Who are we trying to serve?
What do we know about them?
What difference do we want to make for them?
October 15, 2017, St. Augustine’s Anglican Church
Imagine these people – be they fact or fiction…
Julie has just graduated from McNally High School. She grew up in Capilano Neighborhood and walks past St. Augustine’s often on her way to the Starbucks near Capilano Mall. She thinks her parents might have gone to church when they were kids, but they never really talk about it. Recently though, she’s been interested in a coworker who seems to have a deeper perspective on life. The coworker’s mother died, and though she was clearly sad, the coworker spoke of how her faith and her church community was her real support. As it is, Julie’s Dad has just been diagnosed with cancer, and so Julie shows up one Sunday at St. Augustine’s searching. “What are these people about?” She asks herself. What did her coworker find at Church that she hadn’t found elsewhere?
Mrs. Sweet and Lovely, began worshiping at St. Augustine’s when the church met in the smaller building next door. Her children were raised and confirmed at the church before they moved away in their early adult years. She had been at the church since then. Now in her 80s, her health has declined and she has had to move across the city away from her beloved church and neighborhood. She wonders what difference church can make for her now that she is so far away.
Jack and Melissa are from Manitoba and didn’t know where to move when Jack got a job in downtown Edmonton. They looked at all the neighborhoods close enough to Downtown so Jack could bike to work. Melissa is on mat leave as their second child is only a few months old. They found an older house that they could fix up bought it quick because they knew there were 4 other offers already. So far, they really love the neighborhood. They found a good music program that Melissa can do with their kids at a local church and their neighbors seem really nice. Melissa and Jack talk here and there about spiritual things, but they are more religious about hockey and their family than anything else.
Arnold has been living in Fulton Place his whole life. His parents moved in to the area back in the 60s and had 5 kids. The parents have both died and now he owns their house. He is just about to retire from working as an engineer at a small firm, but what he really loves is hitching his boat to his camper and disappearing off fishing for a week or two. While planting his garden one Spring, his neighbor asks him if he had heard about the new community garden in the area. He hadn’t, and Arnold asks where it is located. The neighbor describes that it is at the church across from the community league. “Is it a church thing?” Arnold asks? The neighbor doesn’t know. That’s interesting Arnold thinks. Arnold says, “I used to go to that church when I was a kid.”
If you think of Fulton Place like a big triangle, and you imagine a center to that triangle, St. Augustine’s is just North-West of dead Center. We are located on one of the most prominent areas in the neighborhood. Every person who attended the local election forum Tuesday Night – and kept their eyes open had a look at this big blue roof – one man remarked on our great steeple, another the community garden.
That steeple stands up above the tree-line of this community and is visible across most of the neighborhood.
But what is this church about?
And we ask today – who are we seeking to serve?
But first – Why do we need to ask these things?
Don’t we know who we are and what we are about?
I hear many good answers to why we exist as a church
But to grow in strength, we need a more common understanding
And there is a much bigger reason why we need this conversation now, in this new century
And for that we need to know about a certain very old person and something that began with him
The person is Constantine, and what he started is Christendom.
Constantine gets a mixed review today as we look back on him as the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian, and who made all his people Christian
-On the one hand, Constantine had an incredible conversion experience that changed the shape of the church for ever
-On the other hand, he linked Christianity with power – something that has never really gone well for the church…
Perhaps you know that up until Constantine followers of Jesus were growing exponentially through preaching and church planting and through the ministry of missionaries. But the Christian cry of belief that “Jesus is Lord!” did not sit well with the Roman Ceasers who liked to be called Lord themselves. As such, Christians were fodder for lions and gladiators and oppressed and martyred.
When Constantine became a Christian through a vision, however, and made his soldiers paint a sign of Christ on their shields, a great change took place in the church.
-Yes persecution stopped, but so did the drive for mission and proclamation
-Yes there was a jump in numerical Christians, but faith in Jesus, on the whole, was now instituted rather than inspired
-And then there is that thorny issue of war and wealth in the name of Jesus that brings us up to the crusades and selling indulgences to buy your relatives into heaven
The story of Constantine is the story of Christendom. Church in the powers and powers in the church. It is a story that continues through the centuries with the rise of the church in Europe, and eventually through colonialism to Canada.
And arguably, after centuries, Christendom in the Western world has just ended.
And we need to figure out again who we are and who God is calling us to be.
And to be sure, We have known Christendom – and its end – at St. Augustine’s. When this neighborhood was built it was the most natural thing for the City of Edmonton to reserve this land for the Anglicans and every major denomination went door to door and simply invited everybody to church, and people came, because that is just what was done. In Christendom everyone is expected to go to church, and most people did. Bible Bill was not long out of the legislature. The local Sunday School was packed.
But we are not there now.
For a number of reasons that are beyond our scope today, the power of the church in the West came undone. The quiet revolution in Quebec, the secularization of Europe, the fact that church attendance is going down everywhere.
Christendom is now over. The church is no longer expected to be a power in our cities, people no longer feel pressure to attend church if their hearts do not draw them. St. Augustine’s is no longer the place to show off your fur coat, which I heard that once it was.
And so, at this time of forced review – whether we grieve the change or celebrate it.
We look to our God, we return to our Lord Jesus like the disciples did from time to time
And we say – “Ok Lord, what now?” “Who is it that you are calling us to serve?”
Here I have found helpful Peter Drucker’s small book “the 5 most important questions an organization can ask.”
Peter spent time with churches and businesses alike, and he was interested in leadership and organizational success. He doesn’t give us answers, but he brings us the questions we need to answer.
I am leaning on him for help, because, these are questions that we are literally asking new since the 4th century. Our church brains, mine included, do not always do this work on our own.
Peter Drucker brings 5 questions, but today we will focus on only one: As an organization, who are we seeking to serve? Who do you need to reach out to thrive and fulfill God’s mission for us? Whose spiritual needs do we seek to meet”
In his teaching, Drucker is quite insistent that organizations have only one Primary Customer. Organizations that try to serve too many, he observes, end up serving no one. The volunteers, members, partners, and associates he refers to as Secondary Customers who also draw strength from the organization, but in service always to the primary customer
A simple example is a school
-The primary customer is…the child. A successful school must serve the children over all.
-The secondary customers are the parents, the teachers, the admin support, and the local neighborhood who allow the school to serve the children well.
But here is the question
Who is the Primary Customer, the Primary Focus of the church? Who is the focus of church mission?
I truly want you to think about this. Pray about this. Ask this of Jesus by the Spirit.
When this church began, from what I have heard, the primary customer was clear: it was all the Anglicans in this area.
Am I right?
It was lovely, and appropriate and true for that time, but I don’t think I need to argue that such a focus no longer makes sense in this time after Christendom – In a time when being a Christian means much more than being Anglican.
And yet, just as we are – Anglican in roots, 20 to 40 on a Sunday, locally based, centered in this community,
Who is our primary focus? To whom do we direct our energies and attentions?
Let’s take up a few possibilities…
-We might focus on Ourselves. It might seem selfish to say we serve ourselves, but it is worth a thought. There is something real about saying that St. Augustine’s is focused on building up its members to live full Christian lives. It is kind of what we do now. Where I see service happening beautifully is in people’s individual lives. Part of my interest in inviting the GANG two Sundays back, and Sherry last Sunday, was to let us hear the ministries of our members. Perhaps our primary focus is to build up our current members so that they are active and conscious in the world. It gets foggy though when we think who is really getting served then – it sounds like we are actually serving the world – changing the world – through our members…So let’s think about that.
-We might focus on the World. It is one argument that the church exists to change the world to become more and more like the kingdom of God. Perhaps we are called to serve anything, any initiative, any person, anyplant, or anyenvironment, that will bring this world closer to the heavenly vision in the bible of all things in harmony, restorative justice, and peace. This could truly be our focus. Our customer, might be the world, and we want to make it more peaceful and harmonious through the news of Jesus Christ and our work.
-Or, is our focus more local as Sherry referenced Mr McCartney last Sunday: “Think Globally, act locally.” Do we change the world, follow Jesus, enhance our mission by following the old Anglican parish model of serving a specific geographic area? Perhaps we direct our energies to really get to know these people, what they need, and how we spread hope, and love, and faith right here.
Three last possibilities
-It is statistical that most people start coming to church because a friend or family member invited them and came with them. I know at least one church that defines it’s primary focus group as the family and friends of its members. Worth a thought.
-I know other churches where their primary focus group is simply all non-Christians. They’re founders are passionate about introducing people to Jesus, and many do this well. It needs to be acknowledged that, to my knowledge, St. A’s has never really focused on bringing non-Christians to faith, and so it should not surprise us that it is not an every week experience like it is at some other churches.
-And also, it is a rich argument that the church exists to serve the poor – whomever that is. St. Francis found this to be his mission, and our own bishop Jane has called the church and city to keep focus here.
So, there are some possibilities to get your prayer juices flowing.
What catches your attention?
Who do you think we are called by God to focus on and serve?
We need to ask this because there are so many good answers , but we need to have an answer of how God is calling us, in this place, in this time, as exactly who we are right now. Otherwise, we will remain largely undirected and un-focused in our efforts.
It is a time of change for sure, and so also a time of opportunity.
It is certainly a time for prayer and a time for discerning God’s voice.
God who never loses track of us
God who chose to serve humanity and the world in Christ
God who promises to be with his Church through any time of confusion or renewal.
So let us pray.
God our Sustainer.
You know all things, and you love your church.
Grant us wisdom and understanding to follow your way for us amid all that surrounds us. Keep us in love, and grant that the work of our hands bare much fruit for your glory and praise.