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Haddon Willmer contributes to the current discussion in the Church on Community Action…

16 February 2015

Haddon head (1172x971)In his article,  Stepping Out – Community and Social Action  (Moortown Baptist News 13 February 2015) Graham says that one of several things we need to do as a Church is ‘to develop the level of support, prayer and recognition for the individual witness, work and service of people at Moortown Baptist Church. These expressions are a vital calling in themselves.’

How could this be done?  

First, we need to recognise that the primary and constant form of Church engagement in society is what the members of the church community do every day of the week.

That amounts to far more time than can ever be given to activities run directly by the church.

It involves everybody in the church whether they choose it or not. We are all deeply, intimately, involved in ‘society’ in many different ways.

To recognise it we need to look into it – to ask questions together about it.

The first step would be to  take note of where the Church is in society through its members as dispersed during the week.

That could be done through a fun ‘getting to know one another in a new way’  exercise –  even by a bit of a party.

Here are some questions we could ask ourselves, and each other:

Where do you work? What are you responsible for in the world outside Church? From where you are,  how do you see society, its blessings, its potential and problems? Do you think you are useful  to God and to people through your daily work, or are you an ineffective bystander or just a victim of a society that doesn’t work well for the common good? Are you part of a team, doing something good or useful?

Don’t  say, I am a pensioner, I don’t work.   Pensioners don’t get paid, but like the stay-at home Mum, they work voluntarily and often very hard at humanly constructive and essential jobs.   And they have a distinctive and valuable understanding of ‘society’ coming from their experience.

Where do you live? Who are your  neighbours? What do you do for and with them? What do you care about in your small and larger neighbourhoods? What good do you do? What good do you receive?  What do you learn about living socially in our world as it is today?

What family do you live with or see often? How do different family members experience living in their corner of society? What does the experience of your spouse, your children, your parents show you about the potential and the problems of society?

By asking questions like this, we could build up a picture and a map of  the church we are, in this society now.  And, once we have the facts, we could move on to evaluation.

What do we see and understand about society because of our involvement in it? What is sad, frustrating, a challenge for change?   What good is already being done, and how could more be done?

Who are we, not as private persons, but as social beings and citizens? What am I, not in and for myself, but in the eyes and experience of others, (family members, neighbours, employers, clients, strangers,  even organisations)?    Am I valued for worthwhile service, or am I seen as a nuisance, a parasite, even a menace?

What allies and helpers do we find in doing good, and what blockages and negative neighbours?   How can we make better alliances and turn negatives into positives?  How do we keep going even when negatives persist powerfully?

Recognising ourselves as persons and as Christians who are inevitably socially involved, and evaluating our involvement is not an individual private exercise. It is not introspective narcissism. It is something we can and should do as Church together.  

We can and should  both appreciate and encourage one another in our present engagements. We can learn more about the reality of society  by finding out how others see and experience it. (I have a comfortable individual existence; through people around me, I know life is hard, and society a cruel, clumsy, unhelpful thing. It is other people  who give me an agenda for social engagement, who tell me there is something more to live for than my own personal fulfilment.) If we talk honestly, we can help one another to evaluate whether what we are doing in life in society  is right and worthwhile, or whether it would be better to change to doing something else. We can help each other through times of weakness, discouragement, perplexity and even disastrous mistakes and failures (which are quite likely for people living in the real world and trying to make a good difference).

So we can practise Hebrews 10.24,25: Consider how to stir  up one another  to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…’     We will do more than encourage each other to do good works as individuals, as though we live in isolation. We meet together to do the stirring, and in our meeting together we discover good works to do together. And  it will go further: when we meet each other in church, as Christians who are citizens, responsible to God for the welfare of the city (the global world) where God has placed us, we will stir each other up politically.   For if we hear the cry of the needy world and want to do something to help, we will want to recruit all available resources, including the government, the economy, culture. There will be no cordon sanitaire, no fire-break, between our being Christian and our being citizens. That means, we won’t as Church, live through this election season as though there is nothing in it which should concern us.

If  we, as Church, work like this, we will learn from the inside  how our faith and obedience to God in Christ really works out in everyday life. We will have a realistic faith, which gets a degree of living visibility in society because it is rooted in practice, and is not just words (which is what we necessarily deal in in our meetings in church). We will be discovering faith in ways that can be communicated to other people more adequately, because we are doing things in the same world as other people, and doing them in such a way that the faith and life of Christ has body, as well as spirit. So it becomes accessible to people who want that kind of practical everyday reality. Our life of faith will not be an individual cultivation of spirituality, but a social life, where the society which is other people and Jesus Christ, the first-born amongst many brethren.

So we learn and deepen our faith in Christ through our engagement in society rather than trying to intensify our spiritual life in Church and occasionally have a bit of a social add-on. We get going, not by sitting in church asking ourselves how we can engage more in society, but by recognising seriously that we are already engaged in society. We are with God in Christ in the world, which is where God’s love takes him.




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