Slowing church down

Randell Neudorf |
<p>Through July and August, The Commons, a Mennonite Church Eastern Canada congregation in Hamilton, Ont., has been meeting in Beasley Park on Sundays at 6 p.m.</p>

The Commons is starting to slow down. No, we are not retiring as a church, we just think it is time for a little different pace. The plan is to switch things up in the fall for our Sunday worship gatherings. We plan to use our gathering time to dig a little deeper into liturgy, spiritual practices, hospitality, old traditions and new creative expressions. To do this we are going to have to slow down a little.

Think of it as “slow church.” Instead of just getting a quick taste of something novel (like a one-off liturgical reading or a cool creative segment), we will slow down and savour what we are learning for a month or so. We want to turn exposure into long-lived practice. The hypothesis is that the repetition of a segment or practice would help us to enter into a deeper form of spiritual participation, and with practice become more aware of what the Holy Spirit might be whispering to us as a community as we seek to get to know God better.

Previously at The Commons we have worked to keep trying something new, to not get stuck in a rut. Gatherings could take many shapes and forms from week to week—a panel discussion, tag team preaching, a lament, a meal, a party. Even communion might look different from month to month for us. This creative drive will still be true for us, but the pace of trying something new will slow down.

Imagine taking time to practice the same breath prayer for four weeks. The chance that those same words might come to you outside of a gathering are much higher than if you just recited those same words for just one week, as a novel experience. With the slow church model we hope to not just expose our community to interesting spiritual tools, but to actually embed practical spiritual tools into our collective spiritual journey.

Our gathering planning team has begun to brainstorm about which portions of our gatherings and learning opportunities need to be slowed down. Even something as seemingly simple as being responsible for coffee and tea can morph into a spiritual practice if we slow down and become intentional about it. Are we welcoming the other? The newcomer? Has the coffee been brewed to perfection out of love for our neighbour? Is there room to pray for the people you serve? Can fair trade coffee, loose leaf tea, and ice water become a form of communion?

As we slow down we also want to increase the sharing of responsibilities. We believe collaboration and repetition will be a formative experience for both the community and individuals stepping into leadership. Take for example, if we decided that we were going to engage in a Lectio Divina reading for a month. We would pair up two people to craft, prepare and lead the experience each week as mini team.

The benefits of this are:

  • Repetition reduces preparation time. The work that used to go into a single gathering segment will now be spread over an entire month.
  • You get a chance for a redo. If you put time and energy into a creative reflection and then were able to improve upon it for four weeks in a row, you might be surprised where that could lead.
  • Diversity reflects God better. As more of us become involved we reflect a richer fuller image of the Triune God.
  • Collaboration can promote deep friendship leading to stronger community ties and  compassionate support. As people take the time to chat over coffee about their project, they will inevitably begin to chat about the rest of their lives, the successes, the struggles.
  • Our communal spiritual journey is strengthened. Not every person can be at Sunday gathering every week and the repetition of learning will allow more people to metaphorically “turn to the same page.”
  • Everyone is needed but no one is indispensable. People will be able to commit to crafting something for four weeks in a row because they are able to do it together as a pair. If one person is sick or away, the other person on the team can jump right in.

It takes a lot of repetition to remember anything worth learning. This true for learning how to lead something specific and for digging deeper into what God is trying to teach us.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this slower journey takes us. Just like walking a labyrinth, meaning is not always found in the destination but rather in the process and the commitment of repeating the steps.

This article is taken from Randell Neudorf’s blog. To follow what is happening go to www.hamiltoncommons.ca/slowing-church-down/.

See also:

Fast food church isn’t good for our health

Slow church movement fights the ‘McDonaldization’ of church 

Through July and August, The Commons, a Mennonite Church Eastern Canada congregation in Hamilton, Ont., has been meeting in Beasley Park on Sundays at 6 p.m.

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