During these first few months of my retirement from parish ministry, questions about ‘the Church’s’ survival continue to be asked of me. After 23 years of approaching such questions from the perspective of professional leadership in a mainline denomination, I grew weary of speculating on the future, even as I recognized that as a member of the clergy, it was my job to participate in the generation of hope for the future of the church. I expected that my retirement would put an end to dealing with such questions. However, people continue to ask me, with renewed vigour, “Can will, or indeed should ‘the Church’ survive?” It is as if my questioners expect that my newfound freedom will allow me to respond with some newly discovered candour that will push me to speak some hidden truths which will reveal to them the way forward. Alas, although my retirement does afford me different perspectives, I have yet to discover a talent for soothsaying. Fortunately, my candour remains intact. So, from various different perspectives, some of them new and some of them not so new, let me respond as I was trained to do, with hope: “Yes, I do hope the church will survive!” and “No, I hope the church will not survive!”
For far too many selfish reasons, I do hope that the church will survive. But for the sake of LOVE, not only do I hope the church does not survive, I believe that the church should not survive. Believing, as I do, that the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call “GOD” is LOVE, I am convinced that whatever our concept of church is, surely church ought to be the embodiment of that LOVE. Or, at the very least, church ought to be about the work of empowering its members to embody LOVE in the world. Sadly, much of what passes for church fails to either embody LOVE or to engender LOVE in the world. So, because the church has at the very least inspired hope in me, I hope that the church does not survive. My hope for the church’s demise is buttressed by my faith in resurrection which encourages me to imagine what new kind of church might rise up out of the death throes of ‘the Church’.
After more than two decades of leadership in the church, the best definition of the DIVINE MYSTERY which I can proclaim with confidence is that GOD is LOVE and that LOVE is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. We must look BEYOND Church in order to participate in the birth of a church which concerns itself with embodying LOVE, while it empowers its members to be the BODY of LOVE in the world. So, it is the resurrection of LOVE upon which I hope to fix my gaze as I peer BEYOND Church to explore some of the contours of the BODY of LOVE. I hope you’ll join me as together we explore the possibilities of LOVE’s resurrection among and beyond us.
Over the course of the coming months, I will be posting BEYOND Church. It is my hope to look with compassion upon the death of what we know as ‘the Church’ confidant in LOVE’s power to resurrect something worthy of the LOVE which is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also; something BEYOND Church, something in which the MYSTERY which is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself might find expression, in, with, through, and beyond us.