Cathedrals And House Churches -- Lessons Learned.
Our week in Kenya began with worship at All Saints Cathedral where I was to give the sermon for Sunday worship. At this point you may be expecting me to marvel at the joy and enthusiasm of African worship. Actually not so much. The service was clearly designed with that in mind. At times a worship leader tried mightily to get the group energized, but frankly it fell flat. The music was intended to be lively, but the people just didn’t feel it. My sermon was well-enough-received by those who stayed awake, but some dozed on the front row. It seemed altogether like a frozen chosen assembly.
Only later did I find out what was really afoot. It was the first day that the new Provost (similar to a Dean) was at the Cathedral. He is appointed by the Bishop – not called by the congregation. So it was his first day and he wasn’t preaching. I was. In addition, they normally worship in a quaint old English style church building – one that had been Whites-only until 1962 when the Whites exited in the wake of independence and the present congregation moved in. But now they are constructing a large modern Cathedral that will hold hundreds more people than the old building. It is far from complete. Beams and rafters are still exposed. The windows have no panes. This was their first day in the new building and they had not been warned in advance that they would be worshiping in there that day. They just arrived at Church and were directed into the new intimidatingly large unfinished structure. So: surprise! New Provost. New building. Musungu preacher. (They may have thougth I was the new Provost!)
What I had taken for boredom was a state of shock. How many Anglicans does it take to change a diaper? You can’t change that diaper. It was given in memory of my grandfather. Same thing would have happened here. Still I felt privileged to give the inaugural sermon in the new All Souls Cathedral and the people, though discombobulated, were gracious and devout.
After the Eucharist, we went to the Bishop’s house for Home Bible Church. This is one of the main things Fr. Lloyd had wanted me to see. It was like a house church or a cell group. It was a Bible Study with prayer and songs. The topic was the role of Godparents. People were challenged to find scriptures that informed the question of how to be a good Godparent. Generally, Kenyans have the same challenges we do in choosing and preparing Godparents. The discussion was intelligent and their ability to connect scriptures to the topic was impressive.
This is what I took away from Home Bible Church: We need our Sunday morning worship services alright. We need public worship in God’s house, a sacred space. I could not disagree more with the Emergent Church Movement more on that point. We need that basic gathering to publicly constitute us as a community of faith. Most of us will not go deeper than what happens there. But the large scale public worship of the Church draws its life from those who do go deeper in small groups meeting to study and pray in more intimate settings, especially homes. That is where the spiritual bonds are forged; the heart of the church, strengthened.
If a Church is medium to large, it needs several small church groups gathering at other times in other places to sustain its intimacy. But what if a congregation is already small – say 12 people gathered for Sunday morning worship? I believe even small churches need that gathering of a few to go deeper. Maybe it will only be two or three meeting to pray and study, but their gathering will provide the energy that will sustain and perhaps grow the larger group. Look back on my previous blog post about 80/20 rule in which I argue that we cannot build the church by extending its circumference; we have to grow the core within and the circumference will expand to keep the balance. Home Bible Church is a way to grow the core.
Each church could create its own format. It can be a spiritual book club meeting at an Indian restaurant, or a Bible and Brew class engaging scripture at a bar, or it can be a meeting for contemplative prayer and spiritual story telling. The key is the small group gathering – somewhere away from the church property – to connect with each other on the basis of our common bond in Christ.