Longings in the church today
‘I long for everyone to be able to use the gifts that God has given them, unhindered by prejudice, judgement or stereotype.’
What do you long for? Peace, unity, acceptance, something wild, family, faith not religion, united communities, honesty and or real relationships. These are just some of the things that a congregation recently recorded as being their longings for the Church when asked in a creative context to record what they would ‘ditch’, ‘treasure/keep’ and ‘long for’ when talking about Church.
In life it is so easy to be critical of things. However actually taking time to reflect on what would we actually treasure and long for, alongside perhaps those things that are not so important is a good way of really exploring our negative and positive attitude. Importantly, it can help us to tease out what is really important to us personally and as a community.
I think that we should not be afraid to have these open discussions as part of how we can make experiences of church more inclusive and welcoming. These longings can then form part of our intercessions.
Let’s unpick this a little further. Here is one of the longings. ‘For ordinary (lay) people to be valued. Gifts and abilities enabled within the church...’
This desire and longing struck a real chord with me. How are we as a church exploring, encouraging and more importantly actually retaining the lay if they feel that they feel perhaps that are not valued? How can the church support, nurture and encourage the laity today in an inclusive way that values all, rejecting gender stereotyping? How can we value everyone however small their contribution might be and communicate that?
How can we capture that desire for many to get involved but who feel that the door is closed as it appears to be a club they don’t fit into. They might have small children, they might not have children, they might be shy, they might work full time, and they might perceive that you have to be retired and available during the day.
Remembering that, they might feel that they have nothing to offer in terms of gifts because they perceive others as having better gifts than themselves or having more time to give.
As a teacher I see my role in school as helping children find the hidden treasure in terms of their gifts and passions. Some take longer than others and some need help in believing and valuing their gifts. Surely this is what the leaders in the church must do as well. We see this modelled by Jesus when he used the gifts that those presented to him, but he also talent spotted in others too.
Church is of the people, liturgy means of the people not of the institution. Early Christians were excited about making a difference and took risks, so should we.
What can we do?
We as a church must find safe spaces to listen to our laity and find opportunities to share experiences. We as a church must learn from our mistakes and see learning as lifelong. We as a church must be open to change, however this does not mean ditching everything but taking what we treasure with us along with our longings. We must find ways to audit the skills of those in our congregations sensitively.We must look to reject gender stereotyping. We must value everyone whatever they can offer, however small (even a smile). We must be inclusive, not exclusive.
People naturally want to belong and want to feel valued. Taking time to thank people for the contribution that they make however small, costs nothing and is treasure itself to the person that receives it.
WATCH is holding a Women’s Lay Day in London on 14 May where many of these issues will be explored. Please go to the website for further information. Another day will be held in Exeter in the autumn.
Michèle Kitto is a Committee Member of WATCH (Women
and The Church)