Last week I had the pleasure of a conversation with Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian; Ed Peterson, a Reconciliation worker at Clonard Monastery; and Fr Martin Magill of St Oliver Plunkett in Lenadoon.
It was suggested that there was a lot going on among the churches, but that often people didn’t know about events or initiatives that were happening right under their noses.
In response to that, I’ve decided to start an events feature on this blog: the ‘Church Without Walls’ calendar.
The calendar can be accessed by clicking on the scrolling icon at the sidebar, or by clicking on the words ‘events calendar’ at the top of the screen.
I hope that this calendar can become a place where people who identify with my nascent ‘church without walls’ ideal can find out what’s happening with other Christians who share that vision.
The calendar will be reserved for events or initiatives happening on the island of Ireland. It will, of course, be limited to what I can find out for myself or what readers like you tell me about. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something to share.
Although I work for the Irish School of Ecumenics, the calendar won’t be restricted to what might be perceived as ‘ecumenical’ events. I expect that my School’s events will feature prominently on the calendar – such as tomorrow’s ISE Trust Council Public Lecture by Dr Paul Shore on Calvin and Ignatius – but it will always be best to check the School’s own website to keep up-to-date on our activities.
If you’re wondering what I mean by ‘church without walls,’ I refer you to the ‘about this blog’ section of this site. To give you an abridged version:
My idea of Building a Church Without Walls is inspired by Ephesians 2:14-15:
“For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.”
For me the ‘church’ is people from all backgrounds working together, no matter their denominational loyalty, to break down walls of social, political, and spiritual division and to build up something better – a more just and loving world for us to live in.
I think that many, if not most, of our Western church institutions are broken and not up to this task. I think our best hope lies in people realising that we are the church, and reforming or replacing those institutions. This is not just a task for clergy and pastors; it is for all of us.
My main areas of academic research are in fact the areas where I think churches ‘without walls’ could develop, so I’m especially interested in events and initiatives around the following
- Re-form in the Irish churches, especially how the Irish Catholic Church handles the fall-out from the sexual abuse scandals
- The contribution of the emerging church, especially its critique of North American, British and Northern Irish evangelicalism and how it may prompt wider patterns of reform
- The role of ecumenism, including questions about its continued relevance for peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland and further afield
- How Christians in the West can learn from global Christianity, especially the churches in Zimbabwe and South Africa
Of course, I’m acutely aware that most of the ‘church without walls’ calendar events will likely be lectures, conferences, seminars, workshops … the type of activity that gets people’s minds working and makes them feel like they are doing something, when in fact all they may be doing is ‘preaching to the choir.’
The new book by John Brewer, Gareth Higgins and Francis Teeney, Religion, Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2011), has already identified this intellectualising tendency as problematic – if Christians want to make a real ‘difference’ in the societies in which they live. For example, on page 135 they observe:
‘There were endless discussions within the ecumenist tradition about sectarian divisions: about the manner in which sectarianism reproduced itself, such as through mixed marriages; about theology, politics and violence. Indeed, ecumenism was very good at thinking, writing reports, and hosting workshops, seminars and conferences.’
While not discounting the value of some of that analysis, they go on to say on page 136:
‘At one end of the continuum, participants put up barriers, giving ecumenical groups the impression they were achieving more in these intellectual spaces than they were, while at the other extreme, some participants could easily ridicule the endless seminars and reports as just words.’
I know it’s a bit rich for a blogger and an academic to lament the ubiquity of words while she’s explaining why she is introducing a calendar of ‘wordy’ events. But I also think that words can bring people together, help them form networks of action, and ultimately get to work on building a church without walls – a kind of church that can live out Christ’s vision in the 21st century.