Monday, 9 July 2012

A Different Kind of Church

My wife and I were recently invited to join "Revive" on one of their weekends away.

"Revive" are a Leeds-based group of Christians, who are not really sure whether they're a "church" or a Christian community. Some of them are also involved in another church in Leeds and some even moved away from Leeds years ago, but have kept in touch and still occasionally meet with the rest of the group. So in some ways Revive is more like an extended spiritual family than a "church" in the traditional sense.

So what is a "church" anyway?

For most people, the word "church" probably conjures up images of old stone buildings - perhaps Catholic, Church of England or similar. If you are a Christian, or have hung around many Christians, you are probably aware that there are actually many different kinds of churches, but for the most part they probably still revolve around some sort of building and a meeting that happens there every Sunday morning, where perhaps there is a Bible reading or sermon and people sing Christian songs together. Nowadays there are some very modern, and much more dynamic, variations on this theme which are specifically intended to appeal to a younger, 21st century audience, but the same basic structure usually still remains.

For some years now, I've felt dissatisfied with this model of church and have searched for a more organic, community-based, relationship-centred way of doing things. That's not to say that relationships or community are missing from the traditional model, it's just that I want to be part of something that is primarily based on community and relationship, rather than on a particular structure or way of doing things.

Several years ago, in pursuit of this quest, I joined a church in Leeds called "Word of Life", which at the time was going through a process they called "deconstruction". Their aims seemed to be similar to mine - they wanted to get away from the standard model of church as an institution, and pursue the idea of church as a spontaneous, organic relational community instead. Unfortunately for me though, deconstruction went a little further than I had anticipated as all formal structures were intentionally dismantled. Meetings became fewer and further between and eventually stopped happening altogether. All the leaders stepped down, and since there was no-one left who was willing to take responsibility for anything, the community as a whole ceased - in any meaningful sense - to exist. Many of the relationships continued and some Word of Life members began to organise smaller gatherings with other groups of Christians. Previously, many Word of Life members had also met in smaller "home groups" during the week. My own home group continued, and still does, though to my knowledge it is the only one now, that still meets.

For the last few years then, I have been unattached to any "church", but still get involved in quite a bit of Christian stuff. I meet regularly with my home group and pray and chat things through with other Christian friends. I occasionally visit our local Anglican church, and have recently enjoyed attending a "School of Theology" course at St. George's. I also belong to the "Left Bank God Group", which tries to promote the Christian message in a non-threatening and accessible way through a local community and arts venue which some of us are involved with. In a way then, not being part of any particular "church" has made me feel much more a part of "church" in the wider sense - i.e. the church of everyone who knows and loves Jesus, whatever denomination or organisation they are in.

Regardless of all this though, I still sometimes miss being part of a close-knit Christian community which is larger than my home group, of like-or-similar-minded people who I can share with, learn from and learn with. This is why I have been so pleased recently to learn - and experience - a bit more about Revive.

The venue for the weekend was Westwood Christian Centre in Slaithwaite. The main hall has comfortable seating for about 20 people, but probably the first thing you notice about it is the swing! Right in the middle of the room, surrounded by chairs, is a swing consisting of a wooden bar suspended by two ropes from the high ceiling. For me, it kind of summed up the spirit of the weekend - the "serious" business of worshipping God and learning together, but permeated throughout by a sense of fun, as any genuine prolonged encounter with God is and should be!

Revive are a pretty laid-back bunch of people and I immediately felt at home with them. I particularly enjoyed our Saturday morning worship session, which consisted of 20-30 people, including kids, with a couple of people playing guitars and a large assortment of random percussion instruments which were handed out to anyone who felt like joining in. The kids continued to run around and play while the rest of us got on with worshipping God in whatever way we felt comfortable. I love that feeling of being able to really relax and be yourself in the presence of God!

After this, a recent member of Revive who grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church in Canada, shared how this had helped her develop an attitude to Christian discipleship which encompasses the whole of life and creation. After dinner, the leader of the group shared some thoughts about social media, the potential this has for changing the way we do church and the effects - positive and negative - it can have on community and relationships. In the evening we tried a creative/imaginative prayer exercise in small groups, which was surprisingly helpful for me in preparation for my new job. Most of the rest of the weekend was spent just hanging out and included a depressingly wet walk along a canal on Sunday morning, but in good company nevertheless!

I've shared all this just to give a feeling of what a community like this can be like. Revive do other things besides this weekend and are still trying to work out what they are exactly and what they want to do together. I like the way Revive continue to evolve in response to their members' needs and to the role they feel they should be playing in the world around them. They don't seem to be precious about structure or "success" for their own sake. As a relative outsider I feel I'm welcome to take part as much or as little as I want and many other Revive members - like me - have commitments to other Christian groups as well. This does present some logistical challenges but I like the way it mixes things up so that Christians from different groups can overlap, learn from one other, and deepen their sense of belonging to the wider "body of Christ".

I would like to see more communities like this in Leeds - focusing on what they are good at, overlapping and sharing resources with others and learning to be "church" together - instead of separate groups all trying individually to be the "church" and to provide their members and surrounding communities with everything they need, whilst duplicating effort, wasting resources and competing with one another in the process.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


If you don't have an account, and you want to leave your name, select "Name/URL" from the "Comment as" drop list below. Then just enter your name (you don't have to supply a URL) and click "Continue".