For the kids in my congregation, it's a chance to invite friends to hear the story of Jesus in a non-threatening, fun and culturally appropriate way. It's a chance to be together, get to know each other a bit better through play, eating together, worship and exploring the Bible.
It seems like an opportunity to gather with hundreds of other kids their age, from around the state, and including a wider ranging cultural diversity than within our own congregation. But for whatever reason, mostly, I think, trying to stay safe within this organised chaos, we don't take that opportunity; we don't seem to have time to sit down with other groups, hear from them their ideas about God, their experiences of life. Perhaps you can't do it all in 24 hours (someone might need to tell that to Keifer Sutherland's tv character ... ).
For KCO does what it does very well - providing an opportunity to play and pray together, to learn and grow together, to simply be together. It is big church, God's big family, enjoying each other's company.
There have been many ways in which I've been involved in 'big church' this past month or so, beginning to stir up questions and ideas I'm still not sure I know how to articulate even as I embark on writing this post, but mostly evoking an ever-deepening sense of gratitude.
First, the Urban Mission Network gathered to explore the idea of 'changing landscapes', a movement within our church to pay attention to the changes unfolding in our community and culture and discern our place, our call to be witnesses to God's presence, within that changed and constantly changing environment. In our small group conversation, we started in a mood of despondency, disillusionment, disappointment. But as we shared our ideas about God and church, hope emerged, light and delight, joy at the possibilities if we trust God's spirit, let faith and hope happen, create solid channels that enable movement and flow of clean life-giving water - if we get out of the way and let God's Spirit run!
Then, at meetings of the planning team for the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts, I was encouraged by our creative response to the needs of our communities of faith as we seek to worship in authentic, encouraging, meaningful ways. We're planning a dinner gathering at which we will explore communion, its history, symbols, story, and the ways we can creatively engage with the tension of tradition and innovation as we celebrate this sacred ritual. It excites me to be part of a church that is recapturing appreciation for the arts as vital in the expression and nurture of our spirituality, the vitality of our whole beings. God is, after all, in the experience of God's people through the ages, Creator.
Finally, our state meeting of the church came at a time when I had been exhausted. The creative, artistic, and sensitive worship (for a gathering of the very diverse Uniting Church) was restorative. Being with my people, my tribe, my friends and colleagues was renewing. Hearing wise insight into a core practice of our tradition, and affirmation that by doing what I intuitively do, being who I intrinsically am, I am, indeed, practicing the evangelism that is central to our faith tradition.
To be honest, if I had known our topic was evangelism, I may have stayed at home. It is not a subject that generally excites me. The practice of evangelism has, in some times and places been, by some, aggressive, arrogant and abusive. Christians have embarked on sharing the 'good news of Jesus Christ' as if they are right and all the world is wrong. As if it is they themselves who have the responsibility to save the world - not God, who has already redeemed, who is always renewing, God's good creation. As if God is not so vast, mysterious, and ever-present that God can not be experienced in myriad ways, and these experiences expressed and nurtured in myriad traditions.
I had, in the week or so preceding, posted a number of reflections on my blog, about shaving my head for Lent, about experiencing the low days that come with the experience of depression. As I told my story there, publicly, weaving in reflections on my experience of God, hope, Spirit, was I, in fact, evangelising?
I was not claiming that I had found a path to ‘salvation’ that all must follow. I was not raising my ideas up above the ideas of others. I was not even, actually, explicitly inviting any of my readers to consider Christian spirituality as a way of life for them.
I was indwelling the story of God, and telling the story of my seeking to embody that story more fully, more deeply, through a bold act of giving up in order to give more.
I was publicly telling the story of my humanity, and the hope I find in God that fulfills my experience of being human.
According to what Dave was saying, drawing on a variety of perspectives, what I was doing could be understood as evangelism. Giving witness to the presence of God in the world as I have experienced the Holy. Telling my story as a participation in the fullness of our humanity that comes through honest, vulnerable sharing of ourselves. A gentle offering of myself with an implicit invitation to my readers to engage with my story from their own, and together, perhaps, we might find richer meaning in life.
Dave talked about encounters with each other that change each of us, about entering a shared space in order to discover the Sacred, in order to discover something new.
Here on this internet page, telling my story, that is all I am seeking to do.
1000 campers and their leaders playing and praying together; city churches responding to cultural change and finding hope together; artists equipping the church to carry out ancient rituals with meaning; a local minister restored and affirmed in the meeting of her wider church family.
Big church. Big God. Big heart of gratitude.