Mobility is an ongoing issue, and church statisticians tell us that a church has essentially a new (not 100% new, but vastly turned over) congregation every 7 years due to individuals’ mobility. The idea of being grounded in one geographic location will continue to change as people move and travel once again becomes both affordable and ordinary. For many of us who travel for business and pleasure regularly, distance of place no longer is viewed in the same light as our parents’ and grandparents’ generations viewed it. Also, much of the Millennial generation and many of the rest of us now embrace community via social, online, and electronic media and will continue to move in that direction as an additional pathway to relationships.
The history of a faith community and the story of its genesis and growth continues to grow as the community grows, and what we must recover is the storytelling tradition that has been lost in much of the 20th century. Stories connect us in ways that build relationships, and being church is about being in relationship with one another. We stopped telling stories, because stories took time, and our lives were busy. Then we felt separated from one another, because we no longer knew each other beyond the usual coffee hour chat. But when we share our stories again, we begin to find places of connection that draw us into relationship. I teach in workshops that we have to be intentional about asking each other questions that are deeper than just what movie did you see most recently, or have you eaten at the new restaurant. We have to practice asking questions and talking about subjects that lead us into each other’s story.
This storytelling tradition is not new to us as Christians. We recount the Eucharistic story each Sunday and the story of the Passion at regular intervals, and our lectionary helps us remember the rest of the biblical tradition. We as contemporary Christians must now learn to recite in intentional ways our local stories and make them part of how we incorporate newcomers, children, and youth.
There is no reason why everyone who’s been part of a congregation for longer than a few months shouldn’t have heard at least some of the stories of how our church was founded, who the founders were, who gave the various gifts of worship accoutrements that we use, who used to be in our local community, and how that community has been changing over the years. We need to hear about what moved our forebears to do what they did, what inspired them, and what their challenges were. These are our stories, and we don’t know them, and we don’t share them. When my parish made a DVD for a capital campaign that recited our history in words, interviews and photos, I felt like I became part of the parish even though I was a relative newcomer of a year. Hearing the stories made me a part of the story.
The beauty of the Anglican tradition is that we have the Book of Common Prayer, and the beauty of the Common Lectionary is that it is used in a number of denominations. We have our Sacraments, and we have our Creeds. Those are the things that we hold in common regardless of where we find ourselves geographically. The other stuff – high or low church, pews or no pews, kneelers or not, choir loft or choir chancel – will evolve as the congregation evolves. And much as we fear and fight change, in most cases, change doesn’t happen overnight, and those who are present can observe, experience, and participate as change happens.
We don’t so much reinvent ourselves as we shed some of the old and take on some new things. One of the things we have to shed is the expectation that we’ve carried with us from past years that says we’re entitled to have things the way they’ve always been, because we like them that way. We must intentionally open ourselves to embracing and teaching an attitude of radical welcome that is vulnerable not only to the stranger – to the other – but also to new and different ideas and practices. I suspect that embracing people who are different may be easier than embracing ideas that are different, because the former is a Gospel mandate, but we don’t think of the latter in that same spirit.