[This post by the Rev. Elizabeth Nordquist is part of a conversation around the new book, Letters to a Future Church, edited by Chris Lewis, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]
This compilation of words of exhortation and cheer for the future Church in North America was a joy to read, and really stirred up hope. From my perch as a retired Minister of Word and Sacrament and seminary professor in a mainline denomination, I was energized and thrilled to listen to the passion and energy that came from the voices of those gathered at the Eighth Letter, held in Toronto in October 2011. Most of the challenges were fearless, compassionate, zealous (see Cyril Guerette!), and earnest. I found that I was very grateful that the Spirit of the Holy One continues (no surprise!) to take new shape, breathe new fire, and sustain those who follow the Risen Christ. It reminds me once again of how varied and diverse the Church in North America truly is.
At the same time I felt as if I were reading about a far country, using language, the words of which I could read, but the ethos of which was foreign. It was based in Canada, with few representatives of the Reformed Tradition, which is my home place. I was also deeply aware of the age gap between the formation of many of the writers and the years of my own spiritual formation. Yet, it was a welcome insight into the ingeniously multi-faceted way that God is working in the entire world by the Spirit, and I felt privileged to be given a peek in those hearts and minds who put their passion on the line.
I wonder how the book will best be used. I think of the congregations I have served; which messages, which focus points could they hear and claim as their own? How could they take up the challenges laid out before them, given their resources and capabilities? I also think of my students, newly minted pastors in churches around the world: which Word for them could strengthen and shape the ministries to which they are called? Where is the good news for them, trained for one kind of ministry, challenged to be and to do the kinds of proclamation and service that this book reveals?
Yet I would recommend that churches and pastors alike peruse the book, in the first place for its hope and energy. It is hard to feel despairing and stuck within earshot of these witnesses to the power of the gospel. Then, I would hope that with prayerful discernment each community would be able to listen to the Word that had its own name on it: “what is the Spirit saying to us, here and now? More discipline? Wider hearts? Increased energy? Deeper engagement in Scripture?” Just as in the early chapters of the Book of Revelation, each faith community has to discern what the present next right step for itself. This book from its location gives a great many worthy windows through which to see the Spirit at work.
Elizabeth Nordquist is a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual director, a family lover and a friend. She has written articles for the Presbyterian Church (USA), and preaches and teaches in a variety of places where she is called. She blogs at A Musing Amma at Patheos.