We live in a busy, busy world. Everyone seems to be in such a rush. There is so much to do, and so little time apparently to do it in. We start the day with one to-do list and end up with another that is just as long. Our phone gives us constant reminders of appointments to be met, and deadlines to be completed. We feel guilty at not achieving, and we end up measuring ourselves by how much we got done.
But deep down we also know such busyness and such pressure is not actually that good for us. Prolonged stress affects our health and our relationships, and actually damages our productivity. That is why over the years we have seen various counter-cultural “slow movements”. There is slow food phenomenon which involves taking time to prepare, serve and eat a fresh meal, maybe over a course of several hours. There is “slow TV” which may involve an hour or more of just sitting and watching, say, a bus ride, or a craft activity.
And I would like to propose that we also have SLOW church. It can be so easy for a church to become just another organisation which measures itself by how many activities it puts on, or how many people come through the door. But church life flourishes when time and energy is spent investing in relationships, when other demands are laid aside simply to listen to one another, to laugh and to cry, to share and sometimes simply to be with each other.
So I want to build up a SLOW church, one that is:
Safe – I am aware that many people spend a lot of their time feeling very vulnerable, whether because they are in an unhealthy relationship (or on their own), or living in unsuitable accommodation, or struggling with some habit or addiction. Church needs to be a safe space where folk discover security, and have permission to discover who God created them to be. That is why safeguarding is at the heart of SLOW church.
Loving – Our aim at St Barnacles is to build a community of love, aware that Jesus commanded us to love another as He first loved us, aware also that this difficult word “love” can only be understood by His death on a cross for us. So we seek constantly the guidance of the Holy Spirit not only to love those who are like us, but the newcomer, the outcast, those we find difficult to love, and to develop stronger and more effective networks of pastoral care.
Open – I am referring here primarily to physical accessibility. We need to work out how to make the church an effective meeting point for the local community. That is why our Tuesday Open Church Project is so important. It is becoming known as the place where you drop in, have a cup of tea or a bite to eat. It is still a small and quite fragile project but it is absolutely central to our mission at St Barnacles.
Welcoming – No matter who comes through our doors, no matter what issues they bring with them, we want to welcome them in the name of Jesus, and to see them as precious in our Saviour’s sight. Again we have to be sensible about safeguarding, but we want to demolish stereotypes that church is only for a certain type of people. We want people of all ages and all backgrounds to be part of our community because that it is the very nature of church, as the New Testament makes clear.
How does SLOW church fit in with our existing Mission Action Plan? At the heart of our Mission Action Plan is the image of a tree, and a tree on the whole grows slowly. If the Mission Action Plan defines what we aim to do, then this model of SLOW church helps us understand how we are going to achieve these goals.
And what does SLOW church look like in practice? The best answer is, come along on a Tuesday! Or indeed join us in worship on a Sunday. We are a long way from being the church the Lord wants us to be, but we are a work in progress, and by His grace and mercy He continues to work slowly and patiently in each and every one of us.