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President looks at church and community

ElaineStorkeyNorwichTear Fund President Dr Elaine Storkey was in Norwich recently to address the topic of Church and Community and to launch the new Catton Seminar Series. John Breeze reports.
With our broken, fractured and impersonal culture is it possible for the church to make a difference and rebuild community? This was the question addressed by Elaine at Oak Grove Chapel on March 17. 
Drawing on her wide experience with Tear Fund projects around the world, her involvement in churches in the UK and with frequent resource to humour Elanie kept the audience of almost 100 enthralled and entertained as she explored and described how such a process may be accomplished. 
Beginning with a look at the Biblical teaching about the Church, Elaine explored the ideas behind the several metaphors for ‘God’s new community’ used in the New Testament. 
Family, building, household, body and flock and many more, each in its own way teaches an aspect about relationship, interdependence, accountability and corporate action, unity in diversity and others ideas associated with community. 
“The whole church,” she said “is bigger than any individual, belonging to each other and responsible for each other’s welfare. Unless we know that and do that we will have no hope of building community.”
There followed a look at the changes in church affiliation and impact over the past 50 years or so. There is a decline in church attendance. The ratio between the elderly and young is biased towards the elderly. The ‘normal’ church input in baptisms, weddings and funerals is declining.   In some statistical studies there is a prediction that the Christian church as an entity will be non-existent within a generation or two. “In order to address these issues,” she said, “we need not big evangelical campaigns and meetings but community involvement and relevant activity.”     
Then, using statistics and results from Government and other bodies, Elaine described something of the state of affairs existing in society today. Some statistics are shocking illustrating the fragmentation of our communities with the initial attack on the basic family unit. The statistics on divorce, co-habitation rather than marriage and the increase in sexually transmitted disease are evidence of a breakdown in committed relationships.
“There is a culture of individualism, selfishness, isolation leading to fear and insecurity. Many children are suffering ‘skin hunger’,” explained Elaine, “that’s a starvation of touching and hugging.” There is a breakdown of trust and a culture of ‘must have it and have it now’! 
After a break the second session began with a look at how the church can engage with such a culture. Beginning with a statement that in may places both at home and abroad the church still has a very positive effect, Elaine went on to explore ways in which church can rebuild this fractured community. 
Basing her ideas on the work of Jesus in ‘both teaching and doing’ she explained that we must get involved, reach out and find out what the community needs. We must give help where help is needed and stay when others leave. We must be socially aware and concerned about issues of justice and righteousness. We need to show compassion, insight and awareness.
She then described how the church must work together, have a commitment and a vision for what it is to do and get on and do it. Outlining how that might work, she emphasised the need for people of vision, others who would support that vision both in practical ways and in prayer. To be a ‘church without walls’ – that is that there should be no segmentation between what happens in church and outside it. There needs to be plans for building resources for the future and finally a preparedness to engage with the most difficult and unattractive areas of society. “We need to get out of our comfort zone, out of our depth yet remember that God is there already.”
Elaine concluded with a list of very practical areas in which the church has been and could be involved. Creating, first a welcoming and accepting atmosphere, the church could be involved with homelessness, bereavement, drug and alcohol abuse, schools and young people, sex abuse and domestic violence. The opportunities and needs are endless. Just do it!
The morning concluded with a session of questions and lively discussion with the audience.  For £5 (incl P&P) you can get an audio CD of the morning from: Oak Grove Chapel, 70, Catton Grove Road, Norwich, NR3 3NT.
Pictured above is Elaine Storkey speaking in Norwich.


., 22/03/2007

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