Dec 062010
 

Of the point behind my Masters thesis that is.

My mate Bryan at Greyfriars Parish Church, Lanark, has recently started streaming the Sunday morning services. No bad thing and on, Sunday’s snowy morning, an ideal opportunity for those unable to get to church to do more than just listen in, but to get to see what was going on. Undoubtedly, using video technology allows people to feel more part of something than simply listening to the audio.

Sunday had a slight twist to it – it was communion. A short flurry of discussion on Facebook certainly gave the impression that some who were tuned in from home shared in communion using what they had in the house. I somewhat cheekily wondered if epiclesis worked through cyberspace and that comment triggered a little bit of a (gentle) bashing.

But it’s a serious question (even though it makes something that ought to be simple, more complicated) and, in my opinion, impacts on our understanding of sacramental ministry. Bryan suggested that it was sufficient to rely on Jesus’ promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He will be with them. Which begs the question, “Why do you need an ordained minister to pronounce an invocation, when it’s God who does all the work?” This was the core of my thesis – the Church of Scotland needs to get its brain round sacramental ministry if it is going to encourage more innovative forms of worship – and video-streaming services isn’t exactly at the extreme end of the innovation spectrum.

Someone else wondered whether it would therefore be possible to perform a baptism over the airways, so to speak. It’s exactly the same issue. Is there some sort of ‘essential presence’ that a minister, and only a minister, brings to these sacramental acts? Or is it simply a case of the practical consideration that it gets done ‘properly’, with no under-the-table jiggery-pokery?

The point I made in my thesis was that conversations around these issues really need to be happening right now, otherwise we end up with a free-for-all which will, ultimately, cause further argument within an organisations which could well do without further cause for dissension in the ranks. And these conversations need to be focused on what is happening in churches now and not just at some academic, ivory-tower, theological level.

Mar 112010
 

I was a conference yesterday about Emerging Church within the context of the Church of Scotland. It was both inspirational and frustrating. Some of the projects are doing fantastic work and really growing as ‘church’ – and not just in the outreach work sense that I’ve been having a go at in recent posts. We’re seeing embryonic communities which are growing into worshipping communities and then hitting brick walls. Many of these projects are reaching unchurched people and making Christian faith relevant and meaningful. And yet there is a sense of ‘so far and no further’.

And, unfortunately, it’s the Church of Scotland’s law and structures that are often the problem. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t people who are trying, often creatively, to provide solutions, but there was still an underlying sense of not taking Emerging Church seriously. If I may parody it somewhat, it seemed that there was a willingness to set up a working party to look at the questions that would need to be addressed by a committee who could produce a report to create a task force who would consult widely to produce a report that could go to a council and be presented to GA for consideration by presbyteries to ascertain whether there was support for changes to develop a new style of ministry.

Meanwhile community projects are being slapped on the wrist for overstepping parish boundaries or are unable to share the sacraments because their eminently qualified leader doesn’t have the ‘right sort’ of theology degree and isn’t ordained. There was much talk about training and the need for a new focus on missional skills for ordained ministries. But I can’t help but feel that a more open approach to development of lay leaders or the already qualified members needs a better look at. Why do we allow someone to ‘preach and teach’ at a youth club yet become very cagey when they might do it from the pulpit, as it were? There was also talk of a more modular approach to training, building on existing skills. So how about an approved ‘sacramental theology’ bolt-on to make sure it’s all done above board and with theological rigour and that makes sure the appropriate box is ticked for church law? And maybe it’s time to get over the suspicion and angst about it that has persisted for several hundred years since the Reformation.

So, what’s the solution? A presbyterian church with flexible structures, “boundary blindness” (thanks to Peter Neilson for that one) when it comes to parishes and a real commitment to training its people to become the body of Christ in the community. And maybe a church that relaxes its ecclesiology and grasps more of the kingdom instead. Shouldn’t be too tall an order. Maybe a report to GA is called for.