Who we want to be: a model for mission
A Model for Mission: The Cathedral Model at FMPCI
History and background
A model for mission is essential in a changed and changing world. Some define the changes as the advent of post-modernism, others as the dying of Christendom, still others put the emphasis on secularism and secularization. What we all know is that things ‘ain’t what they used to be.’ But that doesn’t mean that it is the end. The good news remains good news, God is alive and the Holy Spirit is ever at work to bring new life.
In days gone by we could mostly rely on everyone being at church, around church or in religious education classes and somehow they would hear the good news in one of those places. Passing the good news on was a challenging but linear process, one generation to the next as the Psalmist declares it:
My friends, I beg you to listen as I teach. I will give instruction and explain the mystery of what happened long ago.
These are things we learned from our ancestors, and we will tell them to the next generation.
We won’t keep secret the glorious deeds and the mighty miracles of the Lord.
Psalm 78 vv1-4
These days sharing the good news and being the good news is less a linear and more a networked experience. For us in the urban context, just on the fringes of the inner City, in a community torn apart by the troubles, divided by sectarianism, hurt from the past and bearing the burdens of life today the networks and connectedness are crucial as we build a flourishing community.
For us at Fortwilliam and Macrory the options for the future have seemed very limited for a long time. Separately as Fortwilliam Park and Macrory Memorial after long and faithful years service the time came to become one congregation and see what new life would emerge from the new relationships. Slowly but surely that has happened. Slowly but surely those same faithful hearts have discovered God not only walking alongside but God with a purpose and a hope. We no longer need, in fact we no longer can, define ourselves as dying or struggling because there is life. With life and activity a new model for our work and our self-understanding was required. We tried what others have done. We tried making a plan. But when resources are limited and there is more tenacity than hope a plan is difficult and even depressing to construct. A plan seems to work from the inside out when what we needed was something more organic, willing to take the lead from outside, willing to allow others to step in and to call us out. What we needed was a new model for being a missional church. Once that model is in place then plans can begin but always carefully so that they don’t stifle the Spirit. The missional church idea pulls us back to our roots, to the gospel statements of Jesus like that found in John 20 vv20-21:
The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant.
Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you.
Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
John 20 vv20-21
In this one statement Jesus makes his mission the model for ours. Our understanding of how we are to follow as church depends entirely on our understanding of how Jesus did what God asked him to do. The writer to the church at Philippi understood this and wrote:
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
Philippians 2 vv5-11
This is the model. A missional model. It is a model of church which is about who is outside the walls every bit as much as who is inside it. It is about meeting needs not only of the people under our noses but also of those just an arms length away from us in the streets around us. It is about listening for what people are saying and responding to it even when it means sacrifice for the church and for under-resourced local congregations it is a big ask. But it isn’t just a big ask. It’s a big vocation. That’s a privilege - to be called by God. We needed a missional model for being a local congregation which would speak to the dry bones and have them live and which would respect both congregation and surrounding community.
So began to emerge the idea of what we call our Cathedral Model for Mission.
Is it that we want to sound grand about ourselves, talking about Cathedrals as if we were something special? Not at all. But we do believe that we are on to something special. What we needed to find was a way of understanding how to situate ourselves locally in a way that would contribute to the flourishing of the local community. As a congregation we too needed that flourishing so there needed to be nothing patronizing or paternalistic about it. We needed to find a way for members of the congregation to feel part of it in different ways, with varying degrees of commitment and with the freedom to opt in and out more deeply as they chose and as circumstance dictated. We needed to be aware that we are a small group of people, that we aren’t a wealthy community of believers, that we were striking out on a path that would disrupt the normal expectations that congregational members have but also the normal expectations that many urban communities have of churches - which is very little expectation at all. There was, we believed, much to be done and only a limited supply to do it with. But we still believed and as Ezekiel looked out over the valley full of dry bones and spoke the call of God to them and as he called the wind of the Spirit to breath life into them and then heard them clatter together into life so in the same way we did what we believed needed to be done and we took the next step. Always we have just taken the next step and each time the bones have rattled with varying degrees of life. Sometimes we have had to turn back or correct ourselves. But we still called to the dry bones. New life in the name of God and with the breath of the Spirit.
Eventually we came to the idea of a Cathedral Model. This was, at its core, to reflect the fact that small groups of people can do lots of different things not always with the sets of hands that are available but by enabling and facilitating others. So a Cathedral may have a small worshipping community in comparison to the multiplicity of work that it engages in. Sometimes Cathedrals run projects, employ people, bring others onto their site, allow others to use their site. The key to it is the creation of a connected network of people, groups and projects that are turned in the one direction - toward human flourishing. For us in the church that human flourishing is what we believe God intends for every human being and for communities as well.
So the idea was born and then the aspects were added, drawn from the aspects of cathedral life and adapted to our context, time and place as a missional model. We used our branding logo to present and shape the idea. Based on the rose window at the back of our church building we took the aspects of the model to be like windows through which the world sees us and through which we see the world. When people look at the church building or the life of the congregation it is important that we think about what they see. As we look out from the church it is important that we are conscious about what we think of those ‘outside’ the walls. Windows of light and vision. The model needed some central themes and they too have been honed through the experience of trying to rethink ourselves. So much more could be said but here is the model with it central themes and aspects - in brief!
A Model For Mission: The Cathedral Model
Built on Biblical Values
We are reconciled to God in Christ and have received the mission of reconciliation for our divided community. The reconciliation we pray and work for is the complete reconciliation of people with themselves as they see who they can become and develop what is needed to achieve that goal; the reconciliation that is required between people who are different in culture, faith, denomination and politics; the reconciliation with God to which we are all invited through Jesus Christ.
The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5 vv17b-19
The people of God have always been called to bring blessing to the places where they live and work. It is our joy to seek out how to be blessing and seek the harmony locally that comes from the experience of blessing.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work. 1 Corinthians 9 v8
Aspects of the Model
Visibility. We are visible because of the geographical location of our properties. We will also work to become more visible by the way in which we are present in the life of the local community.
Openness. We will share the space we have, the blessing we have received from God and the message of healing and hope which is Jesus Christ.
A place of prayer. We will pray for the congregation, its members, the people of the local area and for those who request prayer. In this way we add to the blessing that we believe God has for our local community.
A place of learning. We will provide opportunities for people to learn about God and grow in faith. These opportunities will be developed in response to the expressed needs of the local community, including members of the congregation.
Embrace diversity. We will facilitate different aspects of community and different communities within the whole, some to worship and some to serve. In this way we recognise our weakness and our lack of resource and strive to facilitate the movement of resources into our community by giving place and space.
Develop a civic function. We see ourselves as a significant part of community life and strive to find ways to express our place locally and within the City of Belfast, providing a meeting place where reconciliation, healing, hope and belonging are all possible.
Organic Growth. We will be flexible in our approach. In this way we strive to develop and grow areas of work specific to the different contexts within our local community. We come to the work with a commitment to its organic and, therefore, ever changing nature and ready to respond as opportunities open up and present themselves.
With God’s help, we learn from the past,
to live in the present and
hope for the future.