Monday, July 26, 2010

Church on the Beach or Beach Church...

I held Jenova and walked around the group quietly, sometimes wandering further off, at other times staying close. I kept a fresh cracker in her hand and her binky in my pocket to keep her quiet. It was a beautiful thing. I honestly don't know why we didn't try it sooner. Here we are trying to plant an indigenous church, praying about and attempting to dissect through the culture around us and in us, helping the believers choose appropriate forms to fulfill the functions of being a church. We've danced around it, oh, we've danced. We moved 'Church' from homes to a rented facility. We've moved it from morning to evening. We've played with formats: shorter, longer, with or without discussion, with or without a meal together afterwards. Maurizio, who is a slowly-growing Jesus follower who was baptized several years ago, has been suggesting it for years. Well, we finally tried it and yesterday, as our Church gathered at the beach I watched several threads of my life come together.

One has to do with language. Ever since 1997 when I did my apprenticeship with a church in Santiago, Chile, I've begun asking questions about Church and the various forms it takes. This has taken me on a fun, crazy ride into studying, reading and traveling to see Church at work in all kinds of contexts. I've loved this. Seeing the northern L.A. believers gather in movie
theaters, the southern Texas believers meet in a horse show barn (complete with iced tea and a country music worship band - and a pulpit made from horseshoes!), getting to visit Italy's only mega-church in Palermo, Sicily (a cell church) and hearing the stories from members of boiler rooms in Europe have been part of this. Reading about cell churches, house churches and the organic church have caused me to think and wonder. Being at the helm of a young team of excited, green church-planters has allowed me the thrill (for me - likely much eye-rolling and lessons in patience for them) of attempting to put some of these lessons and questions to real life tests.

Language. Here I'm not talking about whether we call it Church or Iglesia or Chiesa although that does play a part. I'm talking on a broader scope about how we talk about it. I really believe how we talk about anything defines what we believe about it. Thanks, in part, to Brad Kallenberg for helping me with this. For a long time I've stayed away from using the expression "go to church" as this seems to me to encourage the idea that church is something you get in your car and drive to. Instead I've tried talking about when and where the church will gather, attempting to encourage the idea that the church, in any given week, meets at different places and times, both in ways spontaneous and planned.

The classic, 3-self view of a church (self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating) is helpful and still captures (I think) what any restoration movement church-planter hopes to see, but it does so in a very American way while claiming to be simply pulling out a very linear, formulaic outline from the letters and stories of Paul and friends.

Working in a part of the world that is spiritually 'hard' has also caused me to think lots about the church and its relation to Kingdom, Big-C Church versus little-c church and especially about the way we measure things. Here, Joe Myers in 'Organic Community' really helps out. In his book he suggests the readers adopt an organic order to things. On his chapter on Measurement he talks about moving from bottom-line to story. He uses the example of baseball cards to show how black and white numbers and statistics don't always accurately measure effectiveness or success, that story has to be what we use to measure. He says that it helps us "measure the life of our communities."

The thread, then, that I am following from yesterday's experience has to do with what we've been working so hard to build (or if you want to use the organic language: to plant, to see grow). Lately, on Saturdays, several members of our little community have joined us on our most-of-the-day beach excursions. The Casey family, often joined by the Rotert family head to Numana to hang out on its beautiful, free beach (about a 20 minute drive away). Lately, Matteo, Silvia, Maurizio, Silla, Cristina, Simone, Mariana and Alex have joined us as well and it turns into this informal gathering, meal sharing time of fellowship and fun. Encouragement takes place and sometimes discouragement. Sometimes we pray and challenge each other. Other times we talk about what we're reading. Sometimes we just dunk each other in the water or throw pebbles at each other.

The jump we made yesterday: merging our informal Saturday gathering with our Sunday evening Gathering seemed to be a natural, beautiful experience. Instead of this isolated gathering in a hot, rented room, we were out in the world, surrounded by beauty and nature with all to walk by and see. The girls took some pieces of wood a fisherman had left by his boat and formed a stage and cross. We sat in a circle on towels and took communion off a plastic plate set on a cooler. Friends who were invited came to visit when they haven't before. Everyone gathered at the shore to watch Brian & Heidi baptize their eldest daughter, Chloe, into Christ. And all of this was preceded by hours of sunbathing, relaxing, swimming, talking and playing. No rented facility necessary. No powerpoint. No electricity.

Language. How we talk about things reveals so much about what we believe about those same things. Yesterday the church gathered at the beach. God was worshipped. The body was built up and encouraged. Stories were shared. We remembered Jesus' sacrifice for us and challenged each other to see Him daily in our lives. There was fellowship. And some of this, yes, some of this, happened between the hours of 19 and 20.

From June to September, most of Ancona spends their Sundays (and lots of other days as well) at the beach. Is there any better way to make this gathering indigenous and contextualized than doing what we did last night?

More on this thread and others to come...