Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Church: Restaurant, Hospital, or Birthing Center?

I just posted an entry on my personal blog and wanted to share it with those of you who follow this one. Specifically, I wanted to share this part of it:
The idea is that we join in this meal [communion] at God's table after we have been born (actually, re-born) into God's family through baptism. In other words, we're born and then we are fed. That makes a certain kind of sense. However, if one takes this metaphor a bit further, how are "pre-Christians" or yet-to-be-(re-)born Christians fed before they are born into God's family? In other words, what provides the "womb" in which a person's first cells of faith can grow and the "umbilical cord" that provides the "nutrition" or spiritual food without which the unborn-again person will spiritually starve? It seems like, for Sara [Miles], that umbilical cord was, at least in part, communion itself.

I don't know exactly what to do with this metaphor, but I do think it is worth asking whether the church is a place that provides a safe place for spiritual growth and the "food" necessary for such growth or whether the church can only provide solid food, as it were, to those already in God's family. If it can only feed those who are already Christians, then we become essentially spiritually barren--unable to receive the gift of the beginnings of a new life that is growing within someone and nurturing it to in climax in someone's rebirth. Thomas Brackett, the Program Officer for Church Planting and Redevelopment of the Episcopal Church, talks about "midwifing" what God is already doing--nurturing it and helping it along. How might we best do that, I wonder, and what would it take to move from hospital or restaurant to birthing center?
I can't shake that image of the church as birthing center, the place where people come to get that little spark of spiritual life within them nurtured and fed so that it grows to such an extent that it actually transforms them and they are re-born into the family of God. Perhaps part of it is that I'm about ready to launch a Lenten series entitled "Being and Episcopal Christian." This week, I am preparing for the first session, which is simply called "Being a Christian" and thinking about what exactly it means to be a Christian in twenty-first century America and how we might need to change things in the church to make it more faith-nurturing and less faith-assuming. Seems almost like Jesus lament in this coming Sunday's Gospel reading that he longs to "gather [their] children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and [they] were not willing! " (Luke 13:34) Perhaps many people are now willing to be gathered, and the church has forgotten how to do so. Food for thought.

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