Beloved St. John’s community,
As some of you are aware, I went to London in June for a ten-day class called “Learning From London” about church innovation. This class is run by Bexley Seabury, an Episcopal Seminary, and has been brought to ECMN by Blair Pogue, our new Missioner for Innovation and Vitality. Along with me were a number of other priests and seminarians from all over the Western Hemisphere, including Harlem, Toronto, Colombia, Birmingham, the Upper Peninsula, Washington D.C., and of course Minnesota! We were in London because although the Church of England as a whole is experiencing decline, the diocese of London has experienced significant growth in the last decade. We were there to explore some of the reasons for this, to be exposed to what they are doing, and to reflect theologically on what life God’s Spirit is bringing about among us and how we can nourish and strengthen that vitality in our own contexts.
We visited a wild assortment of different experiments in doing church. The first place we visited was St. Luke’s on the High Street, a parish that could no longer afford their building—so they sold it and set up a stall in the local farmer’s market instead, where they offer free beverages and desserts, tables where people can rest and be prayed for, and occasional meals and Bible studies at coffee shops. Their desire is simply to show the radical and unconditional love of God in Christ to everyone at the farmer’s market.
Next, we went to a radically different kind of place—Holy Trinity Brompton. It was a vibrant young adult charismatic service with a praise band and no discernible Anglican liturgy, but an absolute commitment to discipleship and church planting. They use a class called “Alpha” to teach their understanding of key Christian theology and have been growing for a long time.
We saw many other iterations of church, including an Anglo-Catholic parish that runs an elementary school and whose tagline is “The World will be Saved by Beauty”;
St. James Piccadilly which is deeply involved in neighborhood engagement, vibrant worship and justice, and whose vision is “Rooted in God’s Earth, we envision a just society and a creative open-hearted church”.
A church called “St. Francis / The Engine Room” that operates a community center and wine shop with a church tucked in the corner, and others.
Through these different expressions of church, we saw the breadth and depth of the Anglican church which has traditionally encompassed “high, broad and low” church—sometimes expressed as Anglo-Catholic, progressive and evangelical. It’s hard to believe that such vastly different theologies and understandings of God and Christ can exist under the same umbrella, but they do, and this is both one of our greatest strengths as a church, and also one of our greatest challenges.
As I witnessed the beautiful experimentation, array of understandings of God, challenge and growth happening in London, I found myself reflecting theologically on what makes the church healthy, vibrant, and generative. As we know, any life form or species in the natural world will be generative if it is healthy. But how does the growth of one being or species impact the ecosystem around it? In the natural world, we see that the greater the diversity in any ecosystem, the healthier it is. If a species dies out, that changes the whole biome. If a species is invasive, it can take over and suppress the life of other species. Finally, there are “keystone” species, which perform a role not duplicated by other species, and therefore helps the whole ecosystem flourish. I believe this is the kind of “species” the church is called to be. And how do we do this? The Diocese of London, for all its theological diversity, has a unifying vision: “for every Londoner to encounter the love of God in Christ.” If our neighbors experience our community as truly loving in the way that Jesus was loving, then we know we are on the right track. We are not seeking to make everyone like us, or to insist that our way or understanding or spirituality is better than any other. What we bring to the equation that is beautiful and without which no community can flourish, is simply love. Real, embodied love is healing, appealing, and generative. And Jesus’ Way of Love is a discipleship path that helps us explore what embodying love can look like.
St. John’s will be experimenting with ways of being neighborly that embody the love of God in Christ. Stay tuned for updates and share your ideas and experiences with one another and with me!
In Christ’s love,