The Lastingham Group of Churches

Lastingham, Hutton-le-Hole, Appleton-le-Moors, Rosedale & Cropton


      York  35 miles   ·   London  242 miles

Lindisfarne 126 miles   ·   Canterbury 310 miles    ·    Rome ~1140 miles   ·   Jerusalem ~2290 miles    

Whitby  28  miles   ·  Scarborough 23 miles   ·   Pickering 7 miles   ·   Kirkbymoorside 5 miles


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What is your local church?

One of the stock phrases in government-speak these days is ‘service provider’.  The bank, the solicitor’s, the doctor’s surgery, the hospital, the bus company - all are categorised as ‘service providers’. As such they are expected to ‘give the public what they want’ or perhaps to give them ‘what they have the right to expect’. And they must conform to ‘certain standards’ of efficiency, ‘health and safety’, the Disability Discrimination Act and so forth.

As such, the church might at first be thought of by some as a ‘service provider’. Doesn’t it, after all, provide church services? This is certainly the way it is frequently spoken of.

However, I would like to suggest that this ‘consumerist’ model of the church is misleading and not altogether helpful. Here are some points to consider.

1.   As is so often said, the church is not a building but the people who go to it. You can have a church without a building; but if a church building is not attended it’s not really a church. And the question will arise whether it should remain open.  

2.   The church can only be run from the resources it can muster. These include: people, goodwill and money.

3.   The church everywhere in the West is going through a difficult and challenging time. It is not just that we are short of people to do the work (I am trying to do the work that four people did 50 years ago), or the money we need to pay for this work. These things are just symptoms of a more general cultural upheaval which all of us have been going through. This cultural upheaval is a major force in our lives, and takes in the following.

·      a breakdown of the fabric of our society. This includes the breakdown of the stories and attitudes that used to nourish and sustain us, i.e. a basic set of beliefs and loyalties, a sense of beauty, and a sense of community.

  •    an unprecedented material prosperity.

  •    an attitude that people have a ‘right’ to be given what they want. 

  •    a changed lifestyle, seemingly toward ceaseless activity (including shopping) all though the week.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.  I needed to pose the question: what is the church for anyway? Popular ideas vary enormously. Here are seven things which could be mentioned:

  •   a place of beauty and tranquility, in which one may reflect and pray;

  •   a group of people in which the Christian Tradition is affirmed and celebrated;

  •   a context for christenings, weddings and funerals;

  •   a space for pastoral care and support, and for personal growth;

  •   a forum for protest and debate;

  •   a building where concerts, plays, art exhibitions, flower festivals etc can be held;

  •   a focus of true community.

Although these seven are all interconnected, I would like to emphasise the last point as the most important. For many, it will be strongly linked with my second: the celebration of the Christian Tradition. And I suppose we must agree that, by definition, you can’t have a church without Christianity. And yet. Isn’t it is also true that some affirm Christianity with a strong certainty but without much sense of loyalty or love for their fellow human beings, and in a way that judges and excludes them?  Would a group of such people be a valid church?  Surely not. Many of us would prefer to belong to a church of peace-loving and inwardly warm ‘atheists’ and agnostics!  This is why I am saying that the community aspect, the fellowship and loyalty, is of supreme importance.

By the way, speaking of atheists, did you know that the earliest Christians were called atheists?  This was because they did not believe in the gods that others believed in at that time. Instead, they wanted to affirm their ‘community values’ - their love and loyalty to one another, their fellowship with others of like mind, and their need to give and receive forgiveness - by the sharing of bread and wine. This is what made them into a church.

To those who still want a church in their village, here’s a suggestion. Forget about the idea of ‘service provider’. Consider, rather, what you could do to make us a focus of true community.

© ASF 2006

For a mini-dictionary of theological terms, particularly those used in Radical Orthodoxy, click here.




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