Monday night was the first of our series called Deepening. The series needed a vague sort of title because it is a catch all: a fortnightly something-or-other that will have a running theme each season, but that crosses the boundaries between bible-study, faith-development, theological reflection, and ‘taught’ topics. This term’s theme — if one dares call it that — is God. (images of… , experience of… , language for… , telling our story of…)
So, this week, we played around with lots of pictures, using them as a way to begin talking together and to get to know each other as a group.
During the evening, we each spoke about an image we reacted strongly to, chose an image that we would use to help show someone else our understanding of God, and played devil’s advocate questioning and opposing the analysis of the images that was first offered.
So far so good, but I was nervous about the next task. Would it work? Would they dare?
I asked the group to see if they could come up with an image of God for St Mary’s. If someone walked into church for the first time on a Sunday morning and stayed for both the service and coffee, what sense of God would they get?
The goal was ‘reality’ — the image of God we actually project… though I promised we would then go onto the ‘dream’.
I thought it would be difficult. I thought that the first images offered for negotiation would be too diverse. Well, they were diverse; but the people who chose Christa (Christ on the cross, represented as a woman) and the children’s-bible image of Jesus (dressed in white, with a blue-bird on his hand, surrounded by half-grown animals) had no intention of pressing their point. Very quickly one image emerged. It’s an image that I ‘read’ very differently to the group, and personally don’t like — but I didn’t press that point, since what the rest of them saw in the image was consistent.
Image first, I think, and then some of what was said about it. If anyone who was there wants to chime in, I’m sure I’m forgetting lots.
The group choose this as an image of welcome and embrace. The arms were seen as God reaching out to us — and as a sign of the community’s willingness to reach out to one another. There is welcome — but the welcome is given by one who has known pain; by those who have known pain. The thought was that this was a hidden truth — one that only became clear as one got to know the congregation more deeply. The dove(s) were welcomed because several of the group had spoken of their sense of God as being ‘Spirit’ and ‘not being a person’.
I was uneasy with the image, but fascinated by what people said. But most of all (of course) I wanted to see what they chose for the dream.
At first, the group thought that the image above said all they wanted to. We were already living the dream. When pressed a bit, there was a clear vote for another image: one that said many of the same things, but moved us on a bit. This one I love:
Here we were ‘all in it together’, there were still themes of welcome and embrace, and that embrace still held the cross, but now ‘we were going somewhere’; the image wasn’t static; there was space for those who were afraid or unsure, and the faith that Christ was in our midst. And of course there was still a dove…
Once the dreaming had started, we kept thinking of more and more things we wanted to include: a sense of the holy, a willingness to laugh, the joy of the dance, and the centrality of children. You can find the pictures below the fold.
It was a good conversation and I wished I’d invited it sooner. What the congregation says about itself is remarkably consistent — not least the initial sense of satisfaction with the church as it is. But I find it a relief that just a tiny bit of prodding led to a tumble of dreams. That lets me breath easy. I would far rather we were a bit restless than overly settled in what we already do well.