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Revitalizing Christian communities
Webcast will explore practices of vital, growing congregations


5/1/2006

Diana Butler Bass

  

 

Alan Jones

  
“How do we get back to the basics of Christianity without getting buried in doctrine and dogma?”

That’s the question an Ascension Day webcast will explore when Trinity Church-St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan presents Here Comes Everybody!: Christian Community That Works, said Rick Johnson, director of Trinity Television and New Media. The live online webcast will examine the increasing interest in inclusive and progressive Christian communities that include constructive conversation and a safe platform for disagreement.

Progressive means a “congregation that has diversity of opinion within it, conservatives and liberals, but all are dedicated to the notion that everybody fits, that there’s a place for everyone,” Johnson explained. “It’s when you’re into the tribalism of who’s in and who’s out that a community stagnates and a community is torn apart.”

The program will feature a video essay and 20-minute interviews with three speakers: Diana Butler Bass, a senior researcher at Virginia Theological Seminary and director of the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice; the Very Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco; and Brian McLaren, founder of Cedar Ridge Community Church, a nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. A panel discussion which viewers can call in or e-mail questions will follow.  The program will be available for online viewing at trinitywallstreet.org from 8-10 p.m. May 25.

“The greater life of this will be as a resource on our online television portal,” Johnson said. The program will be divided into four segments, and congregations will be able to visit the website and view the program on demand or order it on DVD. “It’s really meant to be a resource for congregations that are contemplating what they can do to revitalize their community life.”

Bass’ research into 50 congregations in several mainline denominations revealed that churches following certain “intentional” practices -- giving special meaning to values of home and personal religious practice -- are growing in vitality and membership, Johnson said.

The webcast explores successful Christian communities in various denominations, including “emergent congregations.” These nondenominational communities “come from people getting together and doing Bible study and doing prayer together and really forming home churches or bonds that are not evangelical and not based on the charisma of a particular leader but are based on the connection that they have [with] one another,” Johnson said. Prayer, working in community, returning to basics of Christian fellowship – “that’s what Christian community that works is all about.”

While those on the church’s “extremes” get a lot of attention, Jones theorizes that 80 percent of the church -- liberals and conservatives -- wants to stay together. This webcast, he said, should show them they’re not alone. “It’s middle ground in the best sense,” he said. “It’s that willingness to say, ‘Look, I don’t know the answers to everything, but given the state of the world, I want to build bridges. I want to listen to other people.’

“The way we hold our beliefs is as important as our beliefs themselves,” said Jones, who is writing a book called Common Prayer on Common Ground: A Vision of Anglican Orthodoxy. “I’d much rather have someone love me than be able to define the Trinity or something like that -- although I feel very passionate about the tradition.”