The world is getting smaller at a stunning rate. Many individuals and entire cultures are overwhelmed by the demands of rapid change. One of many questions this raises for me is, "How can we be church in a world in flux?"
I have followed that question in various ways through conversations, prayer, and reading, and again and again I have arrived at one point: We must learn to read Scripture together. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? But it isn't easy. Our culture, our family history, and personal experience determine a specific location from which we look at Scripture and try to understand its meaning. When our ways of reading Scripture differ too much, we tend to look for new partners to read it with. We all know the result: a plethora of churches, denominations, sects, and non-denominational groups. Much of the ecumenical movement is the humble attempt of Christians to learn to read Scripture together, i. e. learning to listen to the perspective of others. Interfaith dialogues between Christians and Jews, or Muslims, also consist to a large degree of learning to read one another's Scripture together and discovering how particular texts shape particular ways of being in the world. Most of these dialogues unfortunately happen far removed from congregations (this is however a direction in which we could move the venerable Nashville tradition of the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Interfaith Dinner, begun over sixty years ago by the Temple and Vine Street Christian Church).
For many months I have thought and on occasion talked about another possibility of learning to be church in a world in flux: what if we had a partner congregation in another part of the world and learned to read Scripture with them? What if we built relationships with a church, say, in El Salvador or Mexico? What if we did that without thinking first about their needs and our desire to help, but rather about our common need to better understand the world we live in, the world we are called to be the church in? Obviously, I like the thought, or I wouldn't have entertained it for so long (and I wouldn't be writing about it). Do you think this is a proposal worth pursuing?
In July, during the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fort Worth, Texas, I met with Felix Ortiz, the Executive for Latin America and the Caribean with the Division of Overseas Ministries. I told him about the dream, and he was, well, cautiously encouraging. He liked the idea, but he wanted to make sure I understood that there was some homework we would have to do before meeting our new partners somewhere south of the border:
- Our church has partner churches all over Central and South America, all the way from Mexico to Chile and Argentina. In some countries they are Disciples, in others Lutherans, Pentecostals, or Congregationalists. We would have to choose a country.
- A few U.S. congregations have entered into partnerships with churches in those countries and have been transformed through various encounters over time. It would be good if we could get in touch with them and hear about their experiences.
- Relationships evolve in unpredictable ways, but we should only enter them with some awareness of our expectations, both of our potential partners and of ourselves.
Is this something you would like to explore? I'm thinking of a small group of people with a passion for overseas ministries, contacting other churches who have done this before and interviewing them about their experience, gathering all the wisdom from those encounters, giving some thought to what promise we see in such a partnership, and preparing a proposal to the congregation. The world is getting smaller, and this is a chance to meet some of our neighbors. If you would like to give some time and energy to this project, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you.