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When the world doesn’t “work” anymore

My favourite thing at the moment is to tell people in church leadership that it’s ok to not know what to do, because no-one knows what will work in this new world, and anyone who tells you they do is either a charlatan or a fool.

Its met with smiles of relief, and then people almost always tell me a story of their experience of being told what they should be doing. Few of them feel listened to, or invited to share their own practice so we can collectively be learning what might work. This is our biggest failure as a church: failure to learn from what is not working and that which is. And I'm not talking about collecting more data, I mean listening to our stories.

Because the adaptability and creativity we need, in what Pope Francis has called "a change of era rather than an era of change", will be set free in the church by creating a culture of trust between us and allowing each other to be vulnerable. imagine what a gift that would be for the wide world.

Margaret Wheatley describes how we are “gradually giving up the dominant paradigm of western culture and science for over 300 years - that of the world and humans as machines.” This has been happening for the last few decades but the pandemic has brought it into sharp relief: we see that our ways of thinking and acting no longer ”work” but in our disorientation we resort to using our tactics in a more forceful and exaggerated way to try and get back everything on track.

Global threat? We retreat into nationalism, keeping “our people” safe and in doing so the virus is left to mutate in the bodies of our unvaccinated brothers and sisters on another continent. Need to build Christian community? We insist people must all be in the same place at the same time for it to be ‘real’, and completely fail to notice the depth and richness of the relationships that our digital connections create.

Its disorientating to have the way the world has always “worked” not work anymore. But the truth is it didn’t work, not really. In the words of Sonya Renee Taylor:

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Maybe this resonates with you, as you look to move your church community into “the new normal”. Many of us want to open a space that is generous, inclusive and which speaks of abundance and trust. And its ok not to know what to do, because we simply don’t know what will work in this new era. But we can learn together.

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