Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Retreat. Revival. Return. An ancient-future way of being "church"

In recent weeks I have had the privilege to be in weekend retreat focusing on the parables of Jesus, and applying them to my life and our world, and also just returned from Revival in New York City. I am still processing understandings and experiences from both that will shape my own re-orientation of spiritual life and leadership of church planting, or "kingdom of God" relationship sowing, however you want to access the metaphor. I will be returning to these more and more here.

Retreat is the breathing in, Revival is the breathing out, the life of the soul, and the Return is where we put Retreat and Revival into our lives and the lives of those closest to us, and the strangers we meet. Retreat--Revival--Return. I can envision church based on this trinity; a new lectionary based on this movement; a new church year structured on it. Creating spaces for retreat in people's lives, then coming together in revival times, then sending them out in teams returning to the world. Or weaving them together seasonal. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend retreats. followed a week or two later by Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend Revivals. Followed a week or two later by Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend Returns, where people go out into the world and/or structure intentional family projects to serve others through projects of random acts of kindness or intentional justice work close to home or on a trip elsewhere.

This would break the default mode or addiction of activity and superficialty of weekly quick one hour study or worship. It might actually result in even more time spent together besides more depth. It might smack of programming, but I think it would begin to break the idea of program church. Is it any wonder that what we call "program churches" are those having the most struggle?

Four weekends (Fri. evening or Saturday morning through Sun. noon) of different kinds of retreat. Four more, same time frame, for Revivals where various and deeper experiences of worship can be created and explored. Four more, same time frame, for Returns, hands-on praxis times. That's 12 weekends a year. Add in some special smaller but significant holiday and holy day events and make sure you build in social time into all the weekends.

In my own experiences and reflection of church going and retreat and revival going and workshop going for these past decades of adult life and I think there would be more spirit let loose in lives and the world than in the trap of weekly activity of church life. Here is why church plants are so important. We have to be able to try these experiments and it is so hard to get existing established churches to do them--not impossible, though; as I have said before, any church can do this by forming "guerilla or revolutionary" groups within the church and turning them loose to be the experimenters and try something like this under the umbrella of the already existing church.

Problems? Obstacles? It might actually involve less "church" time overall, but it would mean people setting aside more sabbath time blocks for these gatherings that would happen less frequently than the weekly Sunday morning set-aside. It would be harder to "squeeze in" church to already busy schedules. I think that is a plus. But it requires a lot of risk and preparation. Even if the various Retreat, Revival, Returns are focused on one day, say Saturday or Sunday, that means people restructuring their times. It would be instituting a deeper time-management focus for everyone. Also, Children? Some of it would need to be intergenerational and some would need to provide youth and adult only gatherings and children-only gatherings. You wouldn't have to do it the same way for all gatherings. I believe the benefits of the restructing would build better families because building better spiritual lives of parents will have the biggest effect. Visitors? See my heresy post below, but actually i believe it would increase the opportunities and the space for inviting visitors and for newcomers, just as people find it easier and safer to sign up for workshops or conferences where they don't know people; the increased experience of depth offered would be a draw. Building space? I would love it if these varied in location and weren't all in a "church" building, but having them initially in familiar meetingspace would be easy way to transition. But eventually they could be held in a variety of places, and the day-to-day waste of big empty unused church space could be reduced to people working out of smaller office only places for planning purposes. This is often how current retreats and Revivals are done. The church building spaces could then be turned into community centers.

Special note to readers from the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship---think of this as a model for small groups in your area, and why it is important to be able to include people from other churches, or seekers from no church.

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