Nearly twenty years ago I instigated a Fresh Expression Of Church called the Universal Glue Factory — a name inspired by Wayne Dyer's speaking of love as the glue that holds the universe together.
We did a variety of things, and meeting for worship was obviously one. Our worship meeting we called Jephthah's Bandits — because we had found ourselves outside the church by an improbable coincidence of circumstances.
But the name Jephthah may not immediately be familiar to you. In case not, let me tell you about him.
Jephthah's tragic story is told in the book of Judges (chapter 11). He was a mighty warrior, the offspring of Gilead and a prostitute. Gilead had other sons born within the institution of marriage, who, when they reached adulthood, drove Jephthah out of the family. They didn't want to share their inheritance with him, and felt that he had no right to it because he was not properly part of the family, since his mother was not Gilead's wife. The offspring of establishment is security; but also sometimes is lack of imagination, casual cruelty and segregation.
So, dispossessed and alone, he made common cause with a group of bandits — men in a similar situation — who, like Peter Pan's lost boys, all hung out together.
Later on, when Israel went to war against the Ammonites, Jephthah's brothers came to look for him — they now needed his skill in battle. Craving their acceptance, he returned to fight for them. Desperate to seal his inclusion, he bargained with God. He promised to offer in sacrifice the first creature that should meet him on his return from war. He came back victorious, and on the way home was met by his daughter, dancing and singing in celebration of his victory. Like all people caught up in cycles of abuse and rejection, his first instinct was to blame her for the fate that now awaited her — look what misery you've brought on my head! She asked for a little time together with her friends, which he granted her, and then he put her to death. We do not know her name. The story contrasts strikingly with the binding of Isaac, in which God provides a ram to avert the sacrifice of Abraham's son.
The offspring of exclusion and rejection is an ongoing destructive cycle, the tragedy of wasted life, nameless, unrecognised, unrecorded.
So that's Jephthah.
Why I think of him in connection with the anarchist church is because I see him, and his bandits in their hideout in the hills, in the modern world.
I see the "dones" — those who have tried their best with church and, disappointed and disillusioned, are done with it. I see those who fall foul of the structures, requirements and regulations of the church, and wander dispossessed, those whose ministry and gifts are rejected or neglected, who are not pastored in times of grief, who are left like sheep wandering on the fells without a shepherd. It is not so much the community that does this, for they have surrendered their power to the institution. They watch from the sidelines, unsettled but silent, as things take their course. Jephthah's daughter is delivered nameless and alone to her death, because for her there is no angel to intervene.
When an asteroid hits a planet and blows it apart, the debris is scattered locally in space, but begins to whirl in its familiar patterns of orbit, reassembling in a mish-mash of components as it is drawn together again. It sorts itself out in time. This also happens to people.
An anarchist church would allow people to find their own level, tell their own story, put their lives back together and begin to heal. The pain of rejection, the patterns of inclusion and exclusion, would no longer apply, because there would be no hierarchical pyramid, no power structure; only a circle in which, under the eyes of everybody, anybody could take their place.
In the end, I think, the scattered debris of Jephthah's bandits will form into an anarchist church. It will only be a matter of time.