Monday, 8 December 2008


Several months ago I went along to a Quaker meeting for Worship in which there was a lot of ministry offered on the theme of friendship. One Friend read from Advices & Queries:

21. Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy. When experiencing great happiness or great hurt we may be more open to the working of the Spirit.

After the meeting, I joined the meeting for reflection upstairs in room 3. This is an opportunity chat over any issues that may have arisen that morning, and to get to know people a little better, within a smaller group. During that time, I offered some thoughts on the need for “spiritual friendships” but when asked what I actually meant by that I rather fumbled around for words. I found myself ruminating on it for several days. Its nice to get the chance to return to this theme here!

I remember, at the time, that someone else had spoken within the meeting about how they value difference in their friends and this had resonated with me.

I thought back on a book written by Steven Chalke entitled Intelligent Church in which he had written about the characteristics of a spiritually mature congregation. He placed great emphasis on being an Inclusive Church; one that involves itself in the life of the surrounding community, working with and involving others. He then goes on to suggest that an intelligent church is a messy church. Why? Because messiness is the consequence of being inclusive. Whenever a local church chooses to be outward-looking and welcoming of all, it will automatically become messier than it was before - it’s inevitable.

"In many senses the church is a hospital - it is a place of spiritual, social, emotional, moral and psychological healing. And just as in a hospital the patients suffer from different conditions, are at different levels of health and are at different stages of the healing process, so it is with the church. Sometimes healing takes weeks or months - sometimes it takes a lifetime. Simply visiting a hospital doesn’t automatically make a sick person well. Some need intensive care, others less intensive but no less important ongoing treatment or rehabilitation. No hospital is a centre of physical perfection, and neither is a church one of spiritual perfection - rather, both are messy environments full of messed-up people striving to be less so."

We come into spiritual communities with our own wounds, uncertainties and incompleteness. So this life together will need patience and care to work out.

There’s a metaphor that I found in a book written by David Runcorn where he describes that at the height of the struggles against apartheid in South Africa a multi-racial community was founded in Cape Town. It was called The Community of the Broken Wall taken from the New Testament in which Christ is spoken of having broken down a wall of division between ourselves and God and between each other. “For he is our peace, [who]… has broken down the dividing wall” (Eph. 2.14).

Runcorn writes -

"The image of a community without walls confronts one of the biggest temptations of community living. It is perilously easy to create a private, insular world of like-minded people and shut out all those who don’t fit in.

In a community without walls, people will meet others who are seriously different from each other. It will not be a safe, insular network of the like-minded. It is harder and harder in our world to find the kind of place where we learn to talk and listen and meet each other in our real differences".

And I guess that this was the aspect of spiritual friendship that I had been looking to express those months ago.

Messy Church. I like that. I wonder whether we aspire to be messy too?

How messy is your spiritual community?


Maurice Bartley said...

I do hope we are a 'messy church'. Open to the world with all its 'messy' individuals. I like the analogy of the challenge of carrying a tray of live chickens, rather than a tray of unhatched eggs. Lets all be alive!

Tom (Mystics Meeting) said...

"Intelligent... spiritually mature... Inclusive... messy...

Why? Because messiness is the consequence of being inclusive"

I LOVE it!

not only does it provide a wonderful excuse for the state of my life :), but too, I really DO SEE that this is the "why" of my messy life...

I deeply apologize to the others who are affected by my "messiness", but Im in such celebration with LIFE itself, and those others who understand the spiritual maturity of inclusiveness and messiness!

Of course, Im speaking here about the Church of ones own Heart, the inner worship-place that can be as messy as ones outer living condition... but we do have much too little understanding of messiness in our modern society... that its a celebration of LIVING itself- a conversation with Creativity! of COURSE its messy!

thank you for your lookings today :)

Laura Kerr said...

I much appreciate the notion of messiness in connection with our meeting. It conjures up the joyfulness of our crowd of children coming in near the end of meeting, of the lovely uncertainty of what will happen in meeting, each and every time. I am challenged though because of the 'role' I have now in meeting, which essentially is to bring things together, help to create a bit of order etc, rather than promote 'messiness'. I dont think we can all be 'messy' all of the time.... ??!!