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churchstreetA Columbian priest wrote recently in The Tablet of setting up a Bible study group for young adults in his country. Imagining that only a handful would attend he was stunned to be confronted with two hundred eager individuals. Yet, the capital city he described is akin to a war zone and many of these young men and women were on the receiving end of much criminality. Why did they attend when it is dangerous even to leave your house at night? 

He reflected that when you are that poor and oppressed your have nothing they had nothing to lose and much to gain. Wrapping up his his article he concluded that it would be hard to find similar enthusiam in affluent European cities. Here we tend to have too many distractions that pull us from a deepening in Church life. So much of modern life trumps whatever the Church is doing yet paradoxically we have to beleive as Christians that only the Church can offer eternal life.

 

I am convinced that the lack of fellowship and community is one of the big challenges of Western Christianity. Let's call this spiritual architecture. Now, maintaining buildings and scripting services are part of our skills set. Thank goodness otherwise chaos would ensue. Years ago a selector for ministry was quoted as saying that when he looked at candidates for the priesthood he tried to imagine this person chairing a PCC and running a fete. If he could visualize them doing this then in his mind they could be ordained.

However, is there not another kind of building that God wants us to construct - namely Christian fellowship - communio? This is what I mean by spiritual architecture. Without this the Church of God will perish. I appreciate that the Bishop of Truro has given the C of E only six years but without spiritual construction done here and now nothing will emerge from that rubble.

The task of spiritual building is much harder for us in the affluent world for so many reasons not least because it involves people being vulnerable and open with each other. For this we must be spiritual and so often the Church fails to be spiritual. Absolute poverty ironically creates a more spiritual culture. Look at the church of Tanzania which is in the Anglican Prayer Cycle this week. They are, to use a Justin Welby phrase, flourishing. Congregations bursting to the doors with services celebrated in tin huts. Blessed are the poor in Spirit said Jesus and also the meek would inherit the earth.

This is why Pope Francis is so right to say that we must long ( yes long ) for a poor Church for the Poor. What I suspect we affluent Christians imagine would be a successful Church is not what God seeks at all. This is of course speculation on my part, but I suspect, that our idea of a thriving national church is an institution that rises and rises above the market giants gobbling up all competition. Maybe, the Church that God has in mind would be by contrast quite shocking to us?

When the LORD speaks to the Prophet Nathan in 1 Samuel 7 God seems genuinely put out that the Hebrews would want to house Him, the Almighty, in a temple. Have they not noticed that their God has been a tent dweller, a nomad, and a gypsy? Why do they want to venerate Him like the pagan nations do with their gods? That same God through the angel Gabriel seeks not the leafy suburbs of Rome to start His revolution but rather on the edge of the Empire. He chooses not a princess but a nobody, a poor girl, Mary of Nazareth. If that story were today, Mary would be a cleaner not a celebrity, someone who not afford even a mobile phone but yet could ready, and not too busy, to receive God’s call.

Spiritual architecture is what will mark us out. To quote St Teresa of Avila people will say ‘See how those Christians love each other.’ Because we have so much and our lives are so busy we need to work extra hard to achieve a depth of fellowship. In the past I did a lot of part-time work in prisons and hospitals. As an observation it struck me that both places expose individuals to vulnerability, isolation, loneliness and boredom. There is lot of time to think. God can do a lot more in cells and hospital beds than we imagine.

I know that in the press there has been speculation that bishops and bishops in training should do MBAs. Perhaps that is useful. In my mind, more useful is for us all to embrace a life stripped down to its simplicity. I’m not totally sure what this is but find myself increasingly certain as to what it is not. Surely this is the life that will raise an army of young folk to volunteer and contribute to the life of the Church and God’s Kingdom?