Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
C. Christopher Smith
IVP Books, 2014
247 pp., $17.00
Rachel Marie Stone
Church as a Shared Meal
That is the task to which Slow Church sets itself: "the full reconciliation of all creation," although not via copying the strategies of successful megachurches but through "cultivating together the resurrection life of Christ."
The authors, I hasten to clarify, are not unduly critical of church models that differ from their own (they are, in fact, from different church traditions). It seems that Slow Church values can be and are present in contexts as diverse as Christendom itself. Indeed the whole point of Slow Church is that individual communities of worship will be and should be diverse. If there is a sine qua non of Slow Church, it is perhaps that churches should not be sharply demarcated from the communities in which they are formed: they should be sites of worship, of fellowship, of work, of play.
Lest the reader take Slow Church—with its emphasis on rootedness, local economies, local food, and so forth—as a spiritual excuse to become "hipper than thou," Pattison and Smith urge acceptance and embrace of the actual people and place God brings. (I was reminded of Nadia Bolz-Weber's dismay at the influx of uncool middle-class people in khakis in the midst of her grungy, gritty urban congregation.) Among the churches I visited as a child were several dying congregations in New York City neighborhoods that had, to use the commonly employed euphemism, "changed," meaning that Caucasians had largely moved away and now commuted to the shrinking church that no longer reflected the neighborhood. When members were reluctant to stay in their neighborhoods and welcome whomever God brought, regardless of race and socioeconomic factors, the churches invariably withered. But one of those congregations we visited when I was a kid managed to open their doors wide, embrace the people who were actually there, and flourish.
The final chapter of Slow Church envisions, quite biblically and appropriately, church as a shared meal; a "dinner table conversation as a way of being the church." Questions that arise during the course of planning a meal—What will we eat? Who will do which tasks? Where will we buy the food and who is invited to the table?—reflect many of the same questions raised throughout the book about the way communities of worship think about and implement their way of being in the world. They are questions worth lingering over, even for those who are content with their current ways of being a part of the church, for they invite everyone to a deeper enjoyment of and engagement with the often-strange experience that is church.
Life has taken me far from the churches of my childhood, and yet there are pockets of people, here and there throughout New York, mostly, who remember when my teenage mother showed up at their church, a Jewish girl with a Gospel of John in her hand in need of a church family, which they gave her. They remember my father in his motorcycle jackets, gold chains, and John Travolta hair, too cool for Bible study but longing to know more about the God he was grudgingly but irresistibly drawn toward. They remember my baby-faced parents' wedding, the dedication of their baby, and my father's improbable call to ordained ministry. They are the people who slipped us cash when we were out of groceries and held us up when my father nearly died of a then-mysterious disease. Lovingly, faithfully, they were and are my family. They showed up at my wedding and in their strong Queens and Brooklyn accents praised God's faithfulness to the two lost teenagers my parents once were. They are imperfect saints, and they are, even now, my slow church.
Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food, published last year by InterVarsity Press.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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