Church | Questions at the crossroads

Like living stones, you yourselves are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

When Sanctuary began, it was not yet a church. Instead it was a collection of hungry hurting people who were tentative about their involvement in anything called church, and so I did all that was needed to ensure a regular gathering around Word and Table. I was pastor, but also vestry and cleaner and crockery stewardess. I was happy to take on these roles because I trusted that the gathering would feed people in ways that would help them recover from past hurts and grow into the body of Christ.

A Baptist congregation relies on a core group of committed people who work together, contributing time and money as they are able towards the life and ministry of the church. The expectation has always been that, as time went on and people were fed, such a core group would emerge and the work would be consistently shared.

This hasn’t happened. As set out in a letter to regular attenders, the reasons for this are various. But whatever the reasons, the upshot is that we find ourselves seven years on challenged by culture, money and capacity. As individuals, we devote our time, resources, and relational commitments to many different areas of life, and to some extent this is how it should be. Unfortunately, the net effect of so many of us holding such diverse commitments is there is not enough time, resource or commitment going into Sanctuary. I know that some of you want nothing to change; however, the situation as it stands is no longer sustainable.

On Sunday 4 June, we will meet at our usual service time to talk about this. That is, we will set out the situation, identify some potential ways forward, and think about how we might resource them. As we consider, we must ask ourselves: What does a particular way forward say about our values and where we place our faith? How do we serve ‘the least of these’, and those beyond the church? And where is the Spirit beckoning us?

As you prepare for this conversation, I invite you to consider carefully your part in this. That is, it is no good turning up with visions and dreams for other people to carry out. Instead, any way forward will require a very real increase in time, resource and relational commitment from a core group of people including, perhaps, you. So as you think about ways forward, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much time, resource and capacity for relationship do I currently direct towards Sanctuary?
  • What would I need to give above and beyond this in order for Sanctuary to continue in some form?
  • What would I need to let go of or stop doing in order to free up this extra time, resource and capacity for relationship?

One way to gain clarity is to sit down with your calendar and bank account. Look back over the last three months or so, and identify the times you have worshipped with Sanctuary, contributed to Sanctuary, and helped make Sanctuary happen. (This includes money, but also time, skill and other resources.) Then look ahead over the next three months and identify what needs to change in your life in order for there to be an increase in that commitment. Be honest with yourself as to whether you are prepared to make those changes: because hollow promises undermine justice and joy for everyone. If, on reflection, you are indeed prepared to make changes, then look around at the congregation and wonder who else might be willing to make similar commitments heading into the future.

One final note. Although transformation lies at the heart of our faith, nobody likes change. So there will be no snap decisions. Our June meeting will set out the territory; then we will meet again in early August to make a final decision. Whatever is decided, there will be a transition period as we implement whatever comes next.


PS – As you reflect on what it means to be church in a post-Christendom era, you might like to read this.

Emailed to Sanctuary 24 May 2023 © Sanctuary, 2023. Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Acknowledgement of country here

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