be serving in a Friends church most likely somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Early in our class, JR named three indispensable beliefs and I in essence agree with his list with some adaptations of my own and a word about scripture. Essential beliefs include: 1) Jesus Christ was the Son of God (fully God) and was without sin; 2) Jesus lived and died (fully man) in our place to restore our relationship with God who loves and pursues us; 3) Jesus rose from death and is present/accessible as Savior and Teacher in Spirit right now; and 4) The scriptures are God breathed and have authority over the church.

In the manner of Friends this church will reflect a high value for the ministry of all believers (1Peter 2:9). It will also place a high value on a personal, dynamic relationship with God through Christ. At the same time, the structure will encourage individuals to be growing in community just as they are growing in their understanding of and relationship with Christ. As such, the church will be progressing toward spiritual maturity. This body will also be living into the Quaker values of equality, life, simplicity, silence, peace, justice, and integrity in ways that are the result of our generation’s having listened to Christ and found expression for these values in the whole of our lives.

The church will teach of God’s eager pursuit of people and his longing to be in relationship with them, therefore, understand and share his desire for a loving relationship with everyone. They will model his dream of reunion with humanity.

As a body, this church will spend time discerning the best way to bring the gospel alive within this context. Leaders will listen to and learn from the culture outside of the building and be continually seeking ways to serve and communicate the good news and freedom available in the gospel story.

This church will believe that Christ speaks to listening hearts as we work, play, live and serve with others, making all of life sacred and meaningful in the tradition of Romans 12: 1- 2. Members will be people who strive to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Finally, I hope this will be a congregation that values collaboration or interconnection with other churches, including different forms of Friends churches, in matters of integral mission. They will be a body that understands that the Kingdom of God is both here, and not quite here and live accordingly by joining God in what he’s doing in their world. This should be a body that promotes creativity and is easily adaptable to current issues yet grounded in a rich history of biblically based advocacy for our marginalized neighbors.

Colin Saxton, Superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, recently articulated the mission I want my church to embrace when he wrote that his hope is for churches to be “the people of God together for service in the world…People who know and obey Christ…[who] love one another, meet each other’s needs, disciple and encourage each other…scattering out into the world in order to seek and serve the Kingdom in all that we do…twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” [1]

I want my church to be prophetic, calling people to notice that God is active in the world today, to be committed to joining him as he calls, and to be willing to let others know of his deep and abiding love. To do that, the body must be grounded in a biblical spirituality that lends itself to a radically different life; addressing the injustices of oppression, exploitation, poverty, destruction of the earth, violence, over consumerism, and so on.

This body will simply be a people gathered in the name and presence of Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:20) intent on drawing closer to him, proclaiming him and serving him in the world. At the same time, I have a personal preference for communities that are intergenerational, cross cultural, inclusive and have a membership with diverse religious backgrounds, gifts and ideas. To encourage this kind of diversity in the membership, I would encourage diversity in the leadership. When calling leaders, I would support nominations of people from various age groups, socioeconomic status, educational background, nationality, etc.

The church is a “free society of equals, an open fellowship of friends” as held by Jungen Moltman.[2] Church leaders, including pastors and elders, will be those who are called by God and affirmed by the congregation. It may be that the pastor is simply a Godly and gifted manager, coordinating the gifts of others to carry out the mission of the church. The local meeting will be responsible for the spiritual life of the church, for discipleship and intentional leadership development, discipline, and management of administrative church affairs.
It will be a programmed gathering but at the same time, prayerfully planned by members who have committed themselves to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The gathered meeting will be a shared spiritual practice encouraging people to let God encounter them during worship.

In as much as possible, all church structures will be organized around relationships, emphasizing the “image of the triune God” as described by Miroslav Volf.[3] The structure should make it possible for people to become acquainted with each other on deeper levels, either by remaining small or through small groups, and have an atmosphere where the risen Jesus Christ dwells, thus becoming a place of healing and transformation. I want the church I serve to embrace a fluid structure so that it can be “a church in which God’s spirit is free to act so the Word of God becomes flesh – a church which is making progress in its own transformation and the transformation of the community it serves.”[4]

The sacraments will be viewed as a public confession of, or expression of, inner faith and will neither be banned nor organizationally mandated. Those who wish to express their faith through communion and baptism will be encouraged and even assisted to do so.

The purpose of the church is to be a voice that calls all people into deeper relationship with Christ. This church should be one that speaks redemption, love and grace to those who are far from Christ; should point to him as teacher and healer as people come into relationship with him; and make possible a deep fellowship with God that results in concern for the world. Through unity in word and deed participants will be encouraged to call others to know and be formed by Jesus, modeling his life and character twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

[1] Saxton, Colin, “Out of My Mind…,” NWYM November 2005 Update.
[2] Karkkainen, Veri-Matti, An Introduction to Ecclesiology (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2002) p. 128.
[3] Volf, Miroslav, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eardmans, 1998) p. 2.
[4] Padilla, C. Rene. The Local Church, Agent of Transformation. (Buenos Aires: Kairos 2004) p. 20.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

kathy's angel

Today I stole a Willow Tree angel from my friend and colleague, Deana. It was one of those ornament exchanges where you pick a pretty package, unwrap a beautiful trinket and watch helplessly as someone steals it away from you. I have admired Willow Tree figures for years. I bought the one of two girls with their hands clasped together and gave them to my best friend for her birthday one year and haven’t seen them for sale anywhere since. I’ve coveted Jo and Steve’s. I've coveted them in the store.

Jan unwrapped the angel first and we all exclaimed over it. She is pretty, holding a green wreath in the crook of one arm, her face lifted up to the sky. Crystal passed up the chance to steal her for something else. Deana looked at the pile of wrapped packages on the coffee table and smiled at Jan. They transferred ownership. If Burl had stolen her, I’d have been sunk – two times is the limit. He passed her up and got a bird nest with eggs that said something like Peace, Hope and Love and clips to a branch. Being in line after him, I pretended I wanted something else then feigned reluctance as I told Deana to hand her over. Mark was next and he said, “Good call. If you hadn’t done it, I would have. My wife collects those.”

If Deana hadn’t stolen her first, I’m not sure I’d have had the guts. Jan is our boss.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas reflection

December 2005
By kathy watson

Tis the season…”for what?” you might wonder. Presents? A flurry of activity? Shopping malls with impossible parking? Spending more that we can afford? Gathering family from all corners of the earth? Yes…and no.

Tis also the season to wait and watch and expect. Expect to see and hear and feel the miracle of Jesus’ birth yet again. In this season, the world will stop and wait and watch all together at the same time for a time when that which is Divine and that which is human might intersect again.

Picture time slowly ticking by for Mary and Joseph. For nine months they waited and wondered…Can it really be? A teenage girl yet to be married, is carrying the Son of the Most High? And as she waits with Joseph, she thinks about everything. Until late one night in a stable far from home, on our behalf, they welcome God to our world. Human and Divine come face to face.

And again this year we wait and watch. Christmas reminds us of something deeper than what our culture has made it out to be so we wait expecting…knowing that all we see is not everything…that somewhere above the noise there is a whisper that calls your name. Somehow, we sense it. We know it’s coming….a time when that which is Divine will break through the barriers and encounter us again. Christmas reminds us to watch for it, to wait for it, to expect it.

Because, this is the season…when Divine and human embrace each other once again.
(These thoughts on Christmas were put together for the opening reflection at a Faith in Action Family Friends volunteer meeting last week with the words of Sarah Baldwin, GFU Campus Pastor, still ringing in my ears. Merry Christmas to the 3 people who might read this before Sunday!)