Heaven touches earth…
Ian Bradley in his fourth book on Celtic Christianity, Colonies of Heaven, invites his readers to explore Celtic models of church and to consider what - if any - might fit the church today. Bradley suggests while many have romanticised Celtic Christianity, there is enough historical evidence to inspire a new generation of Christians to embrace a more inclusive, welcoming and grace filled Christianity.
During the Lenten period of 2018 (the days of reflection leading up to Easter) Sanctuary First is going to identify certain themes that Bradley posits helped shape and inspire the voices of those early Celtic Saints. It is my hope that while reading scripture and praying through our Heaven Touching Earth theme as the Sanctuary First community, that we might begin to discover a model of church that will be invaluable to all of us as we seek to create a living expression of Christ’s body here online.
Some may ask why all this talk of new models go church? The reply is simple, we are witnessing the decline of what might be called traditional church attendance, in a scale we have never seen before. No one can give an accurate reason for the decline, often it’s about style, content, timings and attitudes of those who are the custodians of our churches. One thing is for certain is that it is not because people have lost interest in spiritual things. It is often the very opposite, it is because they have begun to feel a deep sense of disappointment in their local congregation that they choose to leave.
For some, 5 hymns interspersed with interjections that leave little space for reflection, but appear short in substance or authority have resulted in congregations that are being kept alive out of the loyalty of the community rather than by the dynamic of the worship.
One interesting aspect of this is that not all places of worship are witnessing this demise. It is interesting to note that many of our cathedral congregations have been seeing a marked increase. Now this may be partly due to tourism, but it may also be the quality of worship and music that is often found in these establishments. In other words, people appreciated quality and high standards of presentation and content when it comes to worship regardless of the style.
Research is showing an ever increasing interest in topics like wellbeing and mindfulness. While many no longer attend church, a great number of former church members still describe themselves as Christians and an ever increasing number of people are exploring spirituality in new (or actually very old) ways through music, personal reflection, and discussion groups - or through their commitment to justice and equality in our world. Many of these topics form the substance of their regular daily conversations among friends and family.
Finding new models of church that work for Christians must surely be one of the key concerns for those of us who have been called to lead and for all Christians who recognise the importance of living and sharing within a community.
Sanctuary First has become for many a transition model of church sustaining and nurturing those who find themselves on a journey of faith.
During Lent let us pray that the community of believers, engaging with Sanctuary First will be truly blessed as together we seek to create a colony of heaven online, one that in due course leads to the renewal of the world in which we live and move.
We are hoping that some of our present community will pick up the challenge and perhaps have friends round to their homes during Lent to engage with the ‘Heaven Touching Earth’ material. It might be that a number of small house groups could get started during February and March. If this is something that would interest you please get in touch. Look up our discussion question material (part 1 is online, part 2 will be shortly).
Over Lent we will also release a series of short videos to help set the scene and encourage us to reflect on our weekly theme, these could be used for personal reflection, at small groups or as part of larger services or events, simply download them from our site.
Very Rev Albert Bogle