Losing my church shoes (Beth Keith)

Monday, 9 February, 2009

Beth KeithBeth Keith discusses losing her church shoes.

When I think about what I think about church
My head automatically jumps to what I already know
What I have already experienced
What church has meant for me
With all its practises and churchologies
I am not a missionary heading off into the unknowable
I have baggage, church baggage, church shoes

During the last four years I have been involved with ReSource, developing training with pioneers starting churches in emerging culture. One of the themes we have revisited is: What makes something church? What is essential and what is negotiable? When given the chance to step back and think about what we do as church and what we believe about church, time and again people show genuine surprise at the amount of church practice which is habitual but not essential to what it means to be church.

Rowan Williams recently suggested that the church should be prepared to risk everything except 'those things that hold us to the truth of his presence – Word and sacrament'. But it's not just that it's risky to leave behind what you're comfortable with; isn't it also tricky to imagine what something could be like that is beyond what you've experienced?

Any discussion on essential elements of church prompts quite a bit of debate. As we've talked there has been recognition of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (or words to that effect), but even with these as defining marks there is still enormous scope for diversity of both expression and understanding.  And the question remains: How do we move beyond all the extra stuff we do which isn't essential and give more time to the things we may value most about being church?

In last week's blog on Share, Richard Sudworth talked about the need for real listening in mission, listening which is active, transforming and relational: 'let the draught go both ways'. I suppose it would be fair to say that we have found that alongside this missiological conversation there is also a dynamic ecclesiological conversation to be had between our experience in mission and the historic, present and future church. It is a conversation that involves letting go of our church experience and stepping out of our church shoes. Only then can we come to the conversation open to the creative and imaginative Spirit. Only when we embrace the messy and improvised dialogue between mission and church do we find the essence of what being church is about.

About the author: 

Beth Keith works for Fresh Expressions supporting learning networks as well as researching with The Sheffield Centre.

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