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What’s your church like?

lukemcr at Reddit asks, “What’s your church like?”

My short response got long, so I’m posting it here.

Our parish was founded about eleven years ago by a priest and a three families from California. We had inquirers’ meetings in homes for a few months, then set up a chapel and began having daily services. Because there was a core community who were already familiar with this kind of sacramental community and worship, there was something for us inquirers to come and be immersed in from the beginning; from day one we had a common ethos. I think trying to start a congregation from zero would be vastly more difficult.

Common worship: We pray Matins and Vespers pretty much every day. Our biggest service is Great Vespers on Saturday evening, together with Matins and the Liturgy on Sunday morning. Folks stay after Vespers to speak with the priests (confession) so after a 45-minute service you’ll have an hour or two of people chatting outside or downstairs while the children run around having fun. Sundays we finish up around 11:30ish, then we have a potluck meal and coffee, and again we spend a while enjoying each other’s company. The shared experience of worship and common spiritual struggle is one of the strongest centripetal factors in our parish community.

We don’t have children’s church. The littles stay in the service with us. Often a family will arrive, hand off their babies and toddlers to the various godparents, and pick up their own godchildren before finding a place to stand for the service. When babies get noisy, we take them outside for a few minutes, then right back in; they learn early that worship services are a natural part of life. And they learn to sing at the same time they’re learning to talk.

Community: Many of us choose to live within walking distance of the temple, so we’re apt to show up on each other’s doorsteps or see one another when we go for a walk. We have one another over for meals frequently, along with folks from outside our community. One of our “core values” is hospitality, so we often have friends-of-friends staying with us.

Mission: We don’t do “evangelism” as a discrete category of action or ministry. But at any given time you’ll find our members interacting in the local art scene, the skater community, the symphony, with moms at the YWCA, in job placement and roller derby and ESL, leading rafting expeditions… all the normal healthy things real people do. Every one of those relationships exposes people to Christians being off-guard — if we’re living up to our hype, that means folks are seeing how genuine Christians treat one another. And pretty much all of these kinds of interactions have resulted in people encountering our web of relationships, becoming interested in our uncommon tradition, and eventually committing to our God in baptism.

Those of us who are former Evangelicals, or have been “witnessed” to, don’t appreciate sales pitches for Jesus; if everyone were an evangelism-target, then we’d never have real relationships with anyone as persons.

Leadership: We have several presbyters and deacons, plus cantors who run the services. The clergy have day jobs, and in the church they provide spiritual direction, help with teaching, and work at the altar. A parish council worries about the money and pays the bills (or so I assume since the lights are still on.) There’s a Sunday choir who lead congregational singing at major services, a ladies benevolent group that looks for charitable projects to support, a small food bank, a primary school, and a number of craftsmen, farmers, teachers, winemakers, web workers, and others who come up with ideas and put them into action. (Leadership is having an idea and making it happen. Nobody needs permission to lead something :-)

I hear a lot of Christians talk about building leaders. From our perspective, that may be skipping a step. Since we practice making disciples, not converts, our goal is holiness and wholeness for each person in the parish community, or who is coming into it. We concentrate on teaching people practical skills for the spiritual warfare of owning their bodies and wills; being intentional and present in the moment; and restoration to balance and inner stillness. There isn’t a point where we graduate and now we’re a spiritual adult. If the process of restoring souls and renewing minds is working, then we ought to see individuals naturally finding their stride and discovering ways they can serve (i.e. lead).

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