In the news recently was the wonderful story about an old Glasgow pub, designed in the Mackintosh ‘art nouveau’ style of the early 20th century, brought back to life as a ‘speakeasy’, social gathering space in the offices of a hi-tech global health firm in California. When ‘St Mungo Vinters’ closed in 1974, the whole interior was bought by an antiques dealer, and was shipped ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to his Californian warehouse. Over the past two years, the bar has been re-assembled and restored almost exactly as it was, in a way that my more wayward Glaswegian relatives from the past would surely recognise!
St Mungo Vintners is the same bar, but now it has an entirely different outlook. It has a new life in a new country, serving a strong social purpose in an age where technology can diminish meaningful social contact.
In counselling, one of the key ideas that clients are invited to engage with is ‘re-framing’. Just as the beauty of a picture can be hugely enhanced by a change of frame in which it sits, so identifying ourselves, or our issues and problems, within a new framework can alter perspective and lead us to a place to understand anew, and thus ‘re-frame’ our situation. Such a ‘re-framing’ is also a constant motif within the teachings of Jesus Christ. ‘You have heard it said…but I say to you’ was almost his catchphrase. Jesus invites us to ‘re-frame’ all our preconceptions about life and faith through love – for God, ourselves and for each other.
This is a time of major change in the life of the Church. Such a ‘re-framing’ is implicit in the intentions of ‘mission planning’. Perhaps ‘re-framing’ is now vital for how the process is viewed and implemented going forward, as we reach a crucial ‘midway’ stage. Plans are finalised and implementation steps are being taken, with all the pain and exhaustion that this can bring. If we pause, in what way might ‘re-framing’ our inherited and present conceptions about church and mission be helpful?
- ‘Re-framing’ our view of the present planning process, to ensure the title of the ‘Presbytery MISSION Plan Act 2021’ is not a misnomer. Re-organisation through unions, groupings, dissolutions and the closure of buildings is not, of itself, ‘missional’. In fact, on the face of it, it is exactly the opposite. Barring a sharp re-routing towards a ‘Plan B’ that some are calling for, it only might be ‘missional’ if in planning and implementation we ‘re-frame’ our mechanics: not just as a severe cost-cutting exercise viewed through old lenses of pew numbers and geographical coverage, but ‘re-framed’ with the long view in mind, so all planning decisions set a platform to enable what happens next – MISSION. If we fail to do so, we may simply be downsizing again in five years’ time.
- Perhaps crucially as a starting point, ‘re-framing’ our understanding of what God’s ‘mission’ is, and the role of each congregation and Christian within that. It is counter-productive to rely only on the ‘Five Marks of Mission’, especially when there are so many engaging theological and practical explorations out there on the meaning and breadth of ‘mission’. For accessible guides, you might try Stephen Spencer, SCM Studyguide: Christian Mission, or a longer read Scott Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission.
- ‘Re-framing’ our appreciation and understanding of the context all around us – our neighbourhoods and people in our communities. True missional planning begins organically ‘from the ground up’, from the context of the world and not just the church. How can we ‘listen in mission’, in order to discern where God is already acting in the world and the church, and look to engage there?
- ‘Re-framing’ what we currently have and what is happening in the church – ‘already mission’ – the use and potential of our buildings, and the many wonderful and dynamic projects, people, and everyday acts of kindness and love that are already part of our DNA – how can that be celebrated and encouraged?
- ‘Re-framing’ our understanding and attitude to what ‘church’ is, and the potential in our local area of inspiring and supporting the possibility of forming ‘new worshipping communities’. ‘Seeds for Growth’ is looking to make considerable investment in making that happen across the country, and we all could be part of it. Easy access resources on how a ‘fresh expression of church’ might develop around you, are How to Pioneer (Even if You Haven’t a Clue) by Dave Male, or Godsend by Michael Moynagh.
- ‘Re-frame’ ministry training and ongoing education, to equip both candidates and long-established ministers to adapt and thrive in a vastly different sociological and ministry context than for previous generations. Perhaps that will involve each of us in ministry ‘re-framing’ our sense of calling from God, and how our ministry ought to be in the next five to ten years. We might need to ‘re-frame’ from ‘pastor/preacher’ mode to ‘enabler/instigator’. Resources such as Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains could assist.
As we ‘re-frame’ with Christ in all of these aspects, we open ourselves and our churches to the possibility of being re-moulded, God as the potter and we as the clay, and for the planning process to be infused with more optimism and hope. May God bless all of us in what lies ahead.
Rev. Dr Alexander Forsyth – Minister, Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church