Sunday, January 13, 2008

what it's about

So, I run a church in my spare time. Ecclesiax has been pastor-less for a few months now, and the Board has been keeping things together. It's been exhausting. Two out of the five of us have resigned from the board because it was adding too much stress to their lives. The rest of us really aren't sure what's going to happen next. We have bills to pay, rental contracts to sort out, snow to shovel, relationships to manage, and a budget to write. To be honest, I've found myself wondering a bit too frequently why I bother. And then today, we had a service focused on prayer. I didn't deliver a message, but just led the congregation through a variety of prayer exercises focused on the idea that prayer is basically us saying two things to God: thank you and help. We wrote our confessions on paper and burnt them. We sang a Psalm of thanksgiving. We lit candles as we sent prayers for our community up to God (hmm . . . not sure what the emphasis on fire says about me . . .). Our band played a couple of wonderful songs, but we also had times of silence. It was good, it was like the early days when Ecclesiax was a place of experimentation and vulnerability. We told the congregation how badly things were going, and received a lot of offers of help. One guy who was with us for the first time went right out and bought us salt for the walkway. Leading the service was still exhausting, and I didn't manage to get out of there before 2pm after the offering was counted, but at least I've been reminded that church is a group of people on a spiritual journey together - and that's what it's all about.


Tara said...

I didn't realize your church was pastor-less right now... that is tough! I realize I have nothing to do with your church but I want to say thank-you for all your hard work :)

el Maggie said...

Tara - I totally appreciate all the support I can get, even if you're off in another time zone! We're hanging in, and I am hoping we'll come out of it stronger, but it's been a challenge!

Ryan said...

I think you might ask the question as to whether or not a pastor is necessary for worship (the original meaning "to give worth to"). Lay leadership is an interesting concept, as long as there isn't just one lay person doing the leading.

Sounds interesting. Do you consider yourself affiliated with any particular denomination?

el Maggie said...

Hi Ryan - it's true that we don’t necessarily need a pastor to lead worship, and it has been in fact a really positive thing for our community to step up in the past 2 months and lead ourselves. It’s been good to hear different voices, and it’s forced people in the church to take ownership of their worship experience. In doing so, we’ve returned to some of the roots of the church, which was founded with ideas of honest and experimental worship. However, the lay leadership is finding that it’s a heavy burden – we have a fairly small core doing the majority of the spiritual and “business” leadership in our community, and all fitting it in with our lives, jobs, families, etc.

I also don’t like not having the pastor around for the “pastoral” side of things – none of us are trained counsellors. We have had other pastors offer to help out with this kind of thing, which is amazing, but it somewhat removes the element of relationship that is there if you go to your own pastor for counselling.

We are affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, which I don’t know a whole lot about (having United roots), but they have been very supportive of “emergent” church plants. They’re good people.

Ryan said...

Hmmm. I, too, am a fan of the emerging church in principle.

If you have United roots, what drew you to that particular sect instead?

el Maggie said...

While there are things about the United church that are close to my heart, I am not overly denominational, so when I wasn't happy with the United Church that I was at in Ottawa, and decided to look elsewhere, I was not restricting myself to within the denomination.

I found Ecclesiax in its infancy through a friend (working the United Church camp connections . . .), and it was a much better fit for me than any other church had ever been. I like it because it's ok to be bleak and doubtful there, and I find that that makes people more "real" than in some churches. I like that we use popular culture (i.e. popular music) to connect with God, rather than trying to make a Christian-fied sanitized version of it. I found other people there who found that their faith drew them to social justice (one of the things I will always hold in my heart about the United Church). There is no liturgy, so the services can vary from week to week, which can be a great opportunity for experimenting and keeping things fresh. Part of the experimentation is also art worship, and I've found having the freedom to doodle or write in response to what is going on in the service has been a good thing for my ADD tendencies.

So, that's a long answer to say that it wasn't about the denomination (as I said, I really don't even know much about the FMC), but about the community itself and the things that it was trying to do that spoke to me and resonated with my journey and experience of the world around me.

Ryan said...

Interesting. I agree about the part about "christified" popular music. It's terrible, and just because it's supposed to be rock music, it doesn't mean it's good.

I too, joined my church for that particular congregation. As you've probably noted, the United Church isn't a homogeneous blob, and that different churches have different missions, or none at all. There's change-a-brewin' in many though.

Speaking of which, have you done any "emergent" reading? Borg, Crossan, Spong, for example?

el Maggie said...

I've read some Spong - my grandma read Sins of Scripture in a study at her (United) church, and then lent it to my husband. I haven't read the others - any suggestions? Another author that rocked my world (made me feel like I was not some kind of strange freak in how I interpreted my faith) was Robert McAfee Brown, who is mentioned in the article on charity v. justice that you posted on your blog.

Ryan said...

Borg's "The Heart of Christianity" was excellent in articulating what Christianity can mean in the 21st century. Spong's "Jesus for the Non-Religious" was much the same, but articulated (for me anyway) a sense of God that was far beyond the traditional understanding. John Domenic Crossan's "God and Empire" was by far the most revolutionary book that I've read that describes the "Jesus Program" that churches can follow to become true followers of Jesus. Highly highly recommended for any church that wants to go, as you mentioned, beyond charity.

Anyway, I haven't read "Sins of Scripture" or Robert Brown, yet per se. What's the gist on him, if you don't mind me acting, and what affected you so much about his writings?

As you can tell, I have little contact with progressive or radical Christians outside my church, and have inadvertently spilled everything in one conversation.

el Maggie said...

I should look at Jesus for the non-Religious. In Sins of Scripture, Spong strips away a lot of doctrine/orthodoxy, and then says he's still a Christian, but doesn't really flesh out what that means once you're starting from such a different framework.

Brown is a liberation theologist. The book I read was called "Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes". I read it at a time when I was really feeling cut off from the church and institutional Christianity (several years ago), and it kept me from walking away from the whole faith thing because I was frustrated with Christians.

Don't worry about the multitude of questions - it's interesting!

Ryan said...

Brown sounds like my style. I find cultural interpretation of Christianity quite interesting. Right now I'm actually reading a series of essays about First Nations women using Catholicism in the contact period to empower themselves in their "praying town" communities of converted aboriginals. Interesting stuff.