Sunday, August 19, 2007

Building Intentional Christian Communities

The second summer course that we took (read about the first) was Building Christian Communities with Aussie Prof, Charles Ringma.

We started out considering the different ways that you could go about building a theology of Christian community: using the trinity, church or a Christ-centred approach as a base, developing a theology from New Testament perspectives (eg Acts 2 & 4) or looking at the tradition of historical Christian communities. The conclusion was, there is no theological, biblical or historical justification that a Christian community should exist in only one form. In reality, the theology around Christian communities is built on a conglomerate of the mentioned influences.

Throughout the course, we looked at the communities of: early Christianity, the Monastics, Anabaptists, Amish, Moravians, Contemporary House Churches, cluster living communities and Latin America’s Base Ecclesial Communities. Questions we wrestled with were: can the local church congregation fulfil the role of Christian community, as the Bible describes it, in our modern, fast-paced western society? Or do we need to consider establishing Intentional Christian Communities that complement and grow out of the institutionalised church?

Part of our assessment involved visiting an Intentional Christian Community and writing a reflection paper that also offered a critique of the community we visited. For a radically secular part of the world, Vancouver is home to several rich Christian communities, including: Regent College, L’Abri and A Rocha. As L’Abri was closed due to construction work, Jess and I chose to visit A Rocha: Christians in Conservation.

A Rocha is not your typical Christian community or ministry. There are A Rocha communities in 17 countries (with Australia on the way) that are located in important environmental eco-systems. The British Columbia community is based near the Little Campbell River, an area that is key for migrating bird populations and spawning Salmon. One of A Rocha’s key goals here, is improving the water quality in the River and Bay so the bird and fish life will flourish here, in this ecosystem.

In pursuing this goal, A Rocha has been able to build relationships with other conservation organizations and their members, the local community and representatives of different government departments. A Rocha also acts to educate people about the environment and in particular the impact of environmental abuse locally. School children, churches and random people off the streets come to visit, learn and participate in various projects. A Rocha attracts people of all religions, and particularly people with a more developed environmental concern. At A Rocha the conflict between Christianity and Science is at peace with scientific work playing a key and demonstrated role in creation care, which is a wonderful counter witness to the historical neglect of the environment by the church.

At the core of A Rocha Canada is an intentional Christian community, made up of a fluctuating staff of 15-20 people including long-term staff and short-term interns. Short term interns don’t have to profess a commitment to Christ, but do have to be willing to live in Christian community. We heard several stories of relationships that have developed from living with people and conversations about the gospel that take place in the context of planting local species on the river banks or picking fruit and veggies from the community garden. These conversations and relationships aren’t limited to the interns, they take place with many of the regular volunteers that spend time at A Rocha. It’s encouraging to see a natural Christian witness growing out of the shared concern of the staff and visitors at A Rocha, it offers us an alternate view of missional activity, maybe a more natural and relational one too.

Some heavy-hitters within the Anglican church in England, from where A Rocha sprouted, have crystallised why our stewardship of the earth, in which God has given us to tender, is so important. John Stott, an avid bird watcher, writes in the introduction to the founder of A Rocha’s book, “Can ecological involvement properly be included under the heading of “mission”? Yes, it can and should. For mission embraces everything Christ sends his people into the world to do, service as well as evangelism”. Alistair McGrath is also a regular speaker at A Rocha conferences.

I really like what A Rocha is doing in parts of the third world that are more vulnerable to deteriorating ecosystems than we rich westerners are. In Ghana, A Rocha has implemented a micro-enterprise program, which has provided 296 beehives to effectively harvest the honey from the aggressive wild African bees. Previously, the locals would set natural hives on fire in order to extract the honey. This practise led to many out-of-control fires that unnecessarily burnt large areas of the savannah. The beehives have helped the 98 locals involved by increasing their profits by 140%, valuable extra income in Ghana.

No comments: