Thinking and planning this week about how best to use our brand new Parish Room has given plenty of food for thought about the relationship between maintenance and mission. The Anglican 'Five marks of Mission' are pretty comprehensive, taking in safeguarding the integrity of creation and striving to alter unjust structures of society as well as loving service, teaching and nurturing people in the faith AND evangelistic outreach....all quite a mouthful when talking casually about mission with church members so I'm a bit lazy and tend to use the word for ordinary conversation purposes to refer to the way our church is playing its part in this time and in this place, in showing/telling the Good News of Jesus Christ to those outside the church.
I am aware from talking with other clergy, that maintenance of Sunday worship in often ancient and cavernous buildings, takes such a lot of time and energy, there doesn't seem to be much left for new mission initiatives. On a recent church growth conference, we were asked to do a brief audit of what in our church's life amounted to presence, to persuasion or to proclamation? A large amount of what we did was really presence (we're just here, and that's blessing in itself but.....) Not so much was persuasion (talking through the real implications of the Christian faith with interested parties) and hardly any proclamation (to anyone who wasn't already in the club anyway.) Are we so busy maintaining that we're not growing?
They had a similar problem in Acts chapter 6 only here, rapid expansion meant that Greek believers felt their widows were being neglected in the church's daily distribution of food - a central part of the early church's ministry in a pre-welfare state society. The church's response is interesting: 'And the twelve called together the whole community of disciples and said 'It is not right that we should neglect the word of God to wait at tables.'' They duly appointed more disciples to do the waiting on tables whilst the original evangelists continued the proclamation of the gospel. Their central driving force was evangelisation; whatever else was needed they dealt with almost as an aside.
Is there a danger of becoming so caught up in maintenance of 'normal service' inside the church that we neglect the much larger numbers of people there are outside?
Or is it that all our activities are in a sense mission...? Baptisms, weddings and funerals are all obvious opportunities for the Good News. Choosing chair colour (now there's vexed issue); buying a nappy changing mat and checking health and safety for a new space may seem like very temporal issues but if they are undertaken to a constant background tune of outreach for the sake of those Christ came to save, ministry might become more holistic and life giving.
So it's back to the drawing board...what coffee cups shall we use when, with mounting excitement, we finally open up the new Parish Room for our much awaited community coffee drop in session?!