Why We Do What We Do (reflections from AbbeyChurch leaders)
Part One: Space – Casual and Reverent
AbbeyChurch is the time each week when we gather the scattered grains of our lives and knead them together once more into one common loaf. Sunday afternoon is when the church, alive and active in a world imbued with the presence of God, comes together around God’s kitchen table to remember, to encourage one another, to be fed on crumbs of love that will multiply as we take this nourishment back into our lives and neighbourhoods, finding God all over again in this beautiful and often hurting world.
While space set apart for worship is important, it is secondary to the core belief that God is with us and meets us as we gather. That God actively re-creates and re-weaves us as the church as we remember and wrestle with what it means to be God’s people in this time and place.
AbbeyChurch has always been a mix of casual and reverent.
We have met in living rooms, around kitchen tables, in moss-covered sanctuaries filled with the sound of birdsong… and in buildings rich with the gathered prayers of those who have struggled and doubted and rejoiced in following the Way.
This fits with our biblical narrative in which the people - formed by exile and wilderness, homecoming and disruption - are accompanied by God in tents, in guiding fires, in synagogues and temples, in the Spirit that falls upon God’s people scattered and regathered and, in the Word-Made-Flesh who walks with us on the road.
In this new chapter of our life together as AbbeyChurch we once again gather in one of these old buildings of stored faithfulness. Folk may have little experience with buildings set aside for the church to gather or you may come with a long history and set of expectations of what it means to be in such a place.
You may bear the wounds of exclusion or even the sense that you need to dress up and pretend for an hour that all is well. You may come from a tradition that says there are things only priests or ministers can touch or that children should be quiet and contained or that reverence looks serious, strict and rule-laden.
For the ways that you have experienced harm or exclusion in spaces created for the people of the Way of Love to come together, I am profoundly sorry. I pray that wherever you are, as you join people of faith who gather, you will have the sense of God’s absolute joy and delight that you, beloved you, have come. And that imperfect as human community is, you will find a space where your unique voice and gifts and presence can be lifted up and honoured - A space where you might encounter the living God.
Each person is a much-needed thread in this tapestry we weave together each week, so when we gather at AbbeyChurch while there may be discomfort, you hopefully will encounter what is sometimes messy but bearing the undercurrent of joy in the Holy Spirit!
We gather to give thanks to the God who is so intimately with us - closer even than a lover's touch! And yet paradoxically, we are moved to reverence as this one who is so close is the Creator of the cosmos, the one who invites us to take off our shoes, filled with awe because we know the ground of God’s love is holy!
And most of all, as we enter this space - we want to remember that this is God’s table, not ours. The Hebrew word for Celebrate comes from a root word meaning to laugh. We remember that this Sunday gathering is God’s kitchen party with all that conjures up! Children running and laughing, music and story-telling, food and conversation, tears that flow and hands that hold, bread and wine, juice and prayers, anger and laughter and even some faltering steps toward reconciliation. All! somehow all is held in that flexible, imperfect frame of worship and joy and awe.
Alexander Schmemann writes; “And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in that whole 'beauty' of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary... Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the 'necessary.' Beauty is never 'necessary,' 'functional' or 'useful.' And when expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy.”
And so at the Abbey, we try to pour out our love for God not only in how we use the space but in how we offer our lives in the creation of space. You may see someone whose turn it is to story-tell (or give the sermon/pray) break down in tears and you will see someone reach out to them, you will see children run up to the altar to look at something or maybe to be first for the bread. You may see folk dance or sway to the music, you may see folk kneel in a moment of deep prayer or the space hush as we enter collectively into silence. You may see us stumble, mess up, have the live-stream crash and have to start again and, all of this, ALL of this is good. All of this is real, all of this is being a part of the messy, chaotic, beloved people of God in this blessed, beautiful, diverse creation God has, is, and will continue to create.
So this is AbbeyChurch, in this new space and in all the spaces we co-create. Come as you are, “beloved companions in the Spirit - offering our lives in the beautiful struggle of faith”.
Come as you are! With all the doubts and hopes and struggles for your life, for this world and God’s dream of a healed and renewed creation.
Come, let us be church together, for God calls us and delights in us all!