Since reading Becker's Congregation's in Conflict, my subconscious has been playing around with the metaphors/images/models she uses and wondering what their implications might be. In particular, the 'family' and 'community' ideas, which seem probably the most relevant for where I am and what I'm trying to do.
The family metaphor is a very popular one, and I suspect how many of my folk see themselves. Becker notes some of the strengths and weaknesses of this model, often flip-sides of the same facet: cohesion, tradition, defined roles, introversion etc. I found myself mulling over the consequences - and limitations - in an almost biological-reproductive sense! Becker notes that outreach/mission is not a big issue in such congregations, they will support home and overseas mission financially, but are not engaged in local mission in any way, shape or form. This is actually not unlike human families, where the centre of the universe is the old 'we four and no more' (except a few grandparents, aunts and uncles). Families can be healthy and strong but they only survive as long as there are heirs. When the last heir dies childless the family dies with him/her. So it is with family churches. My little lot speak fondly of their good Sunday School of 30-ish children about 15-20 years ago. What they forget is that all 30-ish were the children of church members and that now only two remain in any church - neither in ours. The last heirs have, in effect, died (yes, these folk may rediscover their faith, but not here) and if the church is a family, it will die when numbers are too small to keep meeting. This should not surprise anyone: research shows that only something like 5% of chidlren who attend Sunday School ever make the transition into church; if I tracked back one more generation on my church, we have exactly 2 people from the 1950's/60's who are still in church. Family is a nice cosy metaphor, but it is inevitably self-limiting, maybe the more so in an area like this where I am one of the few people not related to half the church by blood!
The community metaphor - used in the Five Core Values material - is growing in popularity, not least as congregations wake up to their plight and the need for mission. It is a much more fluid and open model, the boundaries are possibly less clearly defined (though in reality rivers and roads can be pretty distinctive limits) and there is a clearer sense of being more than a group whose only common interest is faith. Geographical communities are very fluid and the changes over time can be dramatic, which is why congregations can find themselves as a kind of holy ghetto in a foreign land. People move in and people move out, shops and businesses come and go - communities are a bit like the old tale of the wedding present broom "it's had three new heads and four new handles but it's still the same broom." There is not the same expectation that people will be here for ever (except perhaps in small rural villages, which can die with the last family) but the congregation will go on because new people are expected to come in as 'old' ones move out. That doesn't mean that there is no stability, rather it means that this type of church has the potential to survive the demise or departure of individuals or families because it is less dependent upon them. Mission and adaptation are important - and bring with them a greater openness to change and the challenges that come with it, including disagreement and conflict.
I find myself much more of the 'community' view than 'family' but how much is that about my own experience and my 'wandering Aramean' tendencies? Becker notes how difficult it can be for family congregations to embrace new ministers, especially if they happen to have a different view of the purpose of church (which apparently most do!) and that, effectivley, you have to live here for three generations to be one of us. Yet, what is a minister to do when the family who calls her has no heirs? She can either be a palliative care nurse cum undertaker - a valid, if perhaps frustrating role - or she can try to encourage the family to open its doors and welcome in strangers who will uphold the family honour and keep alive the best traditions in a new way so that we do not keep a musty stately home as a curiosity but allow the shell to house something meaningful for a new generation or new people - also tricky.
One of my ongoing questions is 'how long do I go on trying to facilitate change?' It looks as if our holdiay club will not run this year as there is no commitment from anyone else to make it happen. Pentecost will happen because I am driving it along, but no one is willing to take a lead in any aspect of it. At the start of this year I made a conscious decision to step back and start to allow things to sink or swim as local people do or do not take ownership of them; the pub intiative will be the last new thing I start. It can be painful to see things die for lack of interest - but maybe it has to be. This has wandered well away from where I began, in best Catriona tradition, but I guess what I am saying is that I think the community model of a congregation may offer more long term sustainablility than a family view (but that's yet another PhD I'm not going to do!). This year is crunch time in me discerning what God is saying to me about my role in this fellowship, some clear signs are starting to emerge, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept what God might well be saying.