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A new "imaginary"

by Michael Ford last modified 13 Nov, 2020 10:09 PM

As our parishes and schools adjust again in changing times, returning to lockdown patterns and seeking to involve those with and without technology, new forms of church gathering, worship and working are emerging. Where do we go from here?

In this Diocese, we have fostered traditional church while recognising the need for forms of church that respond to the people, communities and cultures around us that are less 'churched'.

We are now seeing churches with magazine-style services streamed on social media, phone networks, person-to-person messaging, and international reach, alongside traditional prayers and liturgy, playing of pre-recorded hymns, and lighting of candles.

Can these new forms be 'Church'?

The Revd Paul Bradbury, a Pioneer Minister since 2008, examines this in his recent blog, 'The future of church is not a new form but a new ‘imaginary’.'

He addresses 2 key questions: 'What is church?' and 'What is the future of church?'

Paul says:

"As church buildings have been closed and people have debated the importance of gathering physically in an ecclesiastical space for worship, the conversation, whether about the Eucharist, or about sacred space, is really a variation of the one question – what is the church?

"Likewise as we have begun to see new forms of church form online, hybrid forms of church evolve as people find ways of gathering in gardens or public space whilst also connecting via Zoom.

"However, the church has never been about form – in the sense that you cannot define church by its form. The church has had as many forms as time and cultural context have fostered.

"So for example, the early church form, based around communities meeting in people’s homes was shaped around the collegia, the voluntary associations that were a feature of Greco-Roman life, particularly in urban areas. Early Christians took that form and adapted it for their expression of church.

"Likewise the congregational model of church that is normative for the church in the west has deep roots in the social and political contexts of the Reformation, with varied levels of rejection of the political control of the church by the state and an emphasis on individual choice.

"The church has no form that exists outside of its cultural context."

Paul goes on to argue that we are seeing an opportunity to reach out to society and see where God is already at work in homes, in schools, in workplaces, outdoors, everywhere. He mentions the concept of 'Missio Dei' - that God is missional, as Jesus was, inviting people to repent and follow Him - and that we can invite others to join us as Church, in ways that work for the whole dispersed gathering.

He adds:

"What I genuinely believe is that we are being invited to explore a new ecclesial imaginary for a new cultural era in the west. And we are being invited, by the Holy Spirit, to lay down our assumptions and prejudices about church forms in order to allow space for new forms to emerge from this imaginary."

Read the whole blog here.

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