Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Church Re-Imagined: The Spiritual Formation of People in Communities of Faith

Doug Pagitt communicates the practice of the community where he is involved, Solomon’s Porch in Minnesota. He is deliberate in the introduction to convey that this exposition is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all formula for fostering spiritual formation, but rather a singular example of what one church is doing currently. I appreciate this distinction and find it beneficial (for this dreamer anyway) to hear a story about what someone is actually doing, to give some inspiration and a look into practicality.

Sprinkled throughout the work are the journals of a handful of participants in Solomon’s Porch. These are insightful, if scattered. There is not necessarily a common thread running throughout, except to see what Pagitt is writing about as seen through a diverse set of eyes. The journals are all intensely personal, adding a depth to the topic being discussed.

Sunday: Spiritual Formation Through Worship
A church service would be recognizable to someone coming in from another Christian context. It has the right ingredients, worship music, scripture, sermoning, communion, and prayer. But the way that these are combined take on a different flavor. Rather than being a presentation directed from a stage to the audience, those present are invited to join along with the leaders to experience the worship of God. This is only the beginning of their community life being former spiritually into the people of God.

Monday: Spiritual Formation Through Physicality
Prayer and meditation are taken out of their cerebral context and applied to physical acts. Those techniques described in this chapter are yoga, massage, and prayer postures. In yoga, participants journey into a place where they can release the tension of life and find rest in God. This opening up culminates in a silent time of prayer together before returning to life. Massage is incorporated as a healing process, giving relief from pains built up through life. Especially poignant are stories involving those who had been carrying pains from abuse be able to let those go and accept the touch from a masseuse. Masseurs pray over the clients for ways to be the hands of God reworking the mess that people carry around. Lastly, prayer postures are used when prayers consisting only of words will not do, This stimulates people’s thoughts about prayer and keeps the issue in their mind throughout the week.

Tuesday: Spiritual Formation Through Dialogue
Pagitt walks through a night in their Bible discussion group, as well as his feeling of pastoral concern for those outside their community. Beginning the study, they have an exercise which reminds them that every participant is an individual who has been shaped by families, experiences, and communities. Each personal context is to be appreciated as they move forward. Studying scripture is vital to them because they see the texts as members of the community and as such has a right to direct their perspective.

Wednesday: Spiritual Formation Though Hospitality
Replacing the idea that evangelism can happen in a vacuum by propositioning, Solomon’s Porch engages those in their community by hospitality. To invite someone into the community is to invite them into your home and serve them. This is not only a stark contrast to normal American life, but also shows the life that is possible if they want to be a part of the community, no strings attached.

Thursday: Spiritual Formation Through Belief
In examining the process by which a person comes to believe something, Pegitt points out that it is not simply the allocation of information, but the process that information works through the grid of our experiences. When information is presented, a person asks if it is consistent with other things they know to be reliable, how its acceptance will affect other valuable areas of life, etc. The role of the community is to work together to navigate through the grid so that information can become belief and belief can become action.

Friday: Spiritual Formation Through Creativity
In telling his story of coming to faith, he describes finding a church full of people who default to reasoning to navigate life. His inclination, however, is for those for whom reason is not the strongest current in their thought. The creative members of the community find a place where they can be vulnerable with each other but also display their work proudly because it is made by, for, and within the community.

Saturday: Spiritual Formation Through Service
This is probably the chapter most people hoping for a traditional structure would identify with. For many, it would seem that discipleship could be equated with involvement in church volunteer projects. Because of the many needs of an institutional church (ushers, bulletin folders, chair movers, car parkers, etc.), there is rarely a surplus of volunteers. Once the church service ends, however, the work of the church is relegated to the paid staff. In this community, however, service is not what is done within the community, but with those outside the group in order to show them a glimpse of Christ’s love and humility.

I just realized that the aspects of community life that the traditionalist would most identify with would be from Sunday and (to a lesser extant) Saturday. This seems to be the point of Pegitt’s work, that to re-imagine the life of the church is to find those ways to incorporate spiritual formation into every day of the week and grow together in our experience of God by opening ourselves up to the myriad of ways to connect with the sacred.

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