A more expansive understanding of church

Wireless world, networked ministry — Part I of a series
Sept. 16, 2021

By Rev. Rick King

So much is changing in the institutional church today, and the pandemic sped up the change in the past year and a half. This new series of columns is based on the book, “The Digital Cathedral,” by Rev. Keith Anderson, to help expand our concept of Church beyond the bricks-and-mortar, financial and flesh-and-blood institution we’re used to, allowing God to birth the new reality already underway in the world.

When I was serving an interim pastorate in western North Carolina in 2016-17, I met Robert Ard, the new rector of the Episcopal church right next door to the UCC church in Tryon, North Carolina. He had an interesting story. A former Dominican friar in the Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, he left the order for the Episcopal Church and went to the UCC’s Eden Seminary there to train for the priesthood.

His first parish call right out of seminary was to St. Paul’s Episcopal, in the Carondelet section of St. Louis, and he began with 16 members (see Tryon’s local paper’s version of the story).

He started by feeding people’s bodies to get at their spirits, doing cookouts in the churchyard to attract neighbors, whether they were church members or not. Before long, the congregation had grown to 60 attendees. Then he started a project to restore the badly damaged main doors to the sanctuary, which faced a busy neighborhood street but didn’t look like they would open and were the very opposite of a sign of hospitality. Good with his hands, Father Ard began stripping the old finish off, fixing damaged millwork and replacing hardware. Gradually, people started coming up to him to watch him work and ask questions, starting conversations with him.

Eventually, a couple of them offered their woodworking talents to help with the restoration. When the doors were complete, they had a big party for the congregation and neighborhood to celebrate. Gradually, Ard signed on local artisans to hand-make icons of the stations of the cross that were put up on the sanctuary walls. In this way, St. Paul’s-Carondelet attracted more people to the “project” of renewing the church through engaging people in their everyday life.

This is the basis of what Keith Anderson calls a “cathedral” mindset in his book—finding what people are interested in and want to do, and naming it as holy. Anderson draws parallels between the ecosystem that developed around the UK’s Canterbury Cathedral, which eventually employed artisans, merchants, farming tenants on the land, and others, with the Cathedral offering life, space, and jobs to the entire town. And he says ecosystems develop around all cathedrals, and the boundaries between what is “in cathedral” and what is outside it soon become blurred, with cathedral life and human life in town becoming one, seamless whole.

And Anderson says that local churches can learn things from the cathedral model in order to reconnect with the neighborhood and its people, businesses, schools, and many other “ecosystem” features around it.

What would happen if we thought of our neighborhood houses, businesses, cafes, bars, schools and other parts as one ecosystem of which Falcon Heights Church is a part?

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you:  [email protected].