Thursday, February 26, 2015

From the ruins...

From Toledo, IA
Charles Church & Drake Circus Shopping Centre; Plymouth, England (2012)
During World War II, historic Charles Church in Plymouth, England, was devastated along with much of the rest of the city in the Plymouth Blitz, carried out by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Being a major port city on the southern coast, Plymouth had long been (and still is) an important military position, and so was a target.

In 2006, the Drake Circus Shopping Centre was erected just behind the ruins of the church, which had sat unmolested for decades. As the photo above illustrates, it was certainly no accident that the design of the mall's facade incorporates and frames in the ruins of the church, now an historic landmark in the city centre.

We visited Plymouth in 2012 and I took the photo above. I had first noticed this ruined-church/thriving-mall arrangement from the window of our hotel (on the left), and chuckled to myself. It certainly sends a message...


My friend and ministerial colleague, Matt McKimmy, has an interesting blog post up on his congregation's website: Life in the ruins of church. His striking featured image is of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, also in England, though on the north-east coast in North Yorkshire.

In his post, he reflects on his experience of being "ruined" to the established ways of being and doing church, in the context of his pastorate of the past seven years. It's an interesting story, and not without some degree of pain, conflict, and loss. But Matt has a hunch that "the church to come" will mostly likely look very different from what we've been seeing and doing for the past number of decades (Brethren in the US having their own interesting journey through church forms in the past century).

Matt's hunch certainly resonates with my own sense of ministerial calling.  Like Matt, I have to piece together something very different as a non-pastor minister (i.e. a "church planter" with three other jobs) and that is by no means easy. Ministers like us are swimming against our church tradition's entrenched institutional and cultural tides, following this hunch, searching for clues of new life amidst the ruins. This passage from Matt resonates...
Temples will fall. Systems will change and evolve. But the everlasting grace, love, and power of God will continue to break forth into the world and into our lives. Sometimes through our experiences with the church, and sometimes in spite of them.
The church is first and foremost the body of Christ, and Christians seek to faithfully inhabit that body. The forms that body has taken have shifted and morphed countless times over the millennia. Why should our age be any different?

For my part, we're slowly, tentatively starting some interesting things here in Toledo and so far I'm excited by what's taking shape. Matt and I are kindred spirits in that we've seen church done another way and there's no going back for us. We've been "ruined."

But what kind of church forms are we building up, then, amidst the crumbling edifice of the old? Are we trading cathedrals for shopping malls?

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