For much of the last twenty years, I have been part of two Christian communities. The first meets on a Sunday morning in a church building on the southside of Glasgow and I give thanks to God for the wonderful people of Pollokshaws Parish Church who are part of it. They have sustained and nurtured me in faith.
The second, called Bert, meets on a Monday evening in the homes of a variety of different people. It is a remarkable group of people who help me every day to continue to make sense of faith and to live out the call to follow Jesus in the whole of life. Of course, it isn’t perfect: thank God for that!
In lots of ways this second community shares many of the characteristics of what has become known as a fresh expression of church. Other than this year we have been celebrating – in a characteristically understated way – our 40th anniversary. This is an important reminder that the Church has been in the process of changing, and being changed, from its very beginnings.
The enforced closure of our church buildings and the myriad of activities associated with them, has further hastened the need for us to imagine different ways of being the church. There are perhaps some important insights to be gleaned from this wee (small), fragile, modest and yet incredibly resilient community of faith.
We exercise shared leadership. Different people lead worship each week and in different styles. No one voice dominates and everyone takes part. For some of us (myself included) that’s involved learning to keep quiet. For others, it has involved speaking out. For all of us, it has meant grappling with faith in grown-up ways.
We have a common purse to which we all contribute as we are able. Importantly, we are open about how much we give. On an almost weekly basis, we agree how best to give our money away. We are fortunate that we don’t have lots of overheads but that is a choice that we have made and continue to make. Sometimes it’s about supporting a family we know that has fallen on hard times. On others, often on an annual basis, it’s about long-term support for work across the world. We trust one another with our money and are generous with what we have.
We renew our commitment annually. Each year we set aside a day to talk through some of the bigger things. That includes stating whether we feel able to commit to participation in the coming year. It is OK to say ‘No’ but when we say ‘Yes,’ we have definitely thought about it.
We pray together and we pray for one another. And our prayer is part of a broader commitment to each other, looking out for one another when things are tough as they are for all of us at times. I know that over the last twenty years when I have been really struggling, it has consistently been this community that I have turned to, and they have never let me down.
We like food and enjoy eating together. Once a month, our Monday worship is replaced by a shared meal at which there is much laughter, wonderful food and, at times, a fair amount of alcohol consumed. We also have shared meals in smaller groups throughout the month. And virtually every week, we share bread and wine. All this eating is sacramental.
Of course, none of this is unique to the small southside Glasgow community I am describing. Important elements are also to be found in the worshipping community I am privileged to be a part of on a Sunday morning. But there are also differences and some of these differences, I hope, give us glimpses of a different future already existing in the present.
This article first appeared in the July 2020 edition of Life & Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland.