Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Swings of the pendulum

Yesterday, I had a visit from Alison Bunyan, British Telecom's PR manager for Wales. She was responsible for the campaign surrounding the installation of the St John's wireless internet access point last summer. She brought a colleague with her from North Wales, who is interested in developing a link between a similar wireless acess point installed in a public telephone box, and the chapel it is located next to. He hadn't yet approached the church's leadership, but was looking for some angles of approach. It seems the church in question has some young people's activity on a regular basis, so if that's the case, the potential is enormous - well, the kids will see it before the adults will, no doubt.
In missionary thinking, back in the seventies, we used to speak a lot about 'the world dictating the agenda', meaning that mission is a purposeful response to what is happening in society. It was necessary to emphasise this at a time when many churches, even whole denominations found it difficult to engage in any way with modernity. It's far from being the whole picture, as we discovered. If Christians only respond to what is going on around them and do not listen to what is going on within themselves, they are in danger of being nothing other that social and political activists.
Christians contribute to the human social agenda as well as respond to its challenges. Telling the story of Jesus and the church, in advocacy of the unique model of humanity and relationship, which is the Body of Christ, is at the heart of their reason for being. Spirituality and prayer centred life in relation to God, cultivated as a way of being and becoming authentically human is equally an essential agenda item which the church proposes to the world. Maintaining the balance between right response to the world, evangelism and spirituality is always challenging because life is constantly changing. So, we have this tendency, like a pendulum to oscillate between extremes - being totally outward and other centred or totally inward and disregarding of what goes on around us. It's interesting to observe that the 9th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches taking place in Puerto Alegre Argentina in the coming week is focussing on the renewal of ecumenical spirituality, after several decades of engagement with many of the great social challenges of the age, in a way that, to the casual observer might make it appear to be like a religious version of the United Nations. A closer look would always reveal a considerable amount of deep theological reflection and spiritual thinking, but now this seems to be ascending in priority - as it should, given that it is what religious communities uniquely have to contribute to the world health and peace.

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