Across the border
One of the great privileges of my work: I get to connect with church folk around the country who, in a variety of ways, are exploring what it means to be a person of faith in a world where faith is challenged. They are my teachers, and they give me the strong sense that the Spirit is at work in many ways in many places.
Recently this work led me across our northern border to talk with the Rev. Dawn Davis, rector of a church outside of Toronto. She’s been leading a large, lively congregation for about a decade and is thinking with rigor about how people are formed spiritually. Said another way, she is looking at how people grow in relationship with God and neighbor.
She’s done interesting research on the topic and has come to the conclusion that there are at least three elements required in order for an individual to experience growth in the Christian life. Here they are, and I quote:
- A personal encounter and awareness of God nurtured through a private devotional life that is attentive to specific spiritual practices.
- A corporate worshipping community that provides relationships to support, model, encourage and reveal the cultural expectation to grow into the fullness of Christ.
- A small group or mentor that, through a loving, trusting relationship, models, nurtures and provides opportunity to verbally reflect on the spiritual experience and which facilitate the confident awareness and sharing of that experience.
I share these three as an invitation to think about your own journey, to take stock of your spiritual life, to see if these elements are part of that life, and if there is anything you’d add to her list.
For starters, what is the character of your private devotional life? Is it a matter of study, prayer, silence, journaling, walking? How are those practices animating your ability to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world?
Second, is your engagement with a worshipping community part of your own spiritual development? Is church attendance just one big annoying ought? Or is there some sense that coming together with fellow followers of Jesus on a regular basis helps you grow into the fullness of Christ (what an amazing phrase!), so that together you can be of service in the world?
Third, after you’ve focused on what you do as individual, and what you do in a worshipping community, is there some place in between, where relationships go deeper? This is where Episcopalians sometimes struggle.
We’re often fine on the private spiritual moment. But in my heart, I don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian alone.
We’re big on worship. But the liturgy is not designed to foster the kind of relationships where we know each other and are known. Way too often I hear folks speak of the loneliness they experience in church. I’ve felt it as clergy. Too often we expect the exchange of the peace or coffee hour to be relationship builders. They can help, but I don’t think that’s the intention behind those rituals. Too infrequently do we get to share the amazing things God does in our lives.
Many churches have discovered the power of small groups, the transformative power of mentorship and spiritual coaching. Many Episcopal churches have not yet discovered that power, so key to growing a relationship with God.
Maybe each one of these three elements is part of your life. Thanks be to God if that is the case. If not, consider ways that you might grow your faith by making a commitment to private devotional practice, to participation in a worshipping community, and to connection with a few folks on some deep level, leading to confident awareness and sharing of your experience.
And then put that all together in a way that helps you participate in God’s healing of a broken world.
PS: If you’re interested in knowing more about this research, contact the Rev. Dawn Davis at email@example.com
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair…
The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear.
We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.
So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service… Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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