A few weeks back I went into Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital for a sleep study. That’s where they wire you up with about a thousand electrodes and then make observations on how you sleep during the night.
It was in response to this dilemma, which was particularly bad around this time last year. I still have ‘period leg movement disorder’ but its not as frequent. (For a couple of months Danelle and I slept in separate beds!)
Anyway, I arrived at 7.00pm with my copy of Simon’s book, God Next Door and a bottle of red. (I figured I might need a bit of anaesthetic to actually sleep with all those electrodes stuck to me…)
Fortunately I wasn’t the first one to get rigged up, because once you’re wired you can’t sit up or move around. I read thru to around 8pm when ‘Jill’ came in.
Now sometimes I just grunt politely thru these experiences, because I know I will probably never see the person again and I don’t have the energy for a genuine conversation, but tonight I felt like chatting and I was also aware it would take at least an hour to get wired, so I might as well get to know the person. Jill also seemed to want to talk…
And it was a much more interesting conversation than I had bargained for, partly because Jill was a Notre Dame Uni grad, had studied theology and was in a place in life where she was feeling the tug of God on her life. Jill was 23 years old, her mum had started attending church recently and had been ‘born again’. Now she was trying to get Jill to attend also – a large ‘Word of Faith’ church in Perth. Jill was intrigued by God, was curious about my book, was feeling she ought to go to church even though her partner wanted nothing to do with it all, but was struggling to come to terms with it all.
When I asked her what held her back do you know what it was?
“I am worried they might expect me to front up every week.’
Now get this – because its important – this is what some people feel – probably more than we know.
I might have to be there every week for the rest of my life!
Quite honestly, I would ask much more of Jill than a weekly meeting, but the sheer notion of somehow getting caught up in something she couldn’t get out of, worried her. The thought of a regular weekly commitment was disturbing a young 23 year old. I don’t think that would be abnormal for someone like her. Its a comment that is worth paying attention to, especially for those of us who have grown up believing weekly church attendance to be a fairly normal thing to do.
I don’t think there is anywhere in society where we make a weekly commitment and follow thru on it for the rest of our lives. (I realise that for many these days ‘regular church attendance’ is fortnightly or even every 3 weeks.)
When I say I would ask much more than a weekly meeting, I mean that I would be asking Jill to become committed to a community of people – to go way beyond fronting up once a week and to form significant give & take relationships. That is even harder and at times it makes me despair for the future of a faith that is inherently communal. (I really don’t believe you can live the life Jesus calls us to outside of a faith community.)
Jill explained that she probably would go to church with her mum (on her birthday) but her apprehension was clear. I wonder how many more are like her?
It makes me wonder how (if) we can re-calibrate community life so that there is genuine connectivity, authentic discipleship and significant relationships, but without the necessity of a weekly meeting…
In his book Liquid Church, Pete Ward argues for this kind of community, deeply committed, but also fluid. But then Ward also suggests we ‘play to’ consumerism and try and make the best of it rather than fight it…
I tend to feel that if we do away with a regular weekly gathering, then, because of the ridiculous busyness of the world we live and our own laziness and inbuilt disposition towards individualism, the chances are we would quickly fragment. In a perfect world we would all live close, hang out and have deep relationships, but in the real world of suburbia it just doesn’t happen like that.
So, I will continue to hold up a weekly gathering as a bare minimum for what we expect of people who call themselves a Christian community. But honestly if that’s all it amounts it to – if that is the best we can do – then I have lost all hope.
By the way my period leg movement has been defined as ‘idiopathic’, in other words – “we haven’t got a bloody clue what causes it…”