Reflections on Renewal

In Building Missionary Congregations there is a diagram of the Church in its three dimensions of Worship, Discipleship and Mission. At the centre of the overlapping circles is Spirituality. For a long time, I have had an interest in both Charismatic Renewal and Church Growth, and this model has given me a way to bring these interests together.

I have noticed that there is no one Spirituality common to growing and healthy churches. At the same time, I have noticed that Charismatic Renewal is becoming more diverse, as it absorbs a greater variety of influences. During my sabbatical, through a combination of background reading, personal visits and a questionnaire survey, I looked at three contrasting sources of Renewal (in its broadest sense) to see what they had to offer the wider church in each of these three dimensions.

1. The Iona CommunityL~

Influences: The Christian history of Iona can be divided into three periods: its use by Columba and his monk/brothers as a base to evangelise mainland Britain before the Norse invasion; the re-establishment of a monastic community by the Benedictines until the Reformation; and the founding of the Iona Community by George McLeod in 1938 around the ‘demanding common task’ of rebuilding the Abbey ruins, with a commitment to peace, justice and evangelism.

Worship: From the start, worship and work have been seen as one. There is a concern to engage with everyday life (through simple language, symbolism and drama), to be accessible (John Bell’s early work among Glasgow youth was formative here) and to be inclusive (through participation, inclusive language and a variety of musical styles).

Community: The influence of monasticism is evident in the sharing of practical tasks, and in the five-fold rule for members of the community. Membership, originally restricted to Church of Scotland ministers and ordinands, now includes lay people from a variety of countries and traditions. Members are allocated to ‘family groups’ with a degree of mutual support and accountability. The island centres, with their guests, also form transient communities.

Mission: McLeod had a missionary vision alongside his commitment to peace and justice. The latter has now become predominant at the expense of a commitment to evangelism. As a result, the Iona Community tends to grow by drawing in Christians who are seeking more than they are finding in their local churches. Nevertheless, good work is done among socially disadvantaged young people, many of whom come to the island centres.

Spirituality: The community tends to attract those who are left of centre politically and theologically, many of whom have a restless creativity. The leader of the community is now elected by the members, and therefore only has limited authority. The Bible is used as general guide rather than a reference point in guiding the community, which has embraced the concerns of the political left and New Agers, but is in danger of being embraced by them.

2. New WineL~

Influences: Initiated by David Pytches, who had been strongly influenced by South American Pentecostalism and the Vineyard movement, New Wine conferences began in 1989. New Wine is committed to ‘equipping churches to see Jesus’ kingdom grow’, which has led it into training, church planting and youth ministry.

Worship: Worship is seen as a means of drawing close to God and of experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, which is linked to an emphasis on spiritual gifts. It is informal, charismatic and contemporary in style. At New Wine events, worship is led by an accomplished band, which can be difficult to translate into a local setting and can result in an unhelpful prominence for the musicians.

Community: New Wine functions more as a network than as a community. For most people, a week at a New Wine conference is like a shared holiday, with only a limited experience of living in community. Nevertheless, there is a lot of encouragement to share in small groups, both at New Wine and in the local church setting. There is also a growing concern to engage with the local community, despite a limited focus on environmental issues.

Mission: There is a strong emphasis on mission in the sense of evangelism, and numerical church growth is seen as a sign of church health. This is accompanied by a concern to renew the institutional church in order to make it more effective. Worldwide missionary organisations are well represented at New Wine, and there is growing evidence of serving the needy as part of mission, e.g. Soul in the City.

Spirituality: New Wine is attractive to those disenchanted with traditional church. Charismatic / Evangelical Anglicans are best represented, but its membership is broadening. However, it is more activist than contemplative in ethos. The leadership has developed organically rather than being elected, which results in great flexibility but limited accountability. The Bible sets norms for faith and conduct, and holy living and Christian service are strongly encouraged.

3. TaizéL~

Influences: The founder, Brother Roger, had a Lutheran Pastor as a father and a Roman Catholic mother. From them he derived his ecumenism. As a student, he became interested in community and developed a concern for justice and reconciliation. The community began in a house he bought in Taize in 1940 and returned to after the war.

Worship: Everything stops for prayer three times a day. Prayer happens through simple, repeated songs, scripture readings and silence. During the course of a week, there is a balance of Word and Sacrament. Simplicity and inclusivity are the hallmarks. The worship is multilingual, participative (with the leader/s being part of the gathering) and visual (through the use of symbols and icons).

Community: There are now over 100 brothers from over 25 nations. Taizé is described as ‘a parable of community’. The sense of being part of a worldwide body is apparent in the prayers. Community is built through prayer, Bible study, and the sharing of chores. Those from poorer countries are encouraged to give a reduced contribution, which reflects a simple lifestyle and a challenge to materialism.

Mission: Faith is expected to be caught rather than taught (the small groups are for sharing, not teaching or discussion). So evangelism is seen as a consequence of personal renewal. Taizé is not a separate movement, so numerical growth is not a relevant factor, but it does attract a large number of (especially) young people. Mission is seen primarily in terms of concern for justice and social action. People are sent back to make a difference where they live.

Spirituality: Taizé has a particular appeal for contemplatives and young people. But there is evidence of a broad range of influences – it is determinedly ecumenical and international. There is a clear belief that encountering God will lead to a concern for social justice. The brothers are led by the Prior (who has appointed a successor) and have taken a threefold vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. The vision is shaped by the Prior (who listens to brothers and guests) and communicated through his annual letter and a weekly homily at Taizé.

ConclusionL~

These three groupings represent the eclectic nature of Renewal today. Taking the six main elements of Christian spirituality - the contemplative, holiness, incarnational, charismatic, evangelical and social justice traditions - all three are restoring some things of value to the Church as a whole, but none represent a completely integrated spirituality! Taken as a whole, the main lessons I learned which could be applied to a local church situation were as follows:

Worship: Short, repetitive songs help us to encounter God. Also, down-to-earth liturgy helps people to relate worship to life. However, you don’t have to be contemporary to be relevant and accessible. In fact, a contemporary style can result in loss of both participation and depth.

Community: An unconditional welcome and a low threshold help to create community. Whereas a religious community can serve as a powerful parable of community, a dispersed community is made possible by shared values and a flexible Rule. However, the development of true community is inseparable from discipleship, and small groups are a valuable means of both discipleship and mission.

Mission: Mission flows from changed lives and God’s kingdom is bigger than the church. However, evangelism and social action need to be held together - both are integral to mission. Young people have a latent desire and the energy to make a positive difference to the world.

Spirituality: An integrated spirituality engages with everyday life - it is relevant. Strong leadership and clear vision are integral to growth. Leadership patterns need to be flexible and adaptable to change and growth and there is a trade off between this and accountability. Christian discipleship is worked out primarily in community. Pilgrimage (all three movements involve an element of pilgrimage) is a formative experience.

The Rev Alan Bing is the Rector of Ulverston, a market town in Cumbria and has been involved in church planting.

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