Saturday, January 14, 2012

If I ever lose my faith...



One of my current 'projects' is that of devising and leading a small group for friends who are finding holding onto faith a tough thing to do. The idea began as a kind of 'agnostics anonymous', for people who had once been sure about their Christian beliefs but now felt less certain. Such a change of spiritual state can be painful, and leave one disorientated and alone; unable to articulate the cacophony of thoughts and feelings, so alien are they both to oneself and those with whom one has walked the Christian path. There is no room in many churches to speak of what we don't believe, or don't feel, when it is at odds with the primary ethos. So we wanted to create a safe place where such folk could talk openly and honestly, whilst providing a way back that was simple but profound.

The idea grew, as I discussed it with others. I had advertised it, rather unwisely, as something for 'those struggling with their faith' - a dreadful phrase, which is shorthand Christianese for 'backslidden, heathen, and lost'. No-one wants to put their hand up. Everyone hopes to avoid being at that party. That's just one step away from the (back) door. We're left feeling rather like the little characters in the picture above, from round the door of Conques cathedral in the Auvergne, France - peering into the church, not quite sure if we belong.  So lately my explanations of it have broadened out. It's a group that wants to explore, positively and creatively, some of the questions that can stifle instead of inspire our faith. It is seeking to provide an opportunity for this exploration in a safe and non-judgmental environment. It is the place where you can put up your hand and say 'I don't get it'; 'Surely that just doesn't hang together'; 'I'd love to believe / used to believe, but it's just not working for me'; or 'I believe; but this church malarkey isn't making that easy...'


Last night I met with the other members of the small planning group. Thanks in part to a bottle of red, our ideas for the weeks ahead incorporated teabags, Donald Rumsfeld, red codpieces and who could do the best Tina Turner impression. It's going to be fun.

I'll try to keep you posted as to what we really cover...



Oh, and if any friends in the Bristol area are interested in joining, do get in touch soon.

5 comments:

just Gai said...

I'm so glad I'm not alone. This is just how I feel. Fortunately I have a number of friends with whom I can share my agnosticism. I guess the unlucky ones just drift away.

blue hands said...

Yes to all that! We are part of a group we call "Ithaca" because it's about the journey. It sounds as if you've gathered an interesting group. I will be very interested to hear how things go.

Tracey Wheeler said...

Thanks Gai. We are really fortunate that we are part of a church that recognises the problem, and has supported this initiative. Addressing the issue within church services would be tricky, but I dream of a time when we can be more honest in front of the whole body of Christ - especially those children in our midst who otherwise could be left with an impression that adult Christians never blink.
I hope you find Him. He's waiting...

bigdaddystevieB said...

TRACEY: I came across this this morning (a meditation/reading by Ian Fraser in a book called “Gathered and Scattered” from the Iona Community) which seemed to have echoes with your post (apologies for its length!):
“What makes church church has to be continually discovered. What exists has to be continually reshaped. Jeremiah (ch.18:4-5) provides an illuminating illustration. He is told to go down to the potter’s house. He finds the potter at his wheel. Jeremiah is instructed by what he sees.
‘The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand. He reworked it into another vessel as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as the potter has done?” says the Lord.’
The basic material is not discarded. It is reshaped. In the reshaping the original intention may be better realised – even improved upon when fresh imaginative possibilities are brought to bear.
If I find that some people are giving up on church, I do not try to dissuade them. Their action may cause the church, as a prodigal, to come to itself. But I do urge them to get together with others to bring a small community into being and to join them on a journey of discovery about life’s meaning and purpose.
Something like this is what happened when my wife, Margaret, and I participated in the first European Congress of Basic Christian Communities in Holland in 1983. The congress lasted for four days. For three of these, those who came from outside Holland were allocated to different basic Christian communities to share life experiences. Our group, the Salland group, had come about in the following way. One person had contacted a few acquaintances and had put an advert in the local paper to this effect: ‘I want to find what it is to live the Christian faith today. It seems to me that the official church is hindering rather than helping me. Any others willing to join me in this quest?’. In no time thirty people had responded. By the time we arrived the number had risen to over seventy. Two small communities had to be formed to cater effectively for those keen to go on such a pilgrimage.”

Tracey Wheeler said...

Thanks. Thought-provoking stuff.