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Difference a definite article makes

10 January 2014

Richard Lamey looks at being (the) Church

Being Church: The formation of Christian community
Robin Greenwood
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BEING CHURCH  raises questions that it doesn't fully answer. Most books worth engaging with do the same. Greenwood makes a passionate argument for the way ahead for Church. (He is keen never to say the Church.)

He holds that the current way of papering over the cracks and expecting fewer and fewer stipendiary clergy to carry the same administrative and leadership burden by taking on more and more parishes is destructive of people and utterly futile. He longs for Church that is built on a clear understanding of the Trinity, Church that is about inclusion, welcome, and acceptance, because the whole baptised people of God are being disciples together. He dreams, in a memorable phrase, of pioneer parishes, and not pioneer priests. At the core of his argument is the idea that Church becomes Church by being Church and acting like Church and living like Church.

There are two main tensions that Greenwood never quite resolves. First, this book is written for the hierarchy of the hierarchical Church that he is arguing against. It is hard to see that enough lay people would read it to join the movement that he longs for.

The second is that omitting the definite article in "Being the Church" makes the Church he dreams of ethereal and hard to grasp hold of. The difference between Being Church and Being the Church is the same as the difference between Being Community and Being the Community. Being Church or Being Community is intangible and conceptual. Being the Church or Being the Community is something real that people can rely on and touch and see.

Ironically, the difference made by the absence of the definite article is best shown by the examples that Greenwood offers of what it looks like when the Church gets it right.

There is an excellent manual on parochial practice in Being Church begging to get out, but that is not quite the book that is being advertised to the reader.

When the book is good, it is very good indeed. His challenge to the senior leadership of the Anglican Churches in Great Britain and beyond is timely and precise. He writes eloquently of the pressure put on clergy, especially in rural areas, by a failure to plan for the future strategically and collaboratively. He presents a clear and attractive sketch of what a thriving and Spirit-led Church would look like.

Above all, dotted throughout the book like rewards are encouraging case studies from Greenwood's own ministry and experience. He shares the questions that helped him to supervise his staff team. He offers the example of how a small group of churches engaged with their community in a new way. He writes of his bruising experience of reordering a church. Such things stay with the reader and inspire.

The Revd Richard Lamey is Rector of St Paul's, Wokingham, with St Nicholas's, Embrook, and Wosehill Community Church, Berkshire.

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