Friday, June 15, 2007

The Future of the Church

What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life…. The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led…. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love. Henri Nowen

What powerful words by Henri Nowen! And they are so timely. This week Bishop Ely from VT made a presentation on Small Parishes to the clergy of the Diocese. There were many good messages in his presentation. But in each the bishop was clear that the ministry of small parishes must be seen as important and viable.

It is my experience that small parishes can't be killed off by bad clergy, or top-down programing coming from diocese or national church. Larger churches can be affected in that way. But small churches exist because they care for each other and are maintained by the laity. They are not especially moved by the acts of juridical bodies. They are about trying to be as Christian as they possibly can be by their lights and they are willing and able to fund that ministry but not a whole lot more.

In short, they are not tempted by power as Henri Nowen states. They are generally about the hard work of love. And love in the small town, the small community is difficult. It means that people have to take one another for what they are. There is little to buffer the rough edges of personalities in small communities. There are no strata of society in the villages, no veils of phoniness behind which one can hide. In small towns 'you are what you are' and everybody knows it. There is little mystery allowed an individual and consequently there is little power attributed to those who special gifts.

Like Jesus in Nazareth, it is impossible to be a prophet in one's hometown. You are just Joe Blow or Susie Stitch and nothing more than love is expected of you. And if you try to work your miracles in small towns, no one is going to pay attention. They may, however, love you no matter what you do.

In the light of what is happening at the upper reaches of our Church--in the diocese, national and international realms of the Church, I believe that it will be the small churches in small towns that will carry forth the mission of Jesus Christ. It will be the small churches that you can't kill with a stick that will last and be the place where ministry will continue in love. The continuing mission of Jesus will be played out despite diocesan, national or international programing. There will be a certain nod to those who arrogate power unto themselves but it will be in the small congregations that God's love will continue to be shown forth.

These small parishes will not need to report their minstries to the diocese. They will not need to evaluate their work or fill out forms. They will just continue to love the people Christ brings to them. They will not need a bishop to teach them how; if anything, the wise bishop will learn from them. And the Church will survive in these small communities where food is grown and life is basic.

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