Being forced to stop, to change, to adapt. There’s something about that which has led me to re-examine some of the very fundamentals of my daily habits and rhythms. Not being able to gather together physically as a church is forcing us to think again about why we do what we do, what we want to keep in this season and how we might make that happen.
Our church gatherings at City Life Church don’t look all that much like “normal” church services. In fact, sometimes they don’t look all that much like “church” at all. Most of the time there are no robes, there’s no alter. There’s rarely imagery of Jesus or a cross, there’s usually no singing, no stained glass, no collection plates to pass around. There’s often no bible, no communion bread and wine. But gathering together as a whole church is an important part of our life, rhythm and practice.
Why We Gather
Gathering as a church is good. It is very good and an important part of church life. At the same time, our gatherings do not define us. Our Sunday gatherings are not the most important thing we do, they are not the most prominent feature of who we are, they are not what we are about.
But we do gather. And believe that it is good to gather together.
Of the top of my head, here's a quick list of some of the reasons why I think it's important for us to gather together:
- To connect
- To see friends
- To be known
- To eat together
- To exercise a spiritual practice
- To learn from each other
- To worship together
- To be encouraged
- To encourage each other
- To be a part of something bigger
- To share our hopes and dreams with each other
- To listen to people
- To follow each other
- To share our thoughts and our ideas
- To belong
- To pray
- To have fun
- To share ourselves
- To help and support each other
- To share an experience together
This isn’t an exhaustive list, at all - I’m sure everyone will have their own lists. But that is some of mine.
We normally use Sunday gatherings as a structure and a context to do some of those things. Doing those things together is important. Gathering together is important. But the church exists because we are, not because of how or when we gather, and not because of what we do.
We find ourselves now being forced to “do” church in a different way from before. Some of the things we did a few weeks ago, we cannot do now. That feels strange, and uncomfortable and new. Frankly it feels frightening and sad too.
But the way we get to “be” church remains.
Who we are is the same as who we were before. The church has not changed. Not really. It might just need to wear some new clothes for a while.
In fact, it feels like in being forced to let go of our structures of gatherings and meetings, we might now be more able to look beyond them. Perhaps now we’re waking up to see again just how interconnected, interdependent and inextricably linked we all are with each other.
So maybe the job now is to rethink whether or how we “do” the things that gathering physically together did before.
A New Way Of "Doing" Church
While it's probably not realistic to think we can still do all of the things on the list when we're not going to be in the same space (eating together could be tricky), we think we can keep a lot of them. At City Life Church we’re keeping our rhythm of gathering twice per week. I hope gatherings will look and feel quite like they normally do - we'll just be doing it online.
We’ll be gathering online on a Sunday at 4pm to see each other's faces, to have an opportunity to share some gratitude and if you’d like to stick around for it, to read a story with the smaller ones. Everyone is welcome to join us - you’ll find the room here. There’ll be a mix of all ages and stories of things we’re thankful for - just like our usual Open Table gathering minus the food.
We’ll also be gathering midweek at 8pm on a Wednesday. We’ll use this space to share with each other, to pray and to hope together. Again, everyone is welcome. Drop me an email here if you’d like to join us but don't want to jump into one of those gatherings straight off.
Small groups are working out for themselves how they’re going to gather, and there will conversations and community carrying on too.
In this new way of “doing” church, let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the structures, systems and things we don’t need to cling to now. Even if only for a little while, let’s feel free to put those things down for now.
At the same time, let’s cling doggedly and passionately to the things that make the church the church. Let’s continue to “be” together as we “do” in a new way for a while.