Monday, December 14, 2009

Christians at Liberty

Almost two weeks ago, a friend who first came into my life almost three decades ago as a buddy-trainee in the early years of the local AIDS holocaust called me. She’s now a very successful psychologist, a cradle Anglican in exile from the Church but someone who takes her Christian practice very seriously and holds the local Church accountable, if now from a distance. Sadly she will also be leaving Montreal this Spring, to be with her daughter. She’d been trying to remember the source of something she remembered reading in the last couple of months. In the process of elimination I ended up suggesting the national and diocesan media of our Church, and offered to check the most recent issues of the diocesan paper if she, more technically accomplished did the same for the Anglican Journal.

In the end we never found what she was looking for, but in the process, I stumbled across a phrase which has repeatedly come to mind in the days since. Buried in the obituary of a man I never knew, who had served for many decades as a priest in our Church. Of a decided evangelical orientation, his wife mentioned he felt a particular calling to ‘Christians at liberty;’ individuals who, for one reason or another have left the Churches.

Christians at liberty

Strangely, the first resonances which same to mind were of my father’s stories of life in uniform during WWII. ‘at liberty’ there is after all just the faintest whiff of a British accent to the term, and Dad was a British air force instructor- that’s what brought him to Canada at the height of ‘hostilities.’

Christians at liberty

And I thought of one small paragraph in another recent post by a beloved sister, where she prays for and offers an apology to those ‘who have been smashed by the Church-‘ such a dramatic term necessary to cover the great scope of pain and harm our particular models of organized religion have inflicted over the centuries. I remember sitting in front of the screen, literally stopped in my tracks by the moral courage and faith of this dear priest.

Christians at liberty

Ed+ Hay’s book ‘Letter to Christians in Exile’ came to mind, and the great pains Ed goes to; the fine line he has to walk to minister to those who someone else once called ‘the prophetic exiles’ while maintaining his good standing in the Church of Rome.

Christians at liberty

Everything I read in his obituary led me to believe that Fred+ Dykes to be a very Bible centred priest who had not only served the Church- our Church, long and faithfully, but to be a man who knew his Gospel well.

Christians at liberty

Just what were they ‘at liberty’ from ?
And, perhaps most tellingly what does the term 'Christians at liberty' say about the rest of us, about our Church, the life and functioning of our Communion, if a well educated, faithful, long-serving priest could not only entertain this concept, but base years of generous ministry on this understanding?

Christians at liberty

And yes, this also brought to mind ‘E’ who is becoming increasingly dear to me. Since the events touched on in my earlier post, she’s been ‘swimming in the sea of critical Scriptural study’ to find ‘what’s left- so the Holy Spirit can make an adult Christian of me.’ She’s actually thinking of enrolling in theological studies when she gets home in a year.

‘What’s going to be really interesting, is this Christmas.... Going home to my Mum, and attending Church with the knowledge that so many of the details and images associated with the Christmas story are pagan in origin... What’s the Holy Spirit doing here?’

While ‘E’ is home in the mid-west she’s actually going to be checking out schools which might be able to accommodate her worklife.

Which I suppose brings me to last evening which aesthetically turned into one of Montreal’s magical snow and light shows as we came out of one of the big downtown churches following the CBC Christmas Carol Sing Along with a massed choir, brass ensemble, and a great organ.

‘I’ve got something I wanted to ask you’ my good and interesting friend ‘J’ told me as we’re shuffling out of the pews and down the aisle.

It took ‘J’ a while to cast her question, as we shuffled down the slow moving aisle into the fluffy snowfall. It had to do with new models ‘for being Church,’ and the three mediums for change she brought up were ‘liturgy, music and teaching,’ as far as I can remember.

I say as far as I can remember, because instinctively I interrupted with the suggestion that as long as we were building a model within the existing monolith of Church culture any change would be little more than surface and short-lived, and the dream of ‘transformation and renewal’ would remain a far off thing.

A little background: ‘J’ knows not only of the work I did in organizational transformation in a university culture, but of some of my work within AIDS. She knows how the work of people like Wheatly, Senge et al excite me- nowhere more so than for the exciting potential for Spirit led transformation and renewal under the three-legged stool of Anglican practice.

Making our way through traffic and snowfall, travelling on le metro, ‘J’ knew exactly what she was doing planting her question- she even offered to take me for dinner, but truth is I think best organizationally with pen in hand and page before me, and neither of us had come equipped.

By the time I’d made it home I had my first working title, and a sketch of several of what I’m calling ‘principles of search’.

Blessedly the creatures were waiting for me at time, and Willy ( the miraculous daschund) and I had a delightful walk in the flurries before the three of us settled down with a good cup of tea and a whole evening for the challenge ‘J’ had so casually placed in my lap.

Many hours later and a new day, there’s a new working title ‘A Church Unafraid’ and pages of notes. Surprisingly the evening also included two long distance conversations which have also fed into the process and pages of notes.

Where exactly this is going I’m not sure.

One thing I do know though, is that any vital manifestation of the living Body of Christ as a Church in the future is going to be a servant Church, and for this deep sense I am grateful to another cherished sister and vibrant priest.

‘Why are you even wasting your mind on the Church,’ one very dear longtime friend challenged late last evening on the phone. ‘You’re unemployed, no revenue coming in, the threat of losing your house-‘ I know both this dear friends heart and the decades we have walked together, but as I tried explaining last night, she’s never sat under the three legged stool- the Anglican vault of heaven I actually called it at one point, waxing lyrical perhaps. ‘And whatever else might be raining down, there’s always space under there- it’s wide open with a particularly Anglican possibility; biggest dance floor in the Universe, that and the Holy Spirit’s the most interesting dance partner on the floor..

So yes, there just might be something else out there I should be applying for. But ‘J’ and I are supposed to be speaking this morning, we might even manage coffee. She won’t be able to read my handwriting, but we’ll talk..... and possibly dream, of just what it would be like.... A Church Unafraid.

1 comment:

it's margaret said...

I haven't yet told you today --You are a dear man, and you continue in my prayers.

God bless you for all you do.