Friday, June 6, 2014

Lost Opportunity?

I went to chapel on Thursday. Not so much because I would have chosen to attend a mid-week service but because I was importuned to play the organ.

There were a couple of really interesting things about the gathering in the tiny room. Only about eighteen attended, out of some 350 people who live in the Village, so it obviously doesn't seem to meet a huge need. And they were seated in a narrow space with a centre aisle and only two chairs on each side.

For most of my ministry I have been railing (if you will excuse the pun) against "railway carriage seating" in churches - rows of pews all facing the same direction. But no church I ever visited illustrated the point more clearly than the village chapel.

Another service I attended recently had the same layout: there was a central aisle and rows of chairs on each side. Certainly, here there were about four or five chairs aside. But the eight rows were deep, also set in the narrow dimension of the room, probably to face the window and the view. But perhaps to make it feel as much like the proper church as possible.

Sadly, this congregation was forced into this room by the draconian decision of the Methodist Church of New Zealand to lock up their lovely old church because it failed to meet the Church's requirements relative to earthquake risk. And no doubt in that church, all the  people could see of each other was the backs of heads.

But when they had to move out of that church into the comfortable and carpeted lounge at the side, what an opportunity was lost!  Here they could have created an entirely different kind of gathering space. Here they could have provided a place for real meeting, real engagement with each other as well as with the worship leaders.

Among all those who have been administering the ruthless programme of turning congregations out of their buildings, who is helping these refugee congregations to see this as an opportunity for a more vital  kind of Sunday experience?

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