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Every person and every institution is on a life journey in search of something better or greater than that which currently exists.  They are seeking transformation.  Spiritually, striving for transformation is really the process of attempting to live the Great Commandment ever more fully.  Conversely, by living the commandment more abundantly, one opens oneself to the realization of where further transformation is needed.  Thus, renewal incorporates inward and outward processes, with each informing the other.  A feedback cycle continues the transforming process in an ever-expanding spiral.  Each cycle goes deeper into the self and wider into the community.  Each experience makes God more tangible and shows again who is included in one’s definition of neighbor.

The process is best understood, however, as a pilgrimage rather than a journey.  The Common Fire authors speak of the difference between a journey and a pilgrimage:

In contrast to a journey, which could be unending, a pilgrimage requires both venturing and returning.  A good pilgrimage leads to discovery and transformation, but it isn’t complete until you have returned home and told your story.  ‘Home’ is where someone hears and cares about that story, helps you sort out what you have seen, heard and done – whether it be a triumph, a defeat, a high adventure, or a wash.[1] 

The church should be the faith community’s “‘home base’ for this re-composing of self and world.”[2] 

Similarly, Howard E. Friend Jr. speaks of inward journeying, outward journeying and being in community.  His inward journeying steps include “reflection on Scripture, prayer, silence and stillness, spiritual reading, journaling, and so forth…People with busy lives must set aside and protect such time.”  As for outward journeying Friend states, “all are called to witness to and embody the Christian message in the world.  We believe each person is uniquely called and gifted for a particular ministry.”  Finally, Friend says “only with the nurturing of community are we free to be open and vulnerable to the Word of God and its challenge.”[3]  His process mirrors the pilgrimage metaphor of Common Fire – discovery, transformation and returning to share and explore the experiences with the community.

Friend also explains the ‘reverse mission principle’ as the transforming effects mission work can have on the people doing the mission.  One such parishioner commented after a missionary trip to Mexico, “I went to teach them, help them, serve them, and love them, and I suppose I did, but not nearly as deeply as they taught, helped, served, and loved me.”[4]  The church can experience this same effect by coordinating its inner work and outer work.  Alternating theological reflection with practical work in the local church, broader Church, denomination, and external community is integral to this process.    As has always been the case, theology and praxis inform and inspire one another.  This is a key that is essential in any serious work to make meaning, grow faith or build character.

Essentially, the class followed the process of a pilgrimage in its efforts to come to terms with diverse notions of church and church growth.  What began with narrow, somewhat egocentric, conversations and definitions eventually developed, through numerous cycles, into considerably broader and more altruistic ideas.  Each stage of the process included individual reflection, outward exploration and communal discussion of the resulting ideas and, occasionally, dilemmas.  Trust developed in the group’s willingness to share concepts and explore theories, as well as to constructively critique that that was presented.  Within this pilgrimage, the members of the group were themselves challenged and transformed; preconceptions tested and changed.

What the group would like to suggest for a church pilgrimage is not a formulaic process for growth, but rather a possible process for inviting transformation.  Within the method followed, an appreciation developed for the potential expressed in Ephesians 3: 10, where it is written: “… so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known …”   The “rich variety” became obvious as each member learned the value of other theological concepts and practical approaches to being church.     

The image of a growing spiral is especially useful.  The group began discussions solely within its membership, but at each stage incorporated conversations and observations from more and more sources.  The first stage of the process was an inward journey to understand one’s own faith and concepts of church.  The outward journey began with various readings both shared and individually selected. The ‘return’ came in the form of group discussion and critique of the most basic concepts. With each stage the complexity and diversity of ideas, methods or tools, and conclusions continued to grow.

In similar fashion, the process suggested needs to be followed first by a small group of interested participants and then, in various cycles, by larger and larger numbers of the congregation or denominational group. The process suggested also begins with relatively simple exercises that lead in cyclical fashion to more complex surveys and discussions.

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[1] Ibid, 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Howard E. Friend Jr., Recovering the Sacred Center (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1998), 187-188

[4] Ibid, 192

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

Readers since Jan 2009

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