Monday, June 29

Outreach: Sharing our Faith

There are numerous voices out there telling congregations what churches should be about. Terms fly about: emergent, missional, outreach, justice ministry, relevant, etc. Recently some members of Reconciler have spoken about wanting others to experience what they have found at Reconciler, yet how to share this in a situation and culture in which gathering together as a community for worship is hardly a priority at times even for many religious or spiritual people. There is a challenge for Reconciler in that our Sunday worship isn't' necessarily the best way to first encounter our faith community or Christianity, unless one is the type to be comfortable participating in something one might not fully understand. Yet since we have considered Eucharistic centered worship essential to Reconciler's work and for the support of Christians in their various callings, we have not been willing to make our main service "seeker" sensitive, or more accessible. This means that there needs to be some other way for people to be introduced to the congregation and even introduced to our worship life. We have attempted somethings like keeping a booth at some of the sumer neighborhood festivals here in Chicago, as well as events intended for people to get to know us and what Christians might do with the Bible, with a potluck themed as Beer, Bread and the Bible. This was somewhat successful in that it was well attended but only had one. We also had a panel discussion on Fair Trade and had planned to have more but the attendance was small and organizing something like that takes a large amount of time and energy.

Church is a complex thing, for although there is certainly something to the claim that congregations don't exist for the members it is also true that a church community is for those who are part of the church community. We gather to worship to be formed into the body of Christ to be spiritually empowered to live out our callings as followers of Christ, we are both gathered and sent, both under care and caring, ministered to and ministers. To be out in the world to let people know about Reconciler both things need to be kept in mind. Also, we need to keep in mind what is our faith? Why would we feel the need or have the desire to invite people into our Community, why is Jesus Christ important? Why, do we seek to make a difference in the world? In this sense any outreach needs to be willing to say that Christ makes a difference, that in some sense what Christianity offers is true in ways that other paths aren't. This truth should be in the life offered in and through the community of the Body of Christ, thus the ways in which knowing Christ brings truth into our own lives and transforms us, both our failings and our successes. In outreach we are telling our own stories of encounter with the truth who is Jesus Christ. If we are not sharing this and offering this opportunity of encounter with others than all our attempts to be relevant or to seek after justice, or be place of healing etc, will seem abstract and lack authenticity. In a world of choices if we believe people should be interested in Christianity and spend there time on church, then what we bring to the conversation should have some weight that other attachments and communities can't or don't bring people. We can offer something beyond relevance, we can offer the spiritual root and stamina to work for justice, we can offer a path of transformation in and through Jesus Christ both personally and corporately.

This requires a willingness to be vulnerable about how Christ has made us truer, how encounter with God in Jesus Christ transforms us and gives us a vision and the spiritual resources to look at a world of injustice and work for justice. It means finding ways to introduce a worship that should support all these things and lead us to encounter God in these ways, so that a complex symbol system can be entered into once someone does actually come to worship.

We need to stop seeing our worship as the place of initial invitation and see ourselves about proclaiming inviting and explaining before someone ever enters into worship with us. Events like Bread Beer and the Bible or sponsoring panel discussions from a Christian POV on current issues of justice and politics and culture I think are good places both for Reconciler and other churches to start, but we also probably need to think of ways to introduce people to the symbol system of the church a sort of pre-catechumenate mystagogy, I suppose.

I am beginning to wonder if the various types of alternative worship services liturgies, coming from variety of denominations and groups,shouldn't be viewed or offered as the worship of the church, but ways to introduce or re-introduce people to the symbol system of Christians worship. In other words are there ways to give people some sense of the meaning of Baptism artistically and symbolically before they undergo baptism or as they are investigating Christianity, the same for Eucharist and other things.