Laura McAdam starts by having no answers.
The vision of Nightchurch is to seek to become an inclusive community with Christ at the centre, learn how to be generous with hospitality, creative in spirituality and passionate about justice.
We have a team who meet at Exeter Cathedral on Friday nights for an open space, free café, various spiritual expressions – from a conversation group to meditation, prayers for healing and the occasional time of communal worship. People also meet fortnightly in a pub for a discussion group – the only rule being that there are 'no Sunday School answers'. So Nightchurch is really a family of expressions. The one in the pub with a small group of people is one thing, but to fulfil our vision in a cathedral on a weekly basis? Madness.
Here are our challenges:
- Create something which balances building community with being outward looking;
- Having a team made up of evangelicals, pagans, unchurched, dechurched, traditionalists, different sexual orientations, charismatics, humanitarians, cynics, disillusioned, counsellors, business people, homeless, students, liberals, secular-zenbuddhist-protestant-catholic-orthodox-nature-mystics, and those who don't like to be pigeon-holed;
- Dealing with several different agendas within the team, from why they are there to what they think Nightchurch should look like and do.
The danger of a new expression of church is that it becomes a bridge from the outside world to 'proper church' rather than a spiritual home in itself. It's very interesting to spend time in a cathedral working out what the essential elements of 'church' are, and watching how different cultures, experiences and needs shape the interpretations and agendas of all those involved. And then comes the challenge of taking these elements and weaving them naturally into the weekly experience whilst avoiding 'cool' alternative worship gimmicks.
We want to be outward looking, embracing and inclusive. So do we dilute elements of what we do to cater for all levels of understanding and belief? When do people stop being consumers and become partners in our journey?
Lessons learned along the way include:
- Spirituality can be interpreted in many different ways;
- If you leave things to be too 'organic', you're allowing those with the loudest voices shape the whole thing;
- Get clear why everyone's involved from the start;
- Be prepared for things that should work to not work in the slightest;
- Give up on trying to make one size fit all – that's not what 'inclusive' means in this context;
- Don't become 'church but on a different day with the lights off';
- Stock up on biscuits.
The most exciting thing about Nightchurch – and fresh expressions – is the number of questions it poses, and how unsettled it makes you feel. It gives you permission to ask all the questions you never thought you'd get away with, and to embrace the old with the new. It's a very uncomfortable way of doing church; it's frontline stuff. It actively engages with the issues the world is tackling, real people and real problems that get up in your face and ruin your carefully made plans. And not once have we talked about what style of music we play.