I have been reading a book by former Methodist President of Conference, Tom Stuckey. I’m not quite finished yet, but I’m nearly there. It was published in 2007, soon after his presidency, and is called “On the Edge of Pentecost”.
It is a book that expresses great fear for our (Methodist) Church and its immediate future; yet, at the same time, as the title suggests, a hope too that God is not done with us yet. Despite the fears expressed, it is written with a boldness and candour that many will find unsettling. It speaks some uncomfortable truths, some of which resonate deeply with the stirrings in my own soul. Over the coming weeks I shall take a look at some of these in more detail.
This morning, as I read the tenth chapter, “Pentecost”, I was reminded of something written by Martyn Atkins in his book “Resourcing Renewal”; Atkins wrote (page 21), “…Put sharply, if the Missio Dei in any time and place cannot be pursued with the Church as it is, God raises up a new Church.”
Tom Stuckey, in chapter ten, recalls something of the near destruction of the Church in Cuba after the revolution; since that time, it has been forced to set aside the many trappings of institutional Western Church and rebuild itself through Prayer, Fasting, declaring the work of the Holy Spirit, witness and the planting of many small house churches. Having dwindled to less than a thousand members, there are now more than a thousand churches.
Stuckey reminds us too of the hunger within us that our Western lifestyles and modern science cannot satisfy; of the spiritual vacuum that increasing secularisation is creating. When I put these two themes together – the vacuum of spiritual need, and the inability of institutional religion to satisfy it, the Cuban experience gives us hope that God can and will indeed raise up a new Church.
Stuckey quotes from Amos 8:11-12…
“The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but a hearing of the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”
The hunger is growing. I see it around me constantly, both within and outside of the Church. I have a sense that the soil is being tilled; the ground is cold and dark, like a field in winter waiting for the first warmth of the sun. But there will be further frosts, cold nights and biting winds to endure before the first brave seeds break ground.
In the meantime, it is time for our Church to ready itself; not for harvest, but for the new storm, a new unsettling – the turbulence and the chaotic energy of the Holy Spirit.
4 thoughts on “A famine on the land”
Thank you for this Nigel. It is very brave to stand up and say difficult things like this but I really do think there is a lot of truth in what you say. The challenge is how do we ordinary church goers respond?
Thanks Debbie. I’d love to give you a quick answer that sorts it all out in one sentence. Alas, that would be disingenuous and would not do justice to the scale of the task that lies ahead of our Church. But your question is important, not least because the answers lie, I believe, in our personal responses and not in those of the Church corporate. When enough people have earnestly asked this question, and turned in humility to God in prayer to seek His direction, and have opened their hearts to the stirring of the Holy Spirit, then and only then will the answers come.
I’ve seen the distance between the best and the worst in the Methodist church and it seems very nuch a church of two extremes. At its best it is meeting people where they are and both showing and speaking the love of Christ. At its worst it shows how the Pharisees Jesus met sounded and behaved. In many ways though that is better for a church than the lukewarm attitude that is prevailent across some denominations. If the worst of the methodist church is pruned, what is left could set the world on fire again.
Thanks Pete – I am, of course, an optimist; that is a pre-requisite for my work! During my next few blogs I shall expand, as constructively as I can, on how the Church can respond to the changes taking place in the world. I have met so many people who, as you put it, “could set the world on fire again” – I hope to do my small part in encouraging them to join us in that mission. At the end of the day, it is God’s mission – the Missio Dei – and not ours. Whether to join in or not IS ours to decide.