Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rethink Church

by guest-blogger, Reverend Debra McKnight.

In my denomination, The United Methodist Church, the phrase, “rethink church” has been branded on everything from t-shirts and hats to Conferences and conversations. But if we are honest, when it comes right down to it, rethinking anything is easer to put on thousands of sweatshop-free t-shirts than it is to actually do. Change and the fear of loss that comes with it invites us to hold on tight, and if we are not careful, we can love something (even our faith community) to death.

If you will allow me to embellish on a church growth legend, imagine a consultant working with an aging congregation. He found they were brave enough to recognize they were missing out on the diversity of voices from other generations but not brave enough to make change.

Frustrated he asked, “How many of you love your Grandchildren?” Hands shot up!

“How many of you,” he continued, “love your grandchildren so much you would give them money if you new it made a difference in their wellbeing?” Hands waved for attention and ladies started pulling photo books from their handbags to show off beautiful babies.

“How many of you would give even your own life for your grandchildren?” Hands stood at attention with the intensity one might expect of navy seals being briefed for a mission.

Then he asked, “Now how many of you would be open to adding new music in worship if it meant, your grandchildren would feel at home and find space for their spiritual exploration?” The forest of hands started to shrink.

Change is never simple for a faith community. I think in part because it challenges us to the core of who we are, and we take it as criticism rather than recognition that evolution is a part of life. It is seeded all around us, healthy elements of creation evolve; they find new ways to give life into the world, or they struggle to exist in changing climates.

At First United Methodist Church Omaha we are exploring church in a new way. This is not because we are dying, but because we are growing. It is an adventure to see how the space shapes and reshapes our experience. It is born out of the notion that evolution nudges us to change the DNA of our space and structures. So with care and courage, we have opened the Urban Abbey. An Abbey, originally a French Monastery, is a space for covenant relationship, for books, for food, for prayer and for wrestling with questions. We are exploring what this new space, that is part non-profit coffee shop and part bookstore does to shape community. I dream that it is a living sanctuary, active all week long, as refuge to folks who need space to study, reflect and worship, as safe space for folks brave enough to wrestle with questions and as creative space to inspire us to love the diversity of who we are. I dream that neighbors and friends will help us explore what that means to be an Urban Abbey.

Debra McKnight serves as associate pastor at First United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, which invited her to love liturgy, explore diverse theological perspectives, and experiment with preaching in a rigorous academic community. While Dallas, Texas boasts fine winter weather, she is glad to be home in the great state Nebraska and grateful to be serving at First United Methodist Church Omaha. She owns a clergy collar for two occasions, parades and protests. Her work focuses on social justice, liturgics and young adult community building. While in Omaha she has started a Pub church, called Wesley Pub, though she doesn’t drink beer and now a coffee shop, called Urban Abbey, though she prefers tea. Most of all, she is grateful!

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