Among those who talk about Evangelism and church growth it is sometimes said that the Anglican Church in the U.K. is about ten years ahead of the Anglican Church in Canada, and that the Americans are ten years behind us! This is because the massive cultural shifts that have secularized society in Canada in the past few decades hit first in the UK and lag in the United States. For this reason, many of us in Canada are looking to the cutting edge evangelism movements in England for clues about what we should be doing, now, in Canada to grow our churches.
At a recent meeting of clergy and lay leaders here in the Diocese to talk about these movements we heard from Dr. John Bowen who told us that in order to do mission and ministry in the 21st Century we need to be more clear than ever about what we are about as church. Inherited cultural assumptions about the role of the church in civil life simply don't apply in a world where many people have never even read the Bible or learned the most basic facts about our religion. It is a post-Christian age. Dr. Bowen suggested that we should begin with one of the most ancient descriptions of the church, the one we find in the Nicene Creed: "We Believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." These are the traditional four attributes of the church.
By saying the church is "One"--we mean that we experience a unity in the church unavailable in other relationships. Somehow, we know ourselves to be one body--Christ alive in the world. This manifests locally in our sense of community when we show regard and care for one another. Think of the Prayer Chain and coffee fellowship and these messages. Think also of our Christian education programs and our efforts to grow together to maturity in Christ-likeness. When we look inward at ourselves and each other, we manifest this characteristic of Church.
To say that the Church is "Holy" means that it has its origins in God, but it also means that it sustains that connection with the divine. In our context, we experience this most clearly in worship as we lift our voices in prayer and praise. We celebrate the Eucharist, a memorial feast that makes God specially present among us. The "holiness" of the church is the transcendent aspect of what we are about--our looking upward.
When we talk about the "Catholicity" of the Church, we mean the sense in which our local community of faith is tied to all other Christian communities through space and time. We are connected by common heritage and belief to Redeemer down the road and also to the worshipers in Medieval Cathedrals a thousand years ago. The Bible, faith in Jesus Christ, the prayers we've received, make this true. We invoke this when we speak of the "tradition." It means, in a sense, looking backward.
Finally, the fourth attribute of church--"Apostolic"--is when we experience ourselves as reaching out towards the world in mission. This is the aspect of church most closely associated with evangelistic zeal and love. It is the loving gesture we make towards the world that communicates the love of God--the Word that is Jesus Christ. It is an outward focus that directs our awareness to the world God created.
I'm laying all this out here because I'm beginning to see them as the framework for our renewal at COTM. It is not overambitious to think that as church we need to be developing in all these aspects at the same time. I am beginning to see how our efforts to create the "Christ Centered Character Curriculum" enhances our "oneness" as we form a new generation of faithful Christians. Similarly, the work that Matthew, the choir, and others have put into worship enhances the "holiness" we aspire to in liturgy. So does repainting the nave and replacing the chairs.
One area still under development is the Mission of COTM--the specifics about our witness to this community. I hope that the upcoming parish visioning event on April 13th will give a chance for the Spirit to speak to us about this. This will be the second of three workshops designed to allow our vision for ministry to emerge, and I hope to see as many of you there as possible! I also believe that the Missional Church movement, which both Andrew Sheldon and John McLaverty have spoken about at COTM, will play a role here.
The manner in which our "Catholicity" will flourish is also a bit unclear to me. No doubt our worship will continue to use the spiritual language of our inheritance: the prayer books and hymns of the church. But are there opportunities to make our links the Universal Church stronger? Maybe our outreach is part of this.
Brothers and sisters, we have taken up a project that we did not begin. We will harvest spiritual crops we did not plant! But we are being sent into the fields to do the Lord's work, and I'm incredibly excited to be a part of it! Please continue to join in the conversations we have about our future and God's will for us. These are great times to be part of the Church of The Messiah!
Creator of all, you made the church to be the continuing presence of your Son in world, bless our efforts in your vineyard. Give us courage and wisdom as we seek to build your kingdom. Help us to have patience and diligence in our struggles, and keep us ever mindful of your providential purposes. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.