I spent the day in the North, at a conference in Portadown organised by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland.’Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land’ was about being the Church in our world.
I first heard Stuart Murray, the speaker, at lectures in Bristol last March, but it was worth the hundred mile drive to hear again the things he was saying.He begins his book, ‘Post-Christendom’ with two anecdotes:
‘In a London school a teenager with no church connections hears the Christmas story for the first time. His teacher tells it well and he is fascinated by this amazing story. Risking his friends’ mockery, after the lesson he thanks her for the story. One thing had disturbed him, so he asks: ‘Why did they give the baby a swear word for his name?’
‘One Sunday in Oxford a man visits a church building to collect something for his partner who works during the week in a creative-arts project the church runs. He arrives as the morning congregation is leaving and recognises the minister, whom he knows. Surprised, he asks: ‘What are all these people doing here? I didn’t know churches were open on Sundays!’
The story is being forgotten, not just in England.Fewer and fewer people here in Ireland know anything about their faith.I take Sixth Class, 11-12 year olds on a Friday morning in our local National School; young people who have had eight years of Church of Ireland education, and most of them have scant idea of the Christian story.
Where do we start?One thing’s for sure, if we just carry on as we are, we will be gone in twenty years.There are five denominations in Britain that have said that if they carry on as they are, they will be gone in a generation.The Church of Scotland has said it will close its last church in 2033, the Church in Wales says it will be gone by 2020.How will people have a chance to live and believe in Jesus, if there is no church to tell them?
We have to find ways of being the church outside of the building, outside of Sunday mornings.We have to find ways of being able to tell the story of Jesus to people in a way different from what we are doing.
Stuart Murray retold today a story I heard in Bristol, the story of ‘The Water-Ski Church’.There was a man who belonged to an Australian church, but he suffered ADHD, so trying to read words on paper or trying to sit and listen to someone speaking was very difficult.Sunday by Sunday he went to church, but it got to the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore.He ran a water ski school and decided one Sunday morning to go water ski-ing instead.
He met up with a group of guys down on the beach, but was feeling bad about not being in church.As he was providing the equipment he decided it was right that he should suggest they have a prayer.’Hey guys’, he said, ‘it’s Sunday.Is it OK if we have a prayer before we begin?’.But what were they going to pray about?He asked for suggestions.One man said he was unemployed and needed a job, another said his grandmother wasn’t well, so they prayed.
The following Sunday they met down on the beach.The unemployed guy had got a job and the other guy’s grandmother had improved.They decided that praying was an OK thing to do.
The Sunday water ski-ing group has grown to sixty Australian men.They meet for prayer and bible study at the beginning of the day.Break bread at a barbecue at lunchtime and spend the rest of the day as a community water ski-ing.
Is this a church?What is essential to following Jesus and what do we have to leave behind?