Ekklesia Project Gathering: Slow Church

Last week I attended my second Ekklesia Project gathering located, conveniently enough for me, on the campus of Loyola University in Chicago.   There is a lot about this group  I really like and Debra Dean Murphy has a great summary of the gathering that points out much of what I appreciate.

In plenary sessions, break-out discussion groups, and workshops we wondered together what it means to cultivate this kind of slow, patient witness in a fast, anxious world. Jonathan Wilson framed the challenge as two competing narratives: the story of death and the story of life. In the latter story, our story, we claim “the fecundity of the kingdom” as a means for living into the gracious plenty of God’s peace.

In a conversational-style presentation, Stanley Hauerwas and Kyle Childress talked slow. I mean, slow church. (They’re Texans, after all). Evident in all they said was the deep, abiding friendship between them. Their well-delivered one-liners (Kyle: “My church members get called ‘socialists’ because we believe in recycling”; Stanley: “You resist the church growth bullsh*t by going limp”) communicated wisdom born of a lifetime of trying to live faithfully as pastor and professor, respectively. And they made us laugh a lot.

Phil Kenneson patiently, skillfully reminded us of what we know to be true of our life together and our life in God: the gift of God’s presence in the church and the world makes possible the gift of our being present – truly, fully, faithfully – to one another. Three dimensions of this real, human presence are abiding (the condition for receptivity), devotion (the lavish giving of ourselves), and attention (an intense openness toward another). In taking the time to know and be known, to see and be seen, we practice something of the mutual indwelling that is the very life of God.

As much as I’ve learned from the Ekklesia Project, I’m not sure how at home I am among these good people.  This seems most poignant in the lack of diversity among the participants. I felt this play out in a session called “Food, Faith and the Cultivating of Taste.”  The presenters’ objective was to show how the appreciation of local and fresh food must be cultivated when we have become accustomed to highly-processed “food-like” stuffs.  They then made the connection with life-long discipleship, how our devotion and allegiance to Jesus also requires us to learn what is true and good.

I’ve written about these sorts of issues on this blog and am sympathetic to the presenters interests and concerns.  My discomfort came from what was left out of the presentation, namely that the local food and agriculture so admired by the presenters carries for many a memory of captivity, forced labor, subsistence, and oppression.  How, I wonder, does this topic and the way it was discussed sound to those whose view of farming and food was shaped in ways radically different than most of us in the room?

Perhaps the scope of the gathering’s participants and memory will increase in coming years but regardless I hope to continue attending.  I’ve learned much from these folks and have incorporated some of the Ekklesia Project’s resources into our own congregation.  It may simply be implicit of a multi-ethnic church that few tribes exist within which we can truly feel at home.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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