Something unusual is happening when an Anglican newspaper publishes a “success” story about an Anglican parish.
We are accustomed to doom and gloom statistics in the church. We are familiar with tales of decline, low energy, and lack of resources. So it comes as a surprise to find an Anglican church that seems to be experiencing new life, energy, and vitality.
The current edition of “The Anglican Journal” tells the story of a once struggling church that has begun to discover new life and hope.
The Church of St. John the Evangelist in Thorold, Ontario attributes its renewed vitality to six key changes they made in their parish life:
1. longer more engaging sermons (twenty to twenty-five minutes)
2. more cooperative participatory leadership style
3. changes to liturgy including: the removal of “some repetitive aspects such as the Apostles’ Creed”, more flexibility in worship style, the abandonment of robes being worn by clergy leading worship, replacing liturgical books with words projected on an overhead screen, utilizing worship resources beyond the Anglican prayer books
4. removal of choir stalls and pews from the church
5. more contemporary music and a new music director
6. hiring a full-time children’s and youth minister, even though financial considerations seemed to make such a move ill-advised
No doubt some of these ideas seem horrifying and radical. A church that follows this course may seem to some to be “no longer Anglican.” It is unlikely that these six changes offer a perfect solution for every church to move forward as a vital Christian community.
In the search for new life in a community, it is always risky to take a program that has worked in one setting and assume the same innovations will automatically work just as well in a different context.
The journey to renewal of a church community is more complex than simply copying what has served well in one situation. Just as people are all unique, so each community is different. Changes that are effective in one church may be devastating in another.
Life-giving change in a church does not come from following a prescribed program. Rigid adherence to predictable inflexible prescriptions of what church must look like lie at the root of many of the problems faced by most churches in trouble.
New life comes when a community is willing to follow faithfully where the Spirit of God is leading that particular community.
In the video on their website that tells the story of their church’s process of renewal, the Rector speaks of having begun with prayer: http://www.stjohnsthorold.com/Video
We will never get where we want to end up unless we start in the right place. If we desire to end up with dynamic Spirit-filled communities, we must begin by opening deeply to that Spirit.
In the long painful history that is recounted in the Old Testament book of I & II Chronicles, there is one consistent difference between the few kings who are identified as having been “good” kings and those labelled “evil”. Consistently, the “good” kings demonstrated trust in God and resisted the temptation to place their faith in their own ability to rule effectively.
If the church is going to begin to turn around the difficult realities of the past few decades, it will not be by copying programs that have been effective in other communities. Renewed life in the Spirit will come as we follow the advice of Jehoshaphat the fourth king of Judah who counseled,
before you do anything, ask God for guidance. (II Chronicles 18:4 “The Message”)
If we want church “success” we need to start where we hope to end up with openness to the Spirit of God and a willingness to go wherever we become convinced God is leading.