Brian E Pearson
The Task of the Church: Living the Questions
Something a dying church can continue to offer its members, and the world, for that matter, is a place to explore life's big questions: Why are we here? What is my purpose? Is there something beyond this life? And it can do so, unapologetically, with reference to the Christian story. But not in the old ways.
The classic Christian catechism is a prescribed set of questions and answers. What is our purpose? To know and love God. What is belief? To yield our will and intellect to God. But the modern world has grown suspicious of both our leading questions and our pat answers. It knows that some questions, following Rilke's advice, are to be lived, not answered.
John, a good friend, is the senior minister of a large United Church. One Sunday morning a few years ago, smack in the middle of summer holidays, when all the local parking spaces were taken up by a community festival, hundreds of people, many of them young and with children in tow, showed up for worship. It was an amazing sign of life and vitality.
John's particular gift is asking the right questions. Through the savvy use of media, including pre-recorded "streeters" and interviews with interesting people, the gospel is not so much preached each week as it is explored. It is theology from the ground up, rather than from the top down. The Christian tradition is named, Christian songs and hymns are sung, Christian prayers are offered, but not to the exclusion of other influences. He has created a spiritual home ... for seekers.
John's congregation first doubled, then tripled, and is now the place thinking people want to be. Whether asking questions on a Sunday morning, or blessing bicycles, or marching in the annual Pride Parade, it is a place for people to ask their questions and test out their answers, along with other seekers, turning curiosity about meaning into meaningful action.
His congregation has become a model for what remains possible for the church, despite empty pews elsewhere. Because, behind the answers the church has been offering to the world breathe the questions themselves, which have a life of their own. To take these questions seriously is the first step in the dynamic process of discovering our place in the universe.
The church can still be a place to gather, but around life's questions rather than its answers. While all answers remain provisional, even the Christian ones, truths can be found within the questions themselves. We don't need to be told.
Next Week: The Task of the Church: Welcoming us Home