I am extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to this edition of our reflective theological Papers and in particular to Dr lan Jorysz who has helped with the production of this issue.
I am always looking out for contributions and my hope is that, upon reading this issue, you too may be prompted to reflect upon your work or particular interests and offer those thoughts in the pages of our next edition.
+ Laurie Bradwell
Team Work in Parishes, a report by Andrew Wigram
Churches in the High Street, Barbara Moss
The Rainbow People of God, a book review by David Jennings
The House of God and the Home of the Church, suggestions in re-ordering a church by Mark Pudge
An effective Church in the City where anything goes, a study of the Ephesian Church by Peter Sandberg
The survey reveals that teams come in all shapes and sizes according to the ministry to be developed. There are essentially four areas where teams have been introduced: pastoral, leadership support, worship, and ministry within the local community.
Pastoral ministry teams. An example of a Pastoral Team in its purest form comes from the Diocese of Rochester. It is made up of Pastoral Assistants, all trained and licensed by the diocese. It meets monthly for review and training. Each member is attached to individual clergy within the large clerical team. The ministry done includes visiting, a hand in baptism preparation, bereavement follow-up and marriage preparation.
Another church runs a team of twelve Elders originally appointed to supervise pastoral support of parishioners by lay members. This same group has now taken wider responsibilities as vicar's 'think tank' (a support group) and is involved in a lay training programme. A further model is of an Eldership Team comprising housegroup leaders and the Team Rector which meet together frequently to share vision and pastoral oversight for the parish.
Leadership support teams. The Cog Team is a name given in one parish to what has developed out of the vicar's support team. It now has a dual function, a) to act as a leadership team in conjunction with PCC and b) to head up six areas of ministry adopted by PCC. Once again it combines both pastoral and support functions. One parish has a Leadership Group - very much the vicar's own support group - which works out with him what PCC should discuss. The members (6 in all, including the two churchwardens) are also in pastoral leadership within the church.
Yet another example is a Lay Leadership Team, attached more to the church council than to the incumbent consisting of leaders to head up defined areas of ministry: worship, mission, evangelism with community concern, pastoral care and spiritual growth (two leaders per group). This team acts as adviser to the church council.
Worship Teams. Experience of lay teams involved in leading worship is the most proven. Development has come about for two reasons:
For expediency. Rural teams (like one in Norwich Diocese where there are fifteen parishes and seventeen churches and only two stipendiary clergy!) can only operate with a large team of Readers. By twinning most churches with a neighbour and holding only one service each Sunday within a pair, the Readers perform a vital role in keeping churches open and offering local worship in these scattered communities. The diocese is strongly committed to building up such lay teams.
Another rural solution, much more radical, comes from the Diocese of Worcester where the incumbent, on taking over 5 parishes and 3 NSMs, was instructed to "Make the job work with no other clergy than the incumbent!" In eight years he has established a single benefice and set up a pattern which gives great freedom in worship to lay ministers. This includes not only leading non-eucharistic worship along with giving a homily (a 'comment' on the readings), but also lay presidency at Holy Communion (with use of reserved sacrament - the French 'animateur' style), and taking some funerals. Members also undertake pastoral visits. The team is all local, i.e. trained within the parish context through close supervision by the incumbent himself. It carries no diocesan licence but is episcopally approved as a pilot scheme.
ii) From conviction. In a town centre multi-church parish in Kent, lay leadership in worship has been developed, not for expediency so much as from a conviction that public worship needs to bear witness to the whole people of God in its leadership as well as congregational participation. There is a team of 16 Readers (3 more in training), each one being attached to a local church and its minister. However, Readers are appointed to the parish, not the local church, and the monthly rota is worked out centrally.
In addition to Readers, the parish has introduced lay worship leaders authorized by the minister of the local church. These lead liturgical worship (or parts of it) and family services. At any one service leadership is shared by as many as six different lay ministers (Reader, Communion assistant, musician, etc.). Most who lead worship carry a diocesan licence, or the bishop's permission.
Teams and the local community. A few of the parishes visited offer encouraging evidence of effective outreach.
A City of Westminster parish (which was only recently a clergy dominated training parish for curates with a religious order and clergy house) is now developing lay ministry. One paid staff member is the Parish Almoner who makes pastoral contact with housing estates at one end of the parish occupied by old Londoners and new Commonwealth residents. Neither group is in touch with the parish church. A vision statement adopted by PCC in 1990 states: "A response to the love of God in which every member is inspired to share in building a community embodying the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ." PCC policy aims to develop lay ministry to this end through discovering and using the gifts of the congregation has to offer.
One parish church in the sample commanding a strategic site in the town centre has opened a Parish Centre (making use of a redundant south aisle) to operate an ecumenical ministry of Christian caring. It employs a full-time social counsellor (ex CAB chief) who is responsible for running three hostels for the homeless. Another staff member, a Pastoral Assistant, runs clubs for the disabled at the YMCA. The Parish Centre aims to provide community services (e.g. Mums & Toddlers and lunch clubs) - a means for those who use these services to sense the environment of church life and to be invited to join other activities going on. The vicar's view is, "The more the church can offer socially the more relevant the church becomes within the community."
A third example comes from an East Anglia city-centre church which has in the past twenty years grown out of all recognition resulting from the ministry of its former incumbent. In addition to two church plants, the parish has bought the old rectory - to become the Church Pastoral Centre used as a meeting place for groups in the community, for people under pressure - with referrals from Social Services, and a drop-in coffee bar. The PCC operates a budget of £20,000 per annum to finance those employed full-time in the centre (of which £5,000 is the church's contribution). There is a Community Worker, a Pastoral Carer, a Centre Leader, and a Project Worker. Two of these are full-time in the centre and one is employed by Social Services. The trustees include leaders of other city centre denominations (Baptist and Elim) though no finance comes from other churches. Here is a practical outworking of a policy of every member ministry; though the complaint is sometimes heard - the down side of using paid staff - "That's their work, not ours!"
The foregoing examples are evidence of the value of working in teams. The best incentive for drawing congregations down a new road is to see that it works!
2. TEAMWORK THEOLOGY AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
The essence of teamwork in a parochial context is the coming together of church leaders and members, voluntarily, to attempt to do together what could not be achieved separately. Yet what holds a team together and keeps it on course is a God-given vision: a common understanding of Biblical teaching on the Church - its nature and mission. Today we see a desire for churches to return to Biblical roots - to experience again the dynamic of a Spirit-filled church that seeks to follow the principles of body life taught in the New Testament church.
The survey, through limited time, could not include questions about theology. Therefore there are certain implied assumptions which need to be unpacked. I discern that it is from these that we shall shape our understanding of teamwork.
i) The Church as a body. We are very familiar with St Paul's teaching of the Church as a body (1 Cor. 12) where members are to be submitted to one another and members' gifts are to serve the whole. The goal is unity - "For in Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work". (Eph. 4. 16)
ii) The Church as a building. Paul shows how in Christ both Jew and gentile belong together because each shares a common foundation - the gospel of salvation and the consequent teaching on what is involved in being 'in Christ'. "In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And you, too, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit." (Eph. 2. 19-22)
iii) The model of the Trinity. Whereas teaching on the Trinity has often been presented as a credal formula, today we are being encouraged to rediscover the Trinity as fundamentally relational (see Robin Greenwood's book: "Transforming Priesthood"). The implications for ministry lead to a conclusion that teamwork within the Church is not just 'a good thing', but essential! To work together in voluntary yet covenanted partnership, sharing a common vision and committed to common goals, is to model our church life on God-in-Trinity.
iv) Christ the servant. The parish priest as an enabler embodies the assumption that though he is leader, he leads from behind, he gives way to others in order that they learn leadership - just as Jesus taught his disciples (e.g. at the footwashing and in the commissioning of the twelve). Christ the servant portrays an attitude of heart - expressed at its highest in Philippians 2. 5-11. Christian leadership implies giving way and giving up for the sake of others. Translated into parochial terms, the incumbent who has grasped this concept is only too happy to cultivate gifts in lay members and thereby see more ministry released for the building up of the body as an instrument of the gospel. He is a Barnabas, an encourager.
Implications for developing Team Strategy
Arising out of such a biblical understanding of ministry within the Church there is a growing awareness of what makes sense in developing strategy for teams.
Diocesan policy. Dioceses are waking up to the realisation that collaborative ministry is the way forward. Canon John Tiller, who now is in charge of lay training in Hereford Diocese, insists that it has to be more than a style. It must affect the structures or it is doomed to collapse. Each diocese, even if it does not initiate, must at least back up and encourage lay developments. For instance, by giving diocesan recognition through commissioning ministry teams it assures its support to their continuation when the incumbent changes!
He cites a good example of this in Lincoln Diocese, which has pioneered an authorising scheme for lay teams. A diocesan lay course is offered to explore local pastoral ministry. Parishes which enrol members may, on completing the five sessions, approach the Diocesan Local Ministry Officer and apply to set up a team. Once approved by the bishop the parish selects its team. Names are submitted in confidence, and in secret ballot PCC is asked to commend those it wishes for team members. The incumbent and the LMO consider the result, all in strictest confidence. Finally, the incumbent approaches those short-listed with these words, "The local church has named you to work in a local ministry team. Do you sense God's call?" Those who say 'yes' have their names published and the bishop comes to a commissioning service. But it is the whole congregation rather than the named team which is commissioned. The team is only the enabler.
Shared responsibility. The Biblical concept of teamwork presents the Church a challenge to learn anew how to think and perform. Clergy especially are challenged to come to terms with its implications: no longer can they be expected to work solo, responsible to no one but themselves. Teamwork has implications for clerical appointments: for assessing the suitability of an individual's personality type: for mixed teams of men and women, of stipendiary and non-stipendiary, of professional (paid) and amateur (out of love). As a result in-service training takes on a new significance. This would be a new ball-game - except that many lay members in our congregations are experienced in teamwork from their work environment. Here is a resource not to be lost.
A number of the parishes surveyed are learning to share responsibility guided by clergy who believe in it. One parish has developed strategy as a result of a three-day conference from which a vision statement was agreed. The goal was to rediscover parish church rather than merely to gather a congregation - to address issues of becoming a community rather than merely an interest group. The congregation is being freed to take on ministry within the community, and not to be trapped by time-consuming structures of the institution. It involves moving towards greater interdependence within the parish, helping the different communities to begin to relate together - discovering and using the gifts the congregation has to offer. As a result the PCC now makes appointments of lay staff after the vicar has discerned aptitude and gifts.
The vicar, meanwhile, is concerned to match gifts to needs, not just so that the life of the institution continues, but that individuals are encouraged to develop at their own pace. If necessary parish plans may be held in check so that the church progresses at the speed of the slowest rather than fastest members. He sees it important to lay himself open to members to be critical of him by encouraging feedback!
3. COMMUNICATING THE VISION
Working in teams for the enhancement of the Church's ministry is still for most parishes great in theory but slow off the ground in practice. Even in the high profile team ministries visited there is clearly a gap to be bridged between what the incumbent and the PCC aspire to, and what the average church member understands, let alone wants to be involved with. It is not always inflexible attitudes; often there is a communications failure between incumbents (along with support groups/PCCs) and the congregations.
For instance, the incumbent of a busy town centre church in Ipswich spoke of the difficulty of keeping members of the church informed of activities in the church pastoral centre planned by a pastoral team and executed by paid staff. The vision for this outreach is carried by a few, but there is little depth or cohesion within the congregation as a whole in supporting it. Because people don't know what's going on they have difficulty in owning the ministry.
A vicar of a council estate in Dartford, Kent, talked about one of the consequences his parish is facing through successful growth. He has introduced a vigorous programme of outreach with very good results; so much so that old-established members feel out of touch with what is going on. Some feel unsupported and marginalized. There is a lack of mature leaders able to nurture the converts. The congregation is struggling to come to terms with the inevitable changes and challenges brought about through the impact of new converts on the life of the church. It does not yet have a common understanding of its mission, or a common purpose for outreach.
Each of these stories highlights the need to communicate to every member the vision and goals that drive a church programme. As important as vision-building and planning is for a church to respond at all adequately to its mission in the local community, yet just as important is the need to carry the congregation along and to unite members in sharing the vision and supporting the programme actively.
In contrast is a positive note coming from a united benefice - a group of churches in Norfolk that has come to terms with - and now welcomes - the advantages of belonging to a group. Over the years a pattern has emerged that enables just two stipendiary clergy to serve seventeen churches, keeping all open and offering a Sunday service in one church of each of the pairs. Congregations have settled for Holy Communion twice a month in each pair. A team of Readers maintains the non-eucharistic services. Likewise, the 'group message' has been heard and accepted that worshippers from any of the churches in the group are welcome to attend services at any of the other churches. There is a freedom to belong to the wider body without feeling disloyal to one's own home congregation.
And a vicar in Bromley described how he encouraged his PCC to work at a mission statement until a satisfactory wording was achieved. He then called a meeting for the congregation to explain what lay behind the words and to encourage questions, opinions and reservations to be aired. The process of unpacking the vision statement had the effect of inviting the whole church to share in the process of discovering its vision for mission.
In this and other examples (not recorded) the vicar's role is key to successful communication of the vision and its implications. Good leadership is given when he is willing to be part of the discovery process, rather than drive his own conclusions forward to win the day. Part of the vision for mission is the Church's vision for itself- to realise its own potential to be God's vehicle for the gospel.
4. APPOINTMENT PROCEDURES
Teams, whatever form they take, need to be carefully constituted and authorized. This is done either through the diocesan bishop or locally through the incumbent and PCC.
Team Ministries, because they are authorized under the Bishop's Instrument, are regulated to conform to a commonly accepted pattern. The Team Rector will generally be beneficed to the living, though with a contract of a fixed period, e.g. seven years. Team Vicars are appointed under contract, though holding incumbent status, jointly by the Team Rector and the Bishop.
One Team Rector, in the light of an unhappy experience, has come to acknowledge that clergy appointments to Teams should be made with more than average care and attention. He offers the following criteria to be borne in mind:
• Team members must have the ability to accommodate views that differ. "Strongly held views - 'a matter of conscience' - make Teams a non-starter." At the same time certain fundamentals in common are essential, especially the will to make the Team work!
• There must be a pastoral and theological perspective for the Team to agree and work to.
• The geography of the parishes to be served by the Team needs to have some cohesive elements about it. Too large or too diverse an area will not work.
• The deanery needs to give any Team Ministry its positive support and backing.
Further sound advice on staff appointments is given by another Team Rector. He is adamant about the need for 'team players' only those prepared to listen to others. "When making an appointment how important to discern the candidate's role aptitude - for the Team to benefit from the right mix of personalities. Only one visionary, one reconciler and one administrator will survive in the bunch!"
Lay Teams. In the churches surveyed the appointing body for lay staff and team members (with the exception of Readers) is the PCC. Usually the incumbent will make a selection and put forward names, sometimes in conjunction with staff or a supporting leadership team.
In one parish the congregation were invited to 'make themselves available for selection' to the vicar as potential members of a leadership team. Often the bishop will be invited to confer his blessing on the team once appointed - in a ceremony, so as to give public recognition and status to them.
Most teams in the sample are made up of unpaid church members willing either to assist the incumbent in pastoral management and care, or to operate as ministry teams answerable to PCC. However, in some of the larger parishes PCCs are prepared to budget church funds for employing staff to work within the team. In consequence, a PCC may take on the role of both manager and employer: writing a job description and drawing up a contract, including suitable arrangements for appraisal.
5. LEADERSHIP AND TRAINING
The interviewing uncovered a range of leadership issues that need to be understood and valued if teams are to be a positive influence.
"The key to growth is through right relationships." To build this many of the teams in the survey, especially staff teams, meet daily for worship. All meet weekly, often for more than business. One meets each Monday for the whole morning followed by lunch together. A number value an Away Day, sometimes for 24 hours, as time set aside for theological study and reflection.
The emphasis of the weekly meeting varies. A common pattern will include not only time to consider the ongoing programme of the church, but equally that of each member of staff, and opportunity to raise personal concerns. So mutual support is engendered as a matter of course. Care in arranging weekly programmes and taking pains to address details is as much a part of building good relationships as spending time over a cup of coffee.
The vicar of a large training parish sees his first responsibility as getting alongside his staff and giving each one time (not forgetting his 16 Readers!). If the team is to work well, every member needs to feel valued and supported, so nothing can be more important for the leader than this.
Two Norfolk parishes visited each have an ordained woman on the staff. They spoke of the particular contribution women can bring to teams, especially where men are in the majority.
"It is an advantage to have women alongside men. Women don't feel threatened in the same way and are generally more people centred. Some men are task-oriented for survival."
"Women are more team-minded than men ... more aware of what's going on ... have a better overall picture. Men behave differently when women are present. They have a potential for greater honesty, admit to vulnerability and failure, and the value of mutual support."
Two final quotes from vicars: "Relationships are the important issue. Trust one another, be willing to try out new things, be adventurous, and be willing for lay members to say to you exactly what they think."
"Given the right line management, real delegation and good PR, individuals can take on huge responsibility, because this is confidence-building."
The incumbent's personality and approach to leadership is crucial if the team is to be motivated and well equipped. Of those interviewed some were clearly aware of their own strengths that contribute positively to developing teams. They saw themselves as enables: "The 'Barnabas model' - with ability to encourage, and 'hands on' feel for people's gifts."
"Know how to mobilise people well, identify gifts and nurture them, enjoy others' gifts, support and enable them."
"Working in teams enables me (as vicar) to develop my own particular ministry."
There were some singular perceptions of leadership expressed. One incumbent, who sees himself as an enabler, is content to encourage his PCC to struggle with discovering the way forward. "The vicar's job is not to give the vision but to be with them as the vision develops." A Team Rector with a very different style sees his leadership role in marked contrast. "The incumbent's role is always to give directive leadership. The PCC's role is to give honest answers back. The spiritual leader's role is to discern spiritual strength and to allow PCC the privilege of being consulted!"
One incumbent explained the system he has developed in his united benefice which he calls 'apprenticing'. The group once had four clergy and now operates with only one - himself - to service six centres of worship. After consultation with the bishop, and bound by a carefully controlled and worded agreement between them, the incumbent now oversees a training programme of locally authorized lay ministers, patterned on his own hands-on style. This is a pilot scheme, but its impact in the parish is such that it would be very difficult after eight years to put the clock back.
Apprenticeship follows a clearly ordered route: i) Accompany the vicar to observe, ii) take a share in the ministry, iii) take full part, and iv) take over fully. Initially in a public act the incumbent handed over his authority to 6 Lay Ministers and 12 Lay Pastoral Ministers, all of whom had undergone the apprenticeship training. Now he has authorized Lay Ministers to take over the training - a process that has enabled four waves of lay ministers to be trained! The practice has become fully accepted within the group. The incumbent's time is taken up in training, oversight and pastoral care of his teams, including regular appraisal.
One month for a study of this nature is short - too short to give adequate reflection from the data collected about discernible patterns of team ministry. In ending, let me make one obvious conclusion.
'For export' With only one exception the parishes visited are all good examples of teamwork. The clergy interviewed described models of ministry that are self-evidently successful - tailored to a particular parish, yet applicable for other situations. Much of what I saw is for export.
Here is theological incentive coupled with an impressive body of 'on the ground' experience in team ministry to encourage churches to begin and to persist - even if initially results are slow to come. Especially encouraging is the potential for a greater lay role. Team ministry of the sort described gives a body and wings to congregations at a time when, anyway in the public image, the Church is seen to be disabled. This is a means, and now is the time, to bring new opportunity and heart to many.
St James' is like an undertaker's, silent and clean and full of big grey tombs. A lychgate leads to neat undaisied grass broken by headstones.
Most of the time you manage to ignore it, but you know that it's there when it's needed.
St John's is like a village shop, full of incessant private conversations: What he said, then what she said, and so on. Patiently fuming, the stranger waits for a pause in the endless flow, then asks what sort of cheese, hoping for farmhouse, but it's plastic Cheddar, or else Kraft slices. There's no call for the fancy stuff round here.
St Mary's is a market stall: "Pick where you like, mum, rock 'ard salerd tomaters, any one you like!", "50 a pound yer best bananas, just to clear them up", and "Get yer iced cakes here, mum" Noisy and brash and cheerful. The High Street wouldn't be the same without it. Shame that I don't in fact want what they're selling. The loss is mine, I'm sure.
St Peter's is my kind of church, a well-stocked newsagent, with sub-post office at the back. The weekly liturgy of pensions and postage-stamps runs smoothly, never interfering with the browsers, lottery queues, folk dropping in for chocolate.
Occasional offices are celebrated: birthdays and weddings, good luck, get well soon.
I must admit, I mostly shop at Sainsbury's, but St Peter's is my kind of church.
Note: The names of the churches were invented for the purpose of the poem. They are not intended as portraits of real churches.
By Desmond Tutu (£15.99, Doubleday) reviewed by David Jennings
Over 30 years ago in C Corridor at King's College, London, the home of the Faculty of Theology, a small African priest came hurtling along surrounded by fellow students, all roaring with laughter. Little did any of us know that that priest would ultimately play such a key role in the history of South Africa.
The Rainbow People of God is a collection of letters, sermons and addresses by Desmond Tutu between 1974, when he became the first African Dean of Johannesburg, and 1994 when, as Archbishop of Cape Town, he was able to vote in a general election for the first time in his life.
What are the themes which run through this book? There is his tremendous courage in seeking to tackle the government which upheld apartheid, not giving an inch but wanting to find a way in which those who had got themselves into an impossible corner might find a dignified way out which would not involved a bloody revolution. The same is true at the funeral of Steve Biko and the funeral of Chris Hani. There is his passion for justice, peace and reconciliation for all the people of South Africa. Without justice there could be no peace, but his constant pleading to end all forms of violence in highly charged situations is immensely moving, as is his desire repeated time and time again for reconciliation.
There is his humour which comes through time and again to defuse potentially disastrous situations.
"Now, just tell me what does the colour of a person's skin tell you about that person? Does the person's skin tell you whether that person is intelligent? Does it tell you that the person is loving? Supposing we said that the thing that determines privilege is the size of your nose; now I have a large nose, supposing we said that people with large noses are privileged people. And they say now 'ah, you want to go to a toilet. That toilet is only reserved for large noses.' If you have a small nose you are going to be in trouble. That university you enter only if you have a large nose like mine. If you have a small nose then you must apply to the Minister of Small Nose Affairs for permission to attend the university for large noses."
And through it all is his spirituality. Here is a man who rises early to spend hours in prayer, here is a man who has spent hours in meditation and study of the scriptures, who seeks to live the gospel of freedom and forgiveness. There is so much that we can learn about the Church serving the Kingdom by reflection on this book.
Here is an edited version of a parish magazine article, in which Mark Pudge suggests some pointers in re-ordering a church building.
I was always taught that the Church (i.e. the community of Christians) is itself a sacrament, a sign of God's presence in the world, and our churches (i.e. the buildings) are how we express this in bricks and mortar. It follows from this that before we can begin to talk about the design or arrangement of a church building we need to think very carefully about what we believe about the nature of God, what it means for us to be the Church, and what we, the Church, need to be able to do in the church building.
If a church building is in some sense "God's house" then it communicates something about the nature of God, just as our homes communicate something about the sort of people we are. Some churches proclaim that God is wonderful, colourful and magnificent; others that he is cold, spooky and rather frightening. In past years Christians thought and spoke about God very much in terms of Him being almighty, remote and distant from us. Hence, churches were long and thin, with the altar placed against the east wall. Matins and Evensong were more prominent than they are today, so the antiphonal seating of the choir (i.e. two groups facing each other across the chancel) was important. When the Eucharist was celebrated, it took place in the sanctuary, a long way away from the congregation, with the priest turning his back on the people to address God. It was no accident that in order to receive Holy Communion the congregation had to move a long way to the altar rail, perhaps stressing the perceived gap between where they were and where God was. Since that time, however, the Church has come to understand much more about the closeness, the immediacy of God. We have also rediscovered the centrality of the Eucharist in our weekly worship. We come together as the Lord's family to worship our Father, we gather round his table for the eucharistic meal, and are then sent out to encounter and serve God in our everyday lives.
In other words, we have come to understand that the church building is not only God's house, but also the home of the Church, the body of Christ, the family of God. The form of any building, any house, depends on the functions it is to serve. We ought to be able to look at any parish church and from it tell something about the nature of the Church, the parish community which worships there. Our church building(s), inherited from past generations, are both great assets and great responsibilities. We should always strive to be good stewards, using them effectively and planning ahead for the future life of the parish.
So what does all of this mean in practice? Our thoughts about the church building being both the house of God and also the home of the Church can focus on the three ways in which we believe Christ to be present with his people.
Firstly, we believe that Jesus is present in us, the people, as we gather to worship (Matt 18: 20 "Where two or three gather in my name I will be with them"). We are the body of Christ, one body with many members and functions. Our home, the church building, must therefore allow us all to gather together as one body; the young and the old, the regular worshipper and the first-time visitor, those who cannot walk far or who use a wheelchair, those who may need to use a loo during the service, those who find it difficult to hear or see, those who find it difficult to concentrate and therefore need a play area with toys and books to amuse them. There should be room to gather socially for coffee after the service, and space for noticeboards, displays, and perhaps a small bookstall.
Our home must be designed in a way which allows the whole body to assemble, and everyone to feel part of the gathering. The medieval design in which the clergy and choir were separated from the congregation by a screen or rail is no longer appropriate. The musicians, choir, readers, servers and lay Eucharistic ministers are part of the assembly, and need to be positioned appropriately. Similarly, the priest needs to be seen as both part of the assembly and also as the one who convokes it, presides over it, and leads it in prayer and worship.
As well as the main Sunday service, we must also remember that the Church gathers at other times and in other ways; to receive new members in baptism, to celebrate weddings and funerals, to pray the daily office and to celebrate the Eucharist on weekdays. These different gatherings, and the varying numbers which attend, make different demands on the space and the furniture.
Secondly, we believe that Christ the living Word is present in his word, the good news, the gospel, as it is read and preached among us. We need a prominent place from which to proclaim the word. Perhaps we need to think about the size and position of the lectern which holds the parish bible. Above all, we need to think seriously about acoustics and lighting. It is very difficult to participate in the sharing of the word if you cannot hear the readings or the sermon. It is easy to be distracted if the lighting is inappropriately bright or dim, or if it draws attention to an unused part of the building while the "action" takes place elsewhere.
Thirdly, and perhaps most powerfully of all, we believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist, the bread and wine broken and shared to be his body and his blood for his people. We hear Christ's personal invitation, his individual call to each one of us to follow him, and we come to the Eucharist, calling to mind his passion, death and resurrection and offering ourselves afresh to him and to one another.
We need to have a sense of the whole family of God gathered around his table for the family meal, an expression of our unity as members of the body of Christ. The priest, also a member of the family, "takes the chair" to lead us in our Eucharistic offering, and so must be able to be clearly seen and heard. There needs to be easy access to the altar so that people can bring up the gifts of bread and wine, and come forward without difficulty to receive communion or a blessing. There must be sufficient space for the servers and Eucharistic ministers to fulfil their roles, and if necessary sit down, without the whole area becoming cramped or cluttered. There needs to be a certain flexibility to cope with special services such as when the Bishop visits, confirmations, parade services, and seasonal changes such as the placing of the crib at Christmas and the paschal candle at Easter. Above all, there needs to be a beauty and dignity about the whole arrangement, to help carry our hearts and minds to God in prayer.
It is all of us, the living stones which form the Church, who should mould and shape our building, rather than allowing our building to shape and limit us. We should not start with detailed questions about which piece of furniture goes where, but rather ask the important questions: Do we, the Church, the body of Christ, the living stones, ourselves constitute a magnificent temple which speaks of God to the world in which we live? Does our church building enable us to do this effectively? Is it arranged appropriately for our modem styles of worship? Does it help us in our mission? Above all, how can we make it not only God's house but also a home for the Church, in which we can meet Christ in one another as we assemble together, in his word, and in the sacrament of his body and blood?
A Study of the Church at Ephesus
by Peter Sandberg
An opportunity not to be missed if you are ever in the Eastern Aegean, or on the Western Turkish coast, is a visit to the ancient city of Ephesus.
So often, ancient cities are buried under layers of more recent building; in Ephesus, because of the retreat of the sea from the harbour, the city was abandoned, and not rebuilt. What has fallen down over the centuries is now being put together again by archaeologists so that it is possible, with a little imagination, amply stimulated by your surroundings, to believe that you are a citizen of a great and beautiful city of the second century A.D.
With just a little more imagination, you can get some sense of what Paul would have experienced, as he settled for a prolonged stay in the city. The great theatre that figures so prominently in the events at the end of Paul's stay, was in Paul's time under construction. The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the world that attracted people from all over the empire. And alongside the culture represented by the library and lecture hall, the council chamber and theatre, the markets, the baths and the gymnasia, were the brothel, the temples to discredited gods, the superstition attached to 'Ephesian letters' (documents warranted to cure all kinds of ills), and the rising tide of worship of the emperor, designed to hold together all the varied nations who had come under the power of Rome. And although Ephesus was a free city with its own Council and officials, its way of life rested, as was the case with all Greek and Roman civilisation, on the menial work being carried out by slaves.
This was the city to which Paul gave more time than any other in his work of mission. It is worth looking at the characteristics of the city, of the activity of Paul and other Christian leaders there, and all that we read about it in the New Testament, in order to understand the critical elements in Paul's strategy; for the Church at Ephesus is to be seen undoubtedly as an effective church in a city where anything goes. This, I believe, is its relevance to us.
I am aware of the disputes among scholars as to the authenticity of much of the material which relates to Ephesus. I hope we can accept that Luke's account in Acts has a basis in fact,
• that the letter to the Ephesians at the very least is related to the life of the churches of Asia Minor which surrounded Ephesus,
• that the letters to Timothy were about leadership in the church in that area, and
• that the letters to the churches in Revelation have to do with both the life of the churches there, and the life of the cities in which they were set.1
I would contend that an examination of these parts of the New Testament, taking them at face value in relation to the strategy for mission that emerges from them, adds strength to the arguments of those who claim that Ephesians and Timothy are genuine letters from Paul, and also that the letters to Timothy are more evidently to do with the situation at Ephesus than the letter (addressed in some versions) to the Ephesians, which may well have been a circular letter to churches of the area.
My purpose is not to argue these matters, however, but to set out an idea of what Paul aimed to achieve in Ephesus, and how the life of the church there developed as a consequence. I hope it may then be possible to draw some conclusions about strategy for churches today.
How the Church started in Ephesus
• In Acts 18. 24-28 we read first of all about gifted individuals; Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos. What were the qualities in them that Paul valued? Apollos evinced knowledge of scripture, correct teaching about Jesus, eloquence, enthusiasm; Priscilla and Aquila showed an ability to explain "more correctly" what Apollos had already partially grasped.
All three quickly began to exercise the particular gifts they had been endowed with, for the good of others. Paul was able to entrust the work in Ephesus to Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos developed to be able to be a great help in Corinth, even though his name was later to be used as one of those to whom a particular faction in the Church there looked, presumably the charismatic wing.
• Then Paul found disciples of John in Ephesus (Acts 19. 1-7).
Like Apollos they knew only of the baptism of John, and their knowledge of Jesus did not extend to knowing anything of the coming of the Holy Spirit. So the first group who received baptism in Ephesus were those who already had some elementary knowledge about Jesus. In Acts 19. 8-10 Paul moves on to other groups who have further to travel, both in knowledge and attitudes, before they can accept his message. These include
• Jews and interested Gentiles. What was Paul's means of approach to these people? For the Jews he followed his usual practice of attending the synagogue for as long as he was welcome there! On this occasion his welcome lasted for three months.
He then used the opposition which arose as an opportunity to move to neutral ground, the lecture hall of Tyrannus, where Gentiles could come also.
• The next group Paul had to contend with were the workers of miracles and magic (Acts 19. 11-20).
How could you distinguish between the power of Jesus and the power of evil? The power of the Lord Jesus working through Paul brought peace and healing as opposed to the violence and fear on which the miracle workers and sellers of magic 'Ephesian letters' depended.
• In addition to all these we find "official" religion and business interests in the account of the riot in Acts 19. 21-40. Who were Paul's enemies, and who were his friends on that occasion? His enemies were principally Demetrius and the silver workers whose trade suffered as they feared there would be less demand for pilgrims' souvenirs of the Temple if Paul's God was favoured over Artemis. The mob they stirred up were really the only other Gentiles who opposed Paul. Among his friends, remarkably, were the "provincial authorities" or "Asiarchs", who had a responsibility in connection with the cult of "Rome and the Emperor", and also for the organisation of the Pan-Hellenic Games held in Ephesus. The Town Clerk was strictly neutral, but probably saved Paul's life.
All of this indicates that Paul had done good groundwork in his relations with those in authority. They did not wish him any harm.
• a strategy for sound teaching. In 2 Timothy 3. 14-16 we find this passage: "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."
1 Timothy contains three passages directed against false teachers. (1. 3,4; 4. 1-5; 6. 3-10), and the injunctions to Timothy encourage him in his own life, and through the personal qualities of those he appoints to allow nothing to detract from the message of the gospel. (1 Tim. 1. 5; 3. 2-13)
Ephesus was a place where there was a ready acceptance of new ideas; it is vital that the facts of the Christian faith are accurately passed on, but what would keep people from moving on from Christianity to something else? Paul saw the vital need for a moral impact in a city where morality was not typical of the beliefs on offer. The letter to the Ephesians speaks of freedom for those who are enslaved, of God's grace for those dead in sin to bring new life through faith, and of love and unity in Christ. Then from 4. 17 it speaks of how all these factors will determine Christian behaviour and attitudes, including the relationships of husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. You could not accept this teaching without accepting a challenge to your lifestyle.
"This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord." (Acts 19. 10) By staying in Ephesus Paul could be sure that talk of Jesus would travel along the trade routes. The context of the lecture hall was right - a place where people were glad to gather during their leisure time, and where discussion was welcome; then there were people whose lives would take them to where other churches could develop, and Paul would write to them so that they had the apostolic witness in writing to be sure of the essentials of their faith, as well as encouragement to grow in it. The appointment of elders and other ministers, and the work of colleagues like Timothy would provide for growth in the church in the way prescribed in 2 Tim. 2. 2: "Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also."
Ephesians 4. 1-16 is a classic passage on the nature of the church. It begins with a plea "to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." The city of Ephesus provided a wide range of encouragement for care of the body - in the gym; development of the mind - in the library and lecture hall; and social skills in all the meeting places of the city, as well as opportunities of commerce with the hinterland. Many would have considered that a worthy life. But the spiritual dimension was fragmented. The many breasted Ephesian Artemis was more of an earth mother than the chaste huntress of Greek mythology. The Asiarchs had to encourage the cult of the Roman Emperor, and the many temples of the city offered an attachment to many gods and heroes; in addition there were the practitioners of the magic arts. Paul lays emphasis once again on the moral quality of the faith "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."
He then asks his readers to keep the unity of the Spirit, and underlines that it stems from the unity of God himself: "There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." It is the building of the spiritual body he is concerned with rather than physical fitness or beauty of architecture. The striking thing is that these material achievements of the people of that area could act as parables of the spiritual harmony and effective working which was Paul's aim under God for the Church, while the religion of the city had nothing to offer, and indeed its social life must have been very competitive and divisive.
When Paul speaks of spiritual gifts to enhance the life of the church, his readers would be aware of expensive gifts given to glorify the city (and the givers) in celebration of triumphs, for he adapts the language of the Psalms to draw a parallel with a Roman triumphal ceremony to celebrate the victory of a general over the enemies of Rome in which gifts were given to the populace, (cf. Ps. 68. 18). His point is that Christ is the giver of the gifts which celebrate his victory.
These gifts, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, are gifts to be used, not ornamental. They include all God's people in service. They build up the Body of Christ.
The great prayer of Ephesians 3. 14-19 expresses beautifully the boundless extent of the love of God in Christ, the desire for him to dwell in us, and for us to be rooted and grounded in love. There is a stress in Ch. 5 on the faithfulness and self-sacrifice required of a husband in marriage, in contrast with the loose morality of the general population of Ephesus.
A strong love was evident in the account of Paul's farewell to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20. 17-38
• to keep the strategy on course 1 Timothy 3. 15
"If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth."
Paul knows that he will not always be there, or indeed able to write to the Church in Ephesus. Timothy has responsibility not only to deal with matters himself, but also to appoint others to oversee the church and serve in it. While local leadership was important. Paul also reserved a clear place for those who, like himself and his fellow-workers, travelled between churches to bring inspiration, a more objective view, and to remind them of their inter-dependence.
An emphasis on relationships:'
• to keep love alive Ephesians 2. 19
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household." Jews and gentiles were to work together in a partnership of love and mutual respect.
Ephesians 5. 21 begins a passage dealing with relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, and master and slave, all based on mutual submission. The relationships were taken from the experience of Paul's readers, not criticised, but accepted as how things were at the time, and then Paul develops his theme of how to use those relationships in a way which will benefit them in their daily lives, at this point contrasting with the abuses which no doubt occurred in many households, but also reflecting what was already good in many cases. He also uses the relationships to and the lordship of God over the lives of all Christians, whether in human terms they were masters or servants (6. 9). Revelation 2. 4 is an interesting verse in the letter of the risen Christ addressed to the Church in Ephesus. "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love." Whether the love they lacked was for God or their fellow-men is left open.
No doubt if the distinction had been of great importance it would have been made clear. We must bear in mind 1 John 4. 20: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar." It may be that the praise for their steadfastness also contains an element of criticism for intolerance as in v.2: "I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." It is clear that their hatred of the Nicolaitians is approved, but could it be that their dour defence of the truth against heretics has made them also intolerant of anyone who shows the slightest difference of viewpoint from their own?
Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus (A.D. 190) and Irenaeus both speak of the Apostle John at Ephesus, the latter mentioning that he confuted the heretics, refusing to remain under the same roof as Cerinthus, the enemy of truth.
On the other hand there is the story told by Jerome2 of St John being brought in his old age to the church meeting in Ephesus, and giving them the simple message, "Little children, love one another." These accounts shed light on the tension shown in Revelation 2 between standing firm for the truth, and loving one another.
2 Timothy 2. 20-26 sets out how good relationships can be nurtured at the same time as holding firmly to the truth. It begins: "In a large house there are dishes and bowls of all kinds: some are made of silver and gold, others of wood and clay; some are for special occasions, others for ordinary use. If anyone makes himself or herself clean from all those evil things, they will be used for special purposes, because they are dedicated and useful to their Master, ready to be used for every good deed." The key is in the recognition of differences, but the stress on holiness for all.
The passage ends:-
"As the Lord's servant, you must not quarrel. You must be kind towards all, a good and patient teacher, gentle as you correct your opponents, for it may be that God will give them the opportunity to repent and come to know the truth."
We are fortunate to have so much information both in the New Testament and outside it about the growth of the Church in Ephesus. It seems very much to have been a testament to Paul's vision. A map of the situation of churches in the centuries that followed shows a great cluster of churches in the area, whereas, for instance, in the case of Corinth, there are relatively few3. Everything points to the effectiveness of his strategy, organisation and emphases in producing an outward looking church which prolonged its life beyond the first generation, and produced a continuity of leadership.
Christian people increasingly made a contribution to community life, as in the case of the Christian lady, Scholasticia, who in the 4th century had the public baths (which from that time bore her name) reconstructed.
There is also the legend attached to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers at Ephesus. This tells of seven young Christians in the reign of the emperor Decius (c.250 A.D.) who refused to offer the required sacrifices at the emperor's shrine, and escaped to hide in the cave. It is said that they fell asleep, and awoke 200 years later. They were amazed when they went out for food to find that the city had changed, along with the emperor's rule, and they were now part of a Christian city. It is intriguing to wonder if the Christians of the first three centuries believed such a change could ever occur. What is certain is that they kept the faith alive in a city which shared neither their beliefs nor their standards.
It is important for us to identify the very solid qualities of Paul's approach at Ephesus, and not to form a picture of the sort of church we might take as a model from the chaos and partisanship of the church of Corinth, or even the poverty stricken and persecuted church in Jerusalem.
Above all, while we notice the concern of Paul and others that the truth of the gospel should be passed on unalloyed by false teaching, we see also their readiness to let the culture of secular and pagan Ephesus have its effect on the way in which they taught and preached. So the church of today will not be a slavish copy of one that existed centuries ago. Rather it will relate its life and activity to the areas of contemporary society which desperately need the gospel, and it will make use of the means to this end which exist within the life of its community, however distant the community seems from the Kingdom of God.