Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to Vicar School

(This isn't us at the Police College: God forbid!)

Back to the Wakefield Police College for another session on Mission with Dr. Matthew Guest of Durham University. The seats on the back row of the lecture theatre have more leg room so Hilda, Monica and I staked our claim while Stuart and Dr. Bob ("I'm suffering from a dreadful cold. I'm as deaf as a post") opted for the cheap seats further forward. As it happened everyone was well miked up so it didn't matter where we sat.

I was quite looking forward to this session as it was to focus on the congregation and mission and I was hoping for some insights into congregational dynamics. As it happened the first session was directed towards research methodology in preparation for in-house surveys. Not at all my scene, so aided on this occasion by St. Ipod and Bach played by Suha and Guher Pekinel on the piano, I settled into something of a private revery telling Monica to nudge me if I snored.

Nevertheless I picked up some gems: it is quite clear that the congregation is recognised as the local collective gathering and it has become the dominant form of the expression of religion and spirituality alongside and sometimes in competition with (often) fragmented systems of central hierarchy. One of the key questions seemed to be whether the local congregation knows its boundaries. It would be interesting - and challenging - to ask where the local congregation sees itself in relation to the wider institution. There has certainly been much discussion about the pronouncements of church leaders not being backed up by the masses in the pews. Is it even possible to offer a fair representation of a congregational community when internal expressions of value or belief are diverse or in disagreement with the mother institution?

I couldn't help at this point wondering, as an example, how Evangelicals deal with contemporary culture and where that leaves that congregation in the context of a more progressive religious environment. Is the church a beleagured enclave guarding orthodoxy or is it a thorn in the side of the wider church? It is in this context that we hear of whole congregations defecting to another church or witholding their parish contribution to the central coffers on a point of religious doctrine and principle.

The cultural shift of the late 1970s put the individual and his subjective experience as the new norm which doesn't sufficiently take into consideration the mediating structures the individual functions in, i.e. the local congregation or the wider central authority. Does this mean that we are more than usually likely to search for the congregation that most closely fits our worldview rather than sticking with the old denominational allegances? Is our sense of misiology linked to that? Does the congregation we attend reflect one of the standard models of mission and is that at odds with what the central authority sees as its mission model? How is this resolved?