Sunday, 9 October 2011

Church must move from maintenance to rediscover mission role

Near to where I live in east London plans have been unveiled to establish a homeless hostel. There are a number of homeless people who roam up and down the main arterial road through the town. Many call at the Catholic Church looking for some support and sustenance.Supposedly when the hostel is established most of these homeless people will be able to go there for support. The response from the local suburban community says much about the society in which we live. A vociferous little bunch of people have opposed the establishment of the hostel. They quote the fact that it is an area where there are schools and care homes. The implication is that the elderly and young are at risk from the homeless. There seems to be a belief that because someone is homeless this automatically means they must also be criminal and addicted to some form of drug. Some 150 people have signed the petition against the hostel with newspaper reports suggesting that local Catholic schools have registered concerns with the council. A real case of not in my back yard (nimbyism).The Catholic Church is central to this situation. It sits near to where the hostel would be built with the two Catholic primaries also in the vicinity. There will no doubt by members of the Church among those supporting the homeless but others opposing the hostel. The interesting thing is that the local churches generally have not entered into the debate at all. They have publically largely stood by silent on the sidelines. No doubt some may argue this is a civil matter. But this story raises a question that applies to the Church countrywide, namely what has happened to the role of mission as opposed to that of maintenance? The Church of mission is involved and reaches out to the community. It is integral. The social teachings of the Church are not kept in a box, secret from the parish community, but talked about and lived out day in day out. A church that was engaged in such a way would not only be supporting the homeless but asking why there are so many homeless people in the fourth largest economy in the world. In the type of situation described, the Church would certainly have had something to say, discussed it publically and had an official stance.
A test of the value of a Church in the local community is what would happen if it were knocked down tomorrow. Would it make a difference? It may mean locals don't have parishioners cluttering up their streets with their cars every week. Less pollution, so a positive impact in reducing global warming. It could effect those parents that want to get their kids in the schools but what else? If on the other hand it is a church of mission then it would make a big difference to the community. Support of the homeless, refugees, the elderly, a caring community that lives in an environmentally sustainable way - it should be a beacon of how to live together. There are no doubt plenty of churches across the country reaching out doing the work of mission in their communities. There are though those that clearly are not. These churches are doing the work of maintenance, seeing themselves as a refuge from the outside world, not a part of the community. There is a disconnect, an obsession with procedure, whether it be how eucharistic ministers dress or the order in which the congregation come up for communion. In terms of the local community, these churches are spectators not participants. Far too many churches have erred over recent years toward the maintenance model which provides an easier life. The church of maintenance does not challenge what goes on beyond it's doors. It offers nothing to the young, who drift away once confirmed It is not vital and in the worst case scenarios represents simply managing decline.The way forward is to rediscover the church of mission, reaching out, engaged and living out the social teachings. It is a church peopled by those who have some formation and understanding of what it means to be a Christian in society today. The social teachings are alive and being lived out. It is a vital living Church that has a crucial role to play in the community. Rediscovering the church of mission is the only way forward for the church today.

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