I read an article recently about the new / revamped Everyman theatre in Liverpool
It is a completely new build, after the old theatre was demolished, but much of the building materials are recycled from the old and it retains an old, warehousy feel to it. The architects have been come up with a clever, nuanced design that references the context of the city around them and reimagines old images and ideas in a new way, producing a theatre that feels as if it belongs to the people and the locale, drawing on the past and the present. It has shutters on the front to control the amount of light into the building at different times of day, and these host huge photographs of a wide range of local people. On top of the building are several huge brick ‘funnels’ as would be seen on great ships, referencing Liverpool’s shipbuilding history.
It reminded me very much of the building I visited at St Gregory of Nyssa, and of the rituals taking place there, that reference the traditions and history of the Christian church, through its many cultural and historical periods. The nuances of the Eastern Orthodox church in the huge painted icons but reimagined to include saints from every period up to the twentieth century. The large and ornate Coptic crosses. The tie-dye robes worn by the officiants. The sung liturgy and psalms cantored by a choir of volunteers and random visitors (including me, after ten minutes practice!)
All these nuanced and reminded of past traditions, giving safety and familiarity to those who know their liturgies, but re-imagined and refreshed in a way that lost none of the meaning, but opened itself up hospitably to welcome newcomers and draw them easily into the life of the place.
There are many models for church development and growth around at present. Church planting, which replicates the host and copies its style and teaching in a new context – similar to the expansion of coffee shop chains that look identical in every place. Emergence – letting something bubble up in a place as an experiment, often for a short or finite period to try new things and learn. Fresh expressions – listening to the nuance of the context, seeing what’s already happening there that might be from the Holy Spirit, gathering a few people of peace to pray and see what next steps to take. Refounding – reviving and revivifying what existed here previously, with reference to the past, present and future.
Whichever of these is chosen, it seems most important to discover something of the history and the past of a place and knit those metaphors, signs and symbols into what is being crafted, while listening to the current situation and seeing where God is at work. This is slower, and involves more waiting and perhaps more maturity, not grasping for the obvious at the outset but it will be worth it. If you are establishing something that you hope will draw others in, we have found its best to wait until some of those folks come, then you can find out what it is they need, want, connect with in their search for the Life that is flowing from Jesus. They will shape, commit, take ownership, feel at home, invite their family and friends, to the extent that they have become involved and engaged in the shaping and sharing of what happens. If it is all fixed and done before that, the cultural resonances will not be woven into the life of the place and the real opportunity of inculturation will be lost.