Being involved in Gods mission means we start with asking what is God doing and its a key question many people are asking. One of the joys of social distancing being played out in the public space and where I see God at work is in those moments when you catch someones eye walking down the road and you both adjust your course slightly. In that moment and action something intimate happens as you both recognise and value the humanity, preciousness and dignity of the other person, and adjust accordingly.
Back in day aka about 6 weeks ago our our physical and emotional proximity was primarily played out in four spaces public, social, personal, and intimate. (see Halls work on Proxemics). These spaces not only helped us navigate culture and communication but also belonging. Indeed the church and other institutions often sought to foster belonging within certain spaces (eg encouraging alignment with a particular discourse in the public space of preaching, promoting connections in small groups, house groups in social spaces or prayer triplets etc in personal space). And in much the same way as the public space becomes intimate for a moment as we encounter a stranger walking towards us and adjust our path, so other spaces and peoples approaches to them have changed. The internet streaming of church services has blurred the public worship space as it enters homes and the personal space of prayer has gone into quasi social/public space as people phone it into a stranger for support. Whilst the intimate acts of compline or offices are made public as they are streamed from someones lounge or personal prayer space. Our physical and emotional proximity spacing and attitudes are changed and changing. What if this dehumanising and democratisation of spaces is something that can resource us as we prepare for the new normal. Our previous default (see Myers) as church was often to inhabit two spaces a public space (both in worship services and in social action spaces) and a social space (small groups) but what if instead of slipping back in that public broadcast space and social space (often hidden away in someones house) which together have too often fostered a dualistic separateness of the spiritual and human, we build on the new proximity emerging.
In Cumbria we have often talked about the mythical Maureen, who was faithfully part of the church for most of her life and now just retired continues to serve the local church and community. What ever we provide in terms of evangelism, discipleship and mission enabling has to work for Maureen. So when we talk about growing Fresh Expressions sparked by a question from Bishop Emma we have often said “wouldn’t it be great if every Maureen could have a FX around their kitchen table or in their living room”. I think this might now be more possible than ever. But it will not happen unless we build and learn from what God is doing now, and resist the urge to return to what was. The opportunity to merge and creatively continue to disrupt the proximity spaces to enhance a missional way of life where we live out our discipleship in every space is huge. What if all public worship and compile spaces are always on online so Maureen and few pals can gather around a table and join in in her kitchen. What if the thought for the week is streamed or printed and Maureen and different bunch of pals gather around a table that has now moved into the public space at the back of church whilst Shelia is at another table with different pals and does the same over cake. What if Maureen and friends come together and for a number of weeks in their personal space plan a way to serve the community and do this on last friday of every month. What if we hold the different spaces more lightly, and think strategically how they can resource one another more intentionally. WHAT IF and WHY NOT….