We Can’t Go Back…to Pretending!

by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith and Member of General Synod

peter leonard

Like many others I have experienced a ‘Corona Coaster’ of emotions during lockdown. One day I’m coping and am positive and on other days it simply seems black and I just want to hide away. I’ve known for some time I would be writing this, and I have thought and prayed about it, resulting in a dozen different ideas for what it could look like and what it would try to say. It has proved to be one of the most difficult pieces to actually commit to paper and I suspect this is because I am grappling with some really unpalatable truths that perhaps I have not been completely honest about before. Has the current pandemic highlighted the deep divisions which exist within the institutional church and is it too flawed to be rescued? Has the Anglican ability to ‘fudge’ issues finally run out of credibility?

The church has also been on a corona coaster of ups and downs. I’ve seen churches work closely with local communities to support the most vulnerable through a range of practical and spiritual ways. Faith has been lived out and worship offered to God by caring for the sick, the lonely and the vulnerable.

There has also been unhealthy levels of competition and judgment between clergy and others in terms of the worship they have offered online or offline and the service they have given to their community. There have been deeply unpleasant and very public arguments on social media about whether churches should be open or not and the significance of our buildings. Even during a global pandemic, homophobia remains a given in the church and I wrote about this here. Most recently the appalling murder of George Floyd in the USA brings us face to face once again with the systemic racism which we cannot hide from in our own country and church.

So, what is it that I am suggesting we don’t go back to? I don’t want us to go back to simply putting up with these divisions and injustices. I don’t want us to go back to being dishonest about them and pretending that they aren’t there or that they aren’t massively significant, deeply damaging and part of the reason so many people do not want to engage with the church institution in its current form.

As Chair of OneBodyOneFaith I insist on positive campaigning, not simply bemoaning our lot but suggesting and living out ways for things to be better. What do I need to say to drag myself out of this ‘pit of despair’ I have landed in? The answer for me is in the story of the early followers of Jesus in Acts chapter 2. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit we read that the followers of Jesus:

42 …devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

They were devoted to each other, a strong word which implies a deep commitment and level of relationship. These people sold their possessions to support those most in need, creating a way of living which ensured everyone had enough. What are the depths of relationships in our churches? Are we devoted to each other and what would that look like if we were?

They also devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. Learning assumes two things, that we don’t know everything and that we can be better. When a church community or leader assumes they know everything then power and people are abused. We are constantly learning including our faith and our knowledge and experience of God. We have to learn to express, to proclaim and live out our faith, the gospel, afresh in each generation. We now find within our generation we need to work out what faith means in a pandemic situation and in the aftermath of it.

This is a picture of a local community with a way of life so attractive that people were drawn to it and wanted to be part of it. And let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want to be part of it? This is a church who:

  • were devoted to one another
  • wanted to learn and improve
  • cared for one another and ensured everyone had enough
  • worshipped together, in the temple and in their own homes – every day!
  • and ate together – they were generous, and they were glad

Perhaps my difficulty in writing this is acknowledging that I am part of a church institution which has too often failed to live like that.

I don’t want to go back to propping up an institution which is flawed, which too often ignores injustice and sometimes even perpetuates it. I want to go back to being a follower of the way. I want to live my life based on the life of Jesus Christ with love at the core, the very heart of everything.

Jesus said that he was the way, the truth and the life. I want to follow that way, live by that truth and receive that life.

 

 

 

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17 Responses to We Can’t Go Back…to Pretending!

  1. Pingback: We Can’t Go Back…to Pretending! | Kiwianglo's Blog

  2. ANDREW HOUGH says:

    Are Anglican churches being allowed to leave Bibles and Gospel tracts outside their buildings for passers by to “pick up”? Surely spreading the good news is part of the Apostles teaching we should be devoted to as well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil Gardner says:

      Is that really your idea of spreading the good news, Andrew? That certainly wasn’t the example set by the early church – they spread the good news by the spoken word, naturally, but primarily by living out the Kingdom as a visible community of love, worship, sharing and caring. That’s what drew others in. In our post-Christian age, even if someone were to pick up a Bible left outside a church, it would make little if any sense to them. As for ‘gospel tracts’, the version of Christianity that most of them present seems to me to bear hardly any resemblance to that lived out in the early church.

      Liked by 1 person

      • williambuggins says:

        True, but if that church has made an impression on the community for being friendly and joyful then why not? There’s all kinds of ways to share the Gospel, but of course we Christians need to back up the written word with how we liveit!

        Like

  3. williambuggins says:

    Good comment. There has to be a deep desire within us to be honest and say what we really think. As long as it’s said in the love and power of the Holy Spirit. Some people are really afraid of saying what they think, how they feel about issues; so they either stay silent or mutter something non -commital and inoffensive.
    But just as our dearest relationships cannot thrive on deceit, neither can relationships within the Church, the Body of Christ. When we begin to be honest we encourage others to be honest and open. Dangerous yes, but far far better tha living a lie!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. MariHoward says:

    yes. a chance to rethink what anglicanism is – and what being christians really entails… (no caps – broken wrist)

    Like

  5. Mike beaman says:

    Is this why Justin is reluctant for churches to reopen?

    Like

  6. sheilaghcourtnage1964 says:

    Refreshing honesty and humility… Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Darren says:

    I always ask myself,how would Jesus of responded to the situation.
    He spoke to all and mixed with all,race,colour,language.visited the sick and dying it didn’t mater to him. some folk find it hard to walk into a building so they might never hear the good news of gods kingdom.we have the Holy Spirit and should not be frightened or ashamed to use it.
    This is what Matthew tells us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Irene McKay says:

    I value so much all you have shared Peter. I am committed to continue to work for, and believe that the Methodist Church, within which I was baptised 70+ years ago, can be a truly inclusive church. But I know I need every experience and gift of God’s grace to guide and direct my own responses and actions, to affirm always that we are all created in the image of our one God. My life has been enriched in manifold ways by so many whose sexuality, ethnicity, gender, ability, faith is different from my own. Thankyou for the gift of your grace that encourages me in this continuing journey. I believe and pray that God’s grace will continue to hold you, and all for whom you care, through all that lies ahead. Irene

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes! Love this! But what will it look like? What will you actually do differently in order to achieve this?

    Like

    • Irene McKay says:

      From arriving in an apartheid governed country more than 50 years ago, my life has been about the choice between colluding with injustice or engaging in living out in action ways that stand against all forms of injustice. I think the greater challenge over the last year has been to enable conversations between people of different theological positions concerning sexuality, and try to maintain respectful impartiality. Respect I believe is fundamentally important, but if fear has been in any way a factor with impartiality, that needs to change. If there is loving, grace-filled respect, we cannot be fearful of the reality that being true to ourselves and what we believe can cause offence, pain, rejection, hurt.
      I need to claim daily 1John 4 v 18.

      Like

  10. Rev David Ackerman says:

    A good starting point is the declaration of assent. The CofE “professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. A renewal of ministry can I think only come about when there is a reaffirm of our “loyalty to this inheritance of faith” as our inspiration and guidance under God. We are then clear that above all we are called to bring “the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in our care”. Profound words there – yes we lead and manage but people are those “in our care”.

    Like

  11. Peter I love your article and would really appreciate you giving me permission to include it in our weekly Parish News. PN is a weekly publication that I have set up and been editing since Lockdown that goes out on Facebook and is emailed to our community way beyond the church walls. I would be happy to send you copies so you can see its embraces faith, creativity, irreverence and masses of resources for our community. Its been a way of keeping us connected. Hope you’ll say yes?

    Like

  12. Pingback: We Can’t Go Back…to Silence for the Sake of Unity | ViaMedia.News

  13. Pingback: We Can’t Go Back….But We Will, Unless… | ViaMedia.News

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