It has now officially been recognized that the best place for people of different cultures to meet is in a church. A report published by the Social Integration Commission (2014) has identified that, while spectator sports events are the most successful at bringing people of different ages together, churches are the most likely place for people from different cultures to meet. The Report says that the most isolated are the unemployed and the elderly and that class can be a more enduring source of division than race.
The parish church is providing the answer because, across the UK, it is a prime mover in promoting neighborliness and social integration. Churches and other places of worship are more successful than gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs at bringing people of different backgrounds together. A parish church is a site of radical resistance against the fragmentation and isolation endemic within modern society.
Newbiggin (1989) wrote ‘I do not think that we shall recover the true form of the parish until we recover a truly missionary approach to our culture. I don’t think at we shall achieve a missionary encounter with our culture without recovering the true form of the parish. Learning to relate to each other in the name of Christ is the social revolution that lies at the heart of parish life. The world is not going to be changed in a PCC meeting but that is where the process can begin. A recent marriage in my church was of two congregation members who met while sharing a turn on the coffee rota.
The Church is a prophetic minority not a moral majority. Coming together in the name of Christ is an act of hope in which we imagine how the world could be different to how it is. Our lives, as the people God, are transformed by a re-energized imagination, not by ethical instruction. In meeting together the question that we ask of our belief is not is it practical or viable but is it imaginable?
Imagination is quickly lost on any church committees where it is felt that too much of the work is done by too few of the people. In our PCC meetings we try to reach a consensus over the priorities for the Church. We talk about jobs that need to be done and we ask for volunteers. Consensus, jobs and volunteers and are a Holy Spirit, Father and Son formula and so by the end of the evening we can meet ourselves coming back as a Trinitarian Church. PCC members leave the meeting having had a cup of coffee and a digestive biscuit but seldom realizing the rich theology in which they have taken part.
St Augustine talks of the Trinity as understanding (Holy Spirit), memory (Father) and will (Son). The Holy Spirit gift of understanding is shown through the process of us reaching a consensus on the priorities for the Church - How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity (Psalm 133:1). The Father God gift of memory is shown through the jobs needing to be done to keep the collective memory of the Christian faith alive - bills need to be paid, rotas need to be arranged and events need to be planned in order to act out the public face of the Church as the people of God. The Son’s gift of will is shown through us as the embodied reality of the Church willing to volunteer get jobs done.
The Trinity is the majesty of God, the service of the Son and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We have a story to tell (Father), a mission to follow (Son) and a fellowship to maintain (Holy Spirit)
Generally the Trinity does not hold a central place in the liturgical year of the parish. The Trinity is seen as a troublesome piece of theological baggage best kept out of the way when talking about the faith to non believers and most easily explained in a Trinity Sunday sermon by using the analogy of water, ice and steam or different notes of music – each entirely separate but of the same substance. A sermon demonstrating that a three in one God is possible falls short of showing how it shapes our identity as the people of God.
The Trinity has long been considered an enigma within Western Christendom because a Communitarian Divinity (Okechukwu Ogbonnaya 1998) does not fit with our individualized, self-referential, consumer rights driven worldview. Christianity in the last analysis is Trinitarian. Take out of the New Testament the persons of Father Son and Holy Spirit and there is no God left. Church life without the Trinity is like having the ingredients without the recipe to put them all together.