Thursday, 22 November 2018

Structuring meetings in an anarchist church

So yesterday at home we were talking about the practical organisation of meetings in an anarchist church. If it's all a circle and belongs to everyone, how would anything actually get done?

This is what I imagine.

In any given act of worship, I envisage the inclusion of the following elements:

  1. Prayer — adorational, intercessory, petitionary and prayer of thanksgiving and response.
  2. Ministry of the Word — reading and exposition of the Scriptures, and teaching of the faith.
  3. Music — hymns and songs, sometimes instrumental music to listen to, maybe music and dance.
  4. Ministry — the exercise of gifts of the Spirit in healing, words of knowledge and wisdom, prophecy, tongues and interpretation.
  5. Participation — discussion, open prayer, creative activity of various kinds (eg making things, action songs, dance, performed music, enacted prayers and dramatisation of scripture)
How I imagine an anarchist church coming about is a seed initiative by a small motivated group of mature Christians, gradually establishing and accumulating further members who integrate with and add to the existing group so that the whole enlarges organically (rather than being manufactured/planted/set up).

I imagine such a congregation would begin with, say, half a dozen like-minded souls through whom a pattern of worship and organisation would emerge by exploration, discussion, experimentation, listening and prayer. 

Perhaps it would then grow to a group of about twenty or thirty members. At that point, it would become unwieldy for everyone to discuss everything. So then the organisation of worship could be done through a rota of sub-groups. All the people would be allocated to a group — if there were twenty members in all, perhaps a rota of four groups containing five people, responsible for  preparing the acts of worship. They would be populated according to different gifting — e.g., a musician in each group, someone with scriptural knowledge or teaching ability in each group, and a mix of more and less mature Christians.

The sub-group with responsibility for worship would get everything needful ready; and also receive the participatory elements, sifting and ordering them appropriately.

In the 1980s, when I belonged to an inter-church group call the Ashburnham Stable Family, it was the responsibility of every person belonging to the meeting to listen carefully to the Spirit to discern what their participation would be in each passing week. Some choreographed a dance. Some composed a piece of music. Some believed they heard from the Lord in wisdom, or prophecy, or a direction to speak in tongues, or to announce healing. All these people would let those responsible for the meeting know, in advance, so their contribution could be integrated into an act of worship that flowed well and fitted the time frame.

Now, suppose one week you had five people who had all written a new hymn. That might be too much for one act of worship, so the sub-group on the rota would chose perhaps two of the proposed hymns — ones that well-fitted the theme or mood, or just the first two suggested — then pass the rest on to the next week's organisers for consideration. 

And suppose you had Susan with yet another vision of a rainbow, you could include it because what's the harm? But suppose you had Tracey with a word from the Lord to buy sub-automatic weapons and mow down the children of the infidel, the organising group for the week would sift that out as inadmissible before it got to the meeting.

Thus the elements of the meeting would be structured into a flow, and participation would be both encouraged and monitored. The scriptural focus could be agreed by the whole group ("Let's study Romans/Micah over the next six weeks") or follow the circle of the church year. The organisers for the week would be responsible for seeing that all the agreed elements for an act of worship were included, either through participatory contribution, or by being put there by the organisers themselves. If the group as a whole had only one musician, or only one gifted teacher, then that person would be primed by the organisers, as well as listening to the Spirit him/herself.

Every so often — perhaps annually — the groups could be re-mixed to create teams with a different combination of skills and a different dynamic of personalities. This would decrease the likelihood of factions developing, and allow new combinations to allow new and sometimes surprising aspects of creativity and insight to emerge.

That's how I imagine it working.

One of us raised the question, what would happen about the Lord's Supper. Well, I think there's a lot to be said for having a familiar rhythm to at least some aspects of worship, so I think a few patterns could be worked out to become favourites. Not too wordy and heavy, because this would be an all-age group. Responsibility for preparation and for presidency would rest with whichever organising sub-group had their turn on the rota. It's not very difficult to celebrate the Lord's Supper without an institutionally accredited person; we have a good precedent after all, in the first time it ever happened.


Suzan said...

I can see how this could soon become cumbersome. We need to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Today I had an interesting moment. I had gone to the Catholic Church in the complex where my father spent his last few years. IT was memorial service. After the service the local Anglican bishop came and introduce himself. I told him I knew him. He didn't know me yet before his first position as a bishop he was the rector of my church. He had no idea. Obviously I was invisible to him even though he dislike my young son's antics at times.

Anonymous said...

I like the sound of this meeting.
For church to be like family, I believe we need to have small groups.
Corporate worship on Sundays at our church building is great - lots of great teaching, inspiring worship music, lots of prayer and lots of fellowship.
However, my husband and I go to a housegroup once a week where there is also lots of great teaching, prayer and fellowship. Sometimes we sing. Our housegroup is like close family and the wider church is like extended family. We also celebrate Shabbat once a month and celebrate the God-ordained festivals with our housegroup. Looking forward to celebrating Hannukah next month! :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Susan

Maybe the bishop just didn't remember — if you are the speaker/leader, then those in the congregation have the advantage in observing and remembering, because there are lots of them and only one speaker.

When we ran the Stable Family meetings like this in the 1980s, we found it exciting rather than cumbersome. We had a weekly deadline for contributions to be submitted (by Tuesday evening for Thursday evening), and seeing how the Lord had spoken to those coming to the meeting was brilliant. Certainly there is work attached to preparing worship; when I am appointed to preach I have to look up the readings and get the readers' sheets ready, write the prayers and address (or structure an appropriate all-age or café style worship), select suitable hymns, contact the musicians and children's leaders, prepare and communicate the order of service, and yes I guess one could see it as cumbersome. But worship does have to be organised, and working on it together is very enjoyable.

About protecting those who cannot protect themselves, I absolutely agree. But I do not believe that a complex system of rules and certification is the best way of achieving that end. I think the best way to protect the vulnerable is to care and notice and listen and stay with them.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Kay — your church sounds brilliant. The church I go to is really good as well — Sunday church and a housegroup in the week, as yours is. I'm interested that you also celebrate the Jewish festivals. How lovely.
Though I love my church and it works well, I have considerable disquiet about the wider system of the Methodist Church, of which my church is a part.

Sandra Ann said...

Hi Pen, thanks for sharing your thoughts on an anarchist church it has made interesting reading. In my limited experience church does not always equal community and so often I feel an outsider looking in. Small churches and house groups or meetings give folk the chance to really get to know and understand one another. On another note your parcel arrived today and it was totally well timed! You really made my day and I am grateful for your loving kindness and friendship in cyber space. God Bless San x

Pen Wilcock said...

Glad that found you safely. I think one of the deep strengths of. the Catholic Church is monasticism, which at its best fosters authentic and humble relationship, helping knit together the church at parish level and create a core of belonging.

Anonymous said...

My husband used to be a member of the Methodist Church and left because of post-modern teaching.
We like to refer to the festivals as God-ordained because that's what they are. Jesus celebrated them and God tells us to do so. :) We think of Jesus at Christmas and have fun but we don't worry about commercialism because Christmas is not a God-ordained festival anyway.
Kay xx

Pen Wilcock said...

I like the idea of spending Christmas thinking of Jesus and having fun — sounds perfect!

Phil Hollow G. said...

Thanks for the thoughts on the Anarchist Church.
A couple of things. I believe communities are, by definition small. So a large Church is not and cannot be a community, this (one of) the advantage(s) of small meetings like you're describing.
We as mortal, humans are only capable of intimately knowing and keeping track of so many people, this is true even for those we put on pedestals and call pastors.
In smaller groups it's much easier to hold one another accountable, to actually be with one another through trials, to pray for, exhort and strengthen one another.
This may not be related but it's on my mind.
I have two brothers that are talented musicians. Both have been worship leaders at different "churches" though afterward they both said they shouldn't have been because of where they were spiritually at the time. Because of talent they were placed into positions of leadership without the accountability they needed and their congregations deserved.

Humbly in Christ,

Pen Wilcock said...

That's really interesting, Isaac. One of my household said to me a while ago that she wished, on Sunday, instead of playing in the worship band, she could just bring her instrument along and play from where she sat in the congregation. I loved that idea, and it would help with the problem you mention regarding your brothers. If the church was a circle, not a pyramid, so that we didn't in fact put anyone on a pedestal, and there wasn't ministry from the front but only from the wholeness of the circle, each according as they were led and the leaders for the week had co-ordinated, musicians not taking a leading and exalted position like a rock band at a concert but playing acoustic music from their place in the circle, it would calm this difficulty. I don't think we need worry about waiting until people are perfect before they can contribute — after all, Jesus made Judas his treasurer — I think they can start right in with whoever they are and whatever they bring; but the church discipline is monitored and upheld by the whole group — I am exactly not envisaging implementing a two-tier system of Indians and Chiefs, or Celebrities and Plebs, like we have at the moment. No in-crowds, only the Laos, the priesthood of believers, the holy nation, the household of God.
I hope that helps.