The other week I had an exciting, and exhausting, week as I learned from London. We visited many, many churches- two, sometimes three, a day. At each church, we met with some of the clergy and lay leaders of the parish. They were all part of The Church of England and the Diocese of London. Yet, the places were also truly diverse.
Holy Trinity/Brompton is Solemn High Mass in the morning, complete with incense and chanting. In the evening, they host a Crossing-type service with a praise band.
A new church called E-20 meets on Tuesday nights in a café in the former Olympic Athlete’s Village. They share an evening meal together. After the meal there is a basic Christian message.
St, James/Picadilly is fairly middle of the road with their liturgy. During the Eucharist they gather around the Altar. I was surprised to see about 5 dogs present. No, the dogs did not receive!
The places were as different as could be. Yet, there were some things held in common:
The ever-reaching love of God was central. God’s love was why they do what they do. There was a sense that, since God reached out to them in love, so they are called to extend that love to others. This is their “mission from God” (see Matthew 28:18-20). That’ll preach on this Trinity when we celebrate God’s outward reaching love in the Trinity.
God’s love compelled them to be present in their respective communities. They realized that they could not be God’s hands and heart within their four walls. They had to reach out to intentionally build relationships. Sometimes that took the form of a Thursday marketplace in their courtyard. Other times that looked like a pop-up café for school kids to get a snack and play games after school.
There is heavy lay leadership in most of the things we saw. In England, many churches are grouped together into a team. There is a “team rector” who oversees three to four congregations. As you can expect, the rector cannot get to every church every Sunday. So lay leaders and part time associates are needed. If something needs to happen, it is up to the laity.
Each church realizes that it cannot do everything or be all things to all people. So, instead they focus on a few things. Then they commit to doing those things well. This enables incredible energy and resources to be released for the greatest impact. No or few children? That is okay. A children’s message is given when there are kids present as opposed to Sunday School.
I confess that at a few points, my notions of church and worship were challenged. Where is the liturgy? Where is the Eucharist? However, I then recalled the examples of Jesus and Paul. Both Jesus and Paul had a gift for meeting people where they were, as they were. That is why the emphasis was so much on building relationships with neighbors and businesses in the community.
My experience in London also reminded me of an illustration from a mentor I once had. You cannot take a newborn baby and set it up on the changer and expect the baby to change its own diapers. In the same way, you cannot take someone who is unchurched or who has been hurt by the church and feed them the meat and potatoes of faith. You have to start with the milk first.
That is something that each of us can do as we build relationships with our neighbors and coworkers. we start with listening, really listening to them and reflecting God’s love to them.