By Jennifer Byrnes
It’s a conspiracy! Every Sunday, and at many other times in the week, the people of God conspire. The word conspire derives from ‘con’ meaning together and ‘inspire’ meaning to breathe in. Whether it is in our prayers, litanies of praise, our singing or our communal ‘Amen’ – we act together – we physically draw in breathe in order to breathe out the words of the liturgy, to offer litanies of praise, our singing and our communal ‘Amen’.
Having breathed in the Word of life, the love of God, strength and nourishment from one another and the pain of the world and our neighbours; we then together breathe out love and hope. We breathe out healing and compassion, mission and ministry.
This conspiracy which is the Church is much under the microscope in our synod in these challenging years. Currently, we are being invited to reflect on what we think of ourselves and to reflect on how we can most effectively be church. In these discussions the focus quickly moves to how can we be sustainable as a community of God’s people into the decades ahead.
The starting point often seems to be what will we do to change and shape the Church?
In this current climate, I have been nourished and reminded of some words I read in an article written by Craig B Anderson entitled ‘Community Reconsidered’. Anderson notes: “…too much talk about community is not only symptomatic of its absence but reveals a misunderstanding of its nature. … the Church too often insinuates that a faithful community can be created out of nothing. Such hubris overlooks a central tenant of human being and Christian identity. Human beings don’t create community as much as they are created by it.”
From this perspective our Church community is a gift. It is the context or container in which we discover our humanity. Thus, states Anderson: “… it is not an entity to be produced, but a gift that bestows understanding, humility and worth and brings with it recognition of one’s place in the sacred circle.” This perspective highlights a common misunderstanding of community as an “aggregate of individuals to be shaped or structured to our needs.”
When I acknowledge the community as a gift, I notice a different energy is released in me. Instead of enquiring as to what might we do to create or be the sustainable community of faith, the invitation becomes – given this gift of community how might we respond?
The consequence for me is a heart-shift and a reminder of the right order for our reflections. Too easily our efforts, relationships and activities within the Church are seen as the initiating factor in a healthy discipleship and faith. However, in this conspiracy there are two movements, the gift of community and then our response. In this conspiracy of grace – the first movement belongs to God – the second movement belongs to us.
Our stewardship, our ministry, our committee life, our shared laughter and tears do not create community; rather they are the (sometimes inadequate) response to the gift of this community – this gift of grace.
We know that the primary framework for relating to the world is found in the first movement of grace – initiated by God, that each and all are loved by God – then continues with the second movement initiated by us – our response to this love. The gospel reminds us of this foundational principle – God’s love for the world propels us to love one another as gift. Grace defined the character of Jesus. The gospel writer named John called him “grace upon grace,” more grace than anyone could imagine. Those who followed Jesus and knew best the nature of his fellowship described the Church as a steward of grace and referred to its members as facilitators of grace, ministers of grace.
The Church then is the conspiracy of grace, where our breathing and acting in concert is our response to the first movement which is God’s gift to us.
When we contemplate our future in this synod, I need to constantly remind myself that it is not my responsibility to create community. Rather, my first act of faithfulness is to receive the Community as gift.
How might this change my perspective when I participate in our discussions about the sustainability of our mission and ministry in this synod?
At the very least it leads me to be a generous participant aware that those with whom I work and serve with are gifts; this calls me to a posture of thanksgiving.
Only then, when I have breathed in concert with the community of which I am a part and in which I find my identity and humanity, THEN I can contemplate the second movement of the conspiracy of grace – as beautiful and compelling as the first – and ponder how as a community we might faithfully respond in breathing out that love and gratitude and being faithful stewards of God’s abundant grace.
A conspiracy of grace – that’s the Church I want to be.
Head of Pilgrim Theological College