Missing the miracle

The church is full. A nervous young man stands at the altar, stealing anxious glances over the heads of the congregation, toward the back door. A band plays gently in the background and two friends do their best to distract the soon-to-be husband. The three of them stand together on crimson carpet, framed by flashes of colour from ten-foot-tall stained glass windows.

People continue to stream in, adding to the brightness in the scene. They make room, sliding along wooden pews with high sides dressed in ribbon and ancient legs creaking under the load. The magnificent old church seems to swell with pride; cradling a whole community, all anticipating the moments to come. The band stops playing mid phrase, the Minister clears his throat and the tone and tempo of a new song rings out through the nave…

Within ten minutes of the ceremony ending, all the noise of the congregation has drifted outside. The only remnant are the handful of musicians, clicking instrument cases open and rolling leads in a familiar routine. They chat and joke while they work, already making mention of the evenings delights to come, dancing yes – but mostly food and wine. While they are disassembling the speakers and stands destined for the van outside the building, a member of the regular Sunday congregation approaches them.

His expression is frustrated and his tone is angry. What follows was triggered by the discovery of several vases of flowers and short pews that had been removed from the altar and stacked in the vestry to make space for the musicians. He was also angry that they had played upbeat secular songs as the couple left the church. The congregation member uses this moment of disappointment to unload all his feelings about young people, new music, the importance of tradition, the tireless efforts of the team who organise the flowers every week and the utter disrespect most people have for the church.

The musicians stand in shock, absorbing it all and making their apologies and explanations about arrangements and what permissions were given by whom – all of which only fuels the anger towards them. After what feels like an awkwardly long period of time, the congregation member finishes his ranting and turns to leave. Under the heavy silence that settles on the space, the stunned musicians gradually return to their packing up routine.

Questions

  • Thinking back to weddings you have been part of, were there aspects of the experience that felt miraculous? Sacred? Prophetic? Spiritually nourishing?
  • What does it mean to the broader church when two young adults with a deep faith, to make a lifetime commitment to each other and want to do so in a Church?
  • How can we recognise when our commitment to tradition/status quo/the comfortable/familiar way we do things is preventing us from seeing and being present to sacred moments?
  • Where else in life is it possible for rules, practices, personal experiences and perceptions to blind us?
  • What are your top five tips for being a good neighbor/co-habitator in a multipurpose shared space that is used at different times by different groups?
  • What are Church buildings for?
  • What are meaningful ways to celebrate, honour and respect tradition without losing the ability to also grow and change.?
  • What kind of music is best for faith-based gatherings and why do we have it at all?
  • How do we talk to each other about rules, structures, values, practices that have outlived their fruitfulness? Have you ever seen these cross an invisible line where they have become limiting rather than life giving?

Wisdom from the pews

“Across the research one common cause of tension between innovators or new faith communities and the wider church was a lack of understanding. The purpose, shape, practices and needs of the new faith community or missional project were so different, that the two groups struggled to communicate clearly, build partnerships, share resources, or trust and respect each other.”

“ At worst, the research saw this expressed as blocking resources for the newer project, and the newer project then operating with a generally dismissive arrogance towards others. The dance of prioritising resources, honouring tradition, exploring new possibilities and letting go of the familiar is difficult and has to play out uniquely in each context. ”

“Beginning with one to one relationships and making time to keep communication open and listen deeply to each other are helpful foundations.”

Going deeper

Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

A silent animation illustrating the gift of small moments, small gestures and young people. All while our attention may be elsewhere…