Formative Community

Over forty years ago a group of us were sitting around the living room of the Church Army National Office/Training Centre, when the then Director of Training asked us where we would “see ourselves 10 years from now?” When my turn came I pointed back at him and said, “I want your job.” I thought he might be taken aback but he seemed quite pleased and encouraging.

I guess I  must be a slow learner because it was over 25 years later that I was asked to fill that role and I became Director of Formation at Taylor College of Mission and Evangelism. The mandate was to help “form missionaries for the 21st Century West”. I had become convinced that education/training had severe limits in the formation of such missionaries and that Christian community living was an indispensable element. I recalled my formation as being nurtured in the ‘hot house’ of Christians living together.

When my ‘experiment’ with Taylor College abruptly ended I was quite literally bitterly disappointed. I went to talk to a friend and Christian counsellor about my feelings. After listening and probing carefully he posed the question, “Do you believe that God is good?” I realised that I had begun to feel/believe that ‘it’ was all so unfair, and by ‘it’ I really meant God. This recognition brought me to repentance, and I began to be purposely thankful and just as purposely to recognize the theology behind my bitterness and avoid dwelling there.

I transferred my enthusiasm for Christian community to my work with Up Town, Community Chaplaincy, and finally Street Hope, all with varying degrees of success and heart ache. Experience teaches that glorious or ‘ecstatic’ moments in Christian community are few and fleeting, and if we spend our efforts chasing those ‘high’ moments we miss the entire point.

This was all reinforced to me as I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Living Together”. He teaches that in chasing these moments we idealise them and make them idols. Life with Christ is the point of all Christian community, which means it is lived out in humble service to one another in the very mess of life. It is easy to love my sister or brother when we are ‘caught up’ in a moment of praise and worship but that is about a feeling rather than seeing love as a verb with a thousand and one practical applications. Love is practised in the mess of life rather than in a pristine chapel. I relish the opportunities to pour coffee and listen carefully as my friends ‘pour out their hearts’. I welcome the opportunity to stoop and tie a shoelace or wipe up a spill. More and more I see this ‘love in action’ become contagious. People have begun to serve me. Folks bring bags of chips or tins of coffee. They set up tables and chairs and put out the games. They tear it all down again and sweep and smile! Together we are being fashioned in the image of our Servant King.

I look forward to many more, and perhaps more intense, experiences of Christian Community, when we open Threshold House for residential and non-residential Christian Community.

In our Home Church we have been looking at the story of Joseph. He had a dream that took a long, long time to fulfill. There were some terrible and unexpected turns along the way, finally his dreams did come to pass. Mayhap this is true in my case.