Pilgrimpace's Blog


claiming resurrection in a dying church

I am really enjoying and being stretched by Anna Olson’s book Claiming Resurrection in a Dying Church.  The wisdom this contains from years of priestly ministry in inner city Los Angeles speaks deeply to my situation here.  I would really recommend this to all who minister in areas of deprivation in the UK.  It is a book of real theology.

“What if we give up?  What if we concede that we don’t know what to do with the current moment, or most of the last twenty years, and certainly not the next twenty?  What if we admit that our congregations in their familiar forms will will be gone in twenty years or in ten?  What if we acknowledge that what we’ve been able to hang on to is slipping from our grasp?

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ The he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19.30)

What if we give up?  Stop trying to pull ourselves out of the grave by our own bootstraps?  What if we give up the idea that our hard work will be rewarded by a shining church and put our faith in the promise that the path to resurrection is through death?  What if we let go of the idolatrous idea that God wants all human religious endeavours to thrive and trust that God is ‘making all things new’?  The collective gasp may well become a sigh of relief.  Becoming a congregation that tells the truth may be a great liberation.  Some people will be angry, defiant, blame the quitters.  But others will stand up taller, freed from the burden of carrying the lie.

Giving up does not mean locking the doors and going home.  If God is not finished, we are not either.  There is more for us: more life, more hope.  But we are freed from knowing the shape it will take.  We are freed from the daunting task of birthing the new with only our waning strength.  We begin to face the future with freedom and faith rather than fear and the weight of failure.

Giving up on success frees us.  We are free to measure the fruits of our ministry not by the marks of longevity, affluence, and popularity but rather by the mark set by Jesus: love of God and neighbour.  If our churches cease striving to be full and flush, we can strive to be places where we and our neighbours practice welcoming and being welcomed, forgiving and being forgiven, loving and being loved.  We can live fully in whatever time we have left, claiming our place in the sacred story of death and resurrection.  Relinquishing our claim on survival, we can walk toward death in faith and hope, offering all that we have left to a God fully capable of doing a new thing in our neighbourhoods and our communities.  In short, we can be who we were always ready to be.”

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