Thoughts When New Christian Groups Come to Town

At the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Commune of Montreux, one of the speakers had a wheel as his ‘show and tell’ piece. He said that the many different churches were like a wheel. Christ was the centre, and all the different spokes were the different kinds of Christianity. This works well in Montreux say, where the Table ronde is a very friendly group.

 

Today at the meeting of the Table Ronde we were introduced to a new couple, who are being sponsored by one of the free Churches to do a new mission in Montreux, especially to the youth and the English speaking peoples who might be attending the Hotel Schools. So here is a new ‘spoke’ so to say. This group is the same group who started and now runs the C3 Church in Lausanne. They are deliberately bilingual (English and French).

 

Then the same person who spoke at the anniversary said on my behalf (not being good enough in French yet) ‘Well Paul is a good guy. Maybe you can get together with him to see if you can co-operate’. They said, ’Well we are a charismatic group. There might be problems working together.’ I said ‘Well we are a charismatic group too, because the Spirit is with us.’

 

So there’s a can of worms that has been opened up for me. Let me first start by reflecting on financing. I wonder ‘Where did the money come from to establish this new mission?’ Clearly some people have access to sources of funding that we do not. It is pretty well known that people from so called ‘charismatic’ churches are generous givers. Anglicans tend to struggle a little bit, as we have seen over the last little while, when we have had our stewardship campaign.

 

So being the ‘older’ kid on the block means that we deal with some problems that are associated with that ‘being known’ factor, that newer missions don’t. they have the chance to establish a culture of generous giving, and missionary outlook, because they are new, and have built this into their culture.

 

Charles Handy talks about organisations and renewal. He says that existing organisations are invested in the status quo, because it is that which has got them to where they are now. But all organisations also need to renew themselves. He says that the best form of renewal and engagement with the new situation is to start new groups within the same umbrella organisation. That way renewal happens, but the older group is allowed to decline gracefully.

 

Our problem is that we are trying to do the harder thing. We are trying renewal within the context of an existing set of practices. This is always going to be hard on the people who are invested in the ‘way things are’. Hence our growing pains.

 

But then comes the question of co-operation and the presence of the Spirit. Every Sunday we say ‘We are the Body of Christ, his Spirit is with us’. At the Eucharist we call upon the Spirit to enliven us and to send us out to live and work to God’s praise and glory.

 

The ‘charismatic’ Churches, as they have called themselves, place great emphasis on the signs of the Spirit’s presence, and sometimes make particular signs the test of membership (like speaking in Tongues of ecstasy). But they do have the value of saying ‘well if the Spirit is here’ what does that look like for us? If the Spirit is here, what gifts are given to the congregation for ministry? There is no room for passengers, because everyone has been given the Spirit.

 

So do they not think that this is true for us? In one sense the existence of self called ‘Charismatic’ churches is an implied criticism of us. Why would there be a need for a ‘charismatic’ Church, if the people starting such a Church believed that the Spirit was present with us. In a way the question is put the wrong way round. It is asked ‘If the Spirit is with you, then where are the signs? How come you do not show it? We have the Spirit, and we show it in these [insert description here] ways.

 

But the proper way I think is to say ‘Well the presupposition of our thinking is that God has promised the gift of the Spirit to the Church. Each congregation has this promise as a starting point. Now the question is ‘What do these gifts look like for us?’

 

I think that our biggest fault is that we do not place enough emphasis on how the Spirit is active in our lives. We say ‘The Spirit is with us’ and then go on acting as we’ve always done. Think about all those people abusing children, and then going into Church saying ‘The Spirit is with Us’. On the other hand, to stipulate how the Spirit should be with any one person is also a bit presumptuous I think. To say ‘Well the Spirit is not with you, but with us, that is why we need a new ministry is also a bit presumptuous. But if they are making contact with people whom we are not, then what cause have we to complain? On the other hand, why do they think that they can set up new ministries, when we are doing our best to be the Church for English speaking peoples here?

 

I think we do need to be close enough to one another so that there can be enough honesty to ask these questions. This is what I hope will happen in our gospel reflection groups.

 

So the presence of the new ‘charismatic’ people at the Table Ronde stimulated my thinking once more. I get offended, I must admit, when I feel the implied superiority of folk who just move into town and set up a religious shingle. On the other hand, I admire their commitment, dedication and willingness to fund new ministries.

 

There seems no place of being right. Everyone is right and wrong. I just wish that  there would be some way of us working together.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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