Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Church: Theology or Community?

Our little Anglican church plant is suspending services until September. We've lost several core families over the past few months, and have been unable to replace them. The congregation (what's left of us) is torn in regard to the direction we should go, and our priest (a full time high school teacher) is burned out trying to herd us cats. So, with the permission of our Bishop, we are suspending services until a congregational meeting in September, at which time we will decide the parish's future. In the meantime, our priest is urging us to attend some other, larger, healthier church so we can worship corporately and be spiritually fed.

So that is where we find ourselves, the philosopher and I. Here in the heart of Baptist country, it's tough to find liturgical churches, and even tougher to find orthodox liturgical churches. I was reading a post by Rod Dreher over at Crunchy Con, and near the end he makes some thought-provoking statements about the nature and relationship of a church body to its community life and its theology. He writes:

Anyway, the trick is that you cannot organize a meaningful church community around the idea that the community matters more than the theology, or that the theology is unimportant. If members of the community share significantly different beliefs about who Christ is, what the authoritative teachings of the church are, and so forth, they can only be a community if they agree that theology doesn't matter. Who wants to be part of that church community? A religious community must exist for a clear reason beyond itself, or it won't long exist at all. Right? Church people who bang on the loudest about the need for "community" tend to be those who want to worship the community, at least that's what I've observed.

Still, holding the correct theology is in vain if one's church has little or no active love or community -- unless you think the Christian life is all about learning correct doctrine, as in a classroom.

So that's what I'm pondering. There is not another Anglican church closer than 1.5 hours away. And anyway what's the point of being part of a church where you can barely participate in its life because it's a three hour round trip to get there? So we need to look for other options. Do we ignore the theology and go for a church with a vibrant community life where we can find a niche? Do we go for something that's close to us theologically, regardless of how healthy the community is?

We're not called to be church planters. That has become clear to us - it's like trying to pound square pegs into round holes. And I'm OK with that. God calls us each to different things, and we each have different gifts. More frustrating is the fact that we are isolated. Most of my friends are in far off places, and we keep in touch via email and such. And these friends are dear to me - it's a blessing to have the technology where we can chat about day-to-day things. But locally I've yet to meet any folks we can invite over to share a pizza and watch a movie, or go hiking together, or whatever. So we'd really like a church community where we can meet people, and connect, and get more involved, and share our gifts and talents. But does that mean we're like the folks Rod calls out: "Church people who bang on the loudest about the need for "community" tend to be those who want to worship the community"? I don't think we "worship community", but a healthy church community is certainly important to us. So it's a quandary!

There's no easy answer here, and I'm not really looking for answers in a blog post anyway. ::grin:: There will be lots of prayer on our part, and church visits, and hopefully our path will become clear.


Blondie said...

I wish I could help or even offer a suggestion!

We left our previous (Baptist) church in 2005 as broken and wounded as we have ever been. That church was all about themselves - church was a social/country club not a place to reach those that were not already there (I could go on and on).

God - very definitely - led us to our current place of worship. It is a non-denominational (although doctrinally similar to Baptist), conservative theology yet liberal worship place. We love it yet we would never have chosen it for ourselves (www.gethope.net).

Our parents are skeptical of our new place of worship - there is only Sunday School for the kids (and it's fantastic) and small, in-home groups for the adults - but they are tied to tradition.

I'm not sure I have a point except to say that when God is moving you, He may move you somewhere you never expected - if even for a short while.

roger f said...

Have you both considered taking an R.C.I.A. class at a local Catholic Church? No commitment- Just a great exercise in faith exploration and a chance to worship with others. I have found much joy in the Catholic faith and its practice. Praying for you both always!


Zana said...

Hmm, Roger, I dunno. We actually considered Catholicism when we left the Episcopal Church in 2003, but the "theology" side of the equation just didn't work for us. When the philosopher finishes grading his finals, we'll start talking about it in depth and see where God leads. (And thank you so much for the prayers!)

AvocadoDiva said...

That's a really tough spot to be in Zana. I'll pray that God bring you and the Philospher some good "bosum buddies" over this summer....or at least a couple folks you can enjoy pizza and a movie with!!!

I know that online fellowship is like watery gruel compared to being physically part of a local community of like-minded Believers, but isn't it cool that you can have your spirit somewhat refreshed in just a couple clicks in online forums/sites?

Zana said...

Avo, yes, online friends have kept me sane! 8-)