The whole thing with this church planting malarky has weighed on my mind for some time. For those of you who don't live within the scope of an Oyster Card and therefore not in HTB heartland, a church plant is nothing much to do with Mrs Miggins and her flower rota, or indeed the lovely chap who tends to the weeds by the gravestones.
No, this is far more important.
Church planting is de rigueur around London and environs and refers to the creating of a new church community, often within old disused church buildings or the local school. The art of the church plant is exemplified by the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Archdiocese of Brompton, who regard it as a gospel imperative (the 'making disciples' thing). The simple fact is, if you leave a spare bedroom un-used for too long, one of two things will happen: you will pay tax or else your spare bedroom will be planted by the planters and a church dedicated St Flossy in the Wold will be created among your detritus. Church plants are also easy to spot for there are some common characteristics in each
1. There will be a polyvinyl Alpha Course banner outside2. The Pasta will be wearing the obligatory hoody and have a funky modern hairdo, goatee and that church-plant fringe thing3. The Pasta's name will be abbreviated from that given at their baptism (often with a 'z' added for extra funkiness)
The fact is, in sitting here and writing this, I have been absent from my own church building for a few minutes, and I am already sure that Muff and Baz have taken over the joint to create the next branch office of Alpha International.
Now, as the meagre parson that I am, with a church community to love into the Kingdom, I find that the greater burden on my reverential shoulders is manifest in the need to keep the present day subsidised so that tomorrow has half a chance. I am largely a fundraiser to maintain, if I am lucky, the parochial status quo. Most incumbents across most parishes across Christendom face the same challenges, unless of course they are those Johnny-come-Latelys from the fecund breast of the HTB mothership. They pitch up, rip the hoarding down from the crumbling carcass of St Silas under the Wardrobe, by their own effort paint it and make it look pretty, install the rock act and the obligatory sound desk, and crack on. Are they worried about the bills? Possibly. But what is the case is that they are ready to use the re-enlivened St Silas by the Bedside Cabinet as launch pad to a new church plant.
I have often pondered this gentle spread of the planters across the territory. That they are of a single breed of ecclesial expression, that they all seem to have the same theology, that their outward face is often mitigated by the same nurture course - this, I confess, worries me. That I sit in some measure of fear for my parish community when I eventually leave because I am quite sure that a planter is already being cloned in readiness to take over and turn the altar into a drum kit - that worries me. That they are all the same worries me too as I believe passionately in the diversity of the church. That there seems to be no future place for Christians born as I have been born worries me, and there are times when, in my less charitable moments, I feel that this relentless church planting is carcinogenic. Not all church communities are the same, of course, so why are all church plants the same?
The fact remains, though, that I know that what the planters are doing is right. They are broadcasting their seed so that new Christian communities can grow. Rather than being a carcinogen, they are in fact contagions for the Gospel and rather than wish to wipe them from the face of the Earth, wish that my 'tribe' could learn a lesson and see the very real need for all types of church plant in the breadth of expression that the Lord must surely favour. Us catholic types surely have it easy. We don't need sound-desks and drum kits, my name doesn't have to be changes to Davey and I am delighted, thank you very much, with the Pilgrim Course. All I need therefore, for a church plant is a cup, a plate, and the heart for it.
In my little parish, thriving though it is, I have neither the first idea or the apparent resource to accomplish any sort of plant, as I see it. I don't have an International Corporation to which I can claim a place at table to help me. I do, though, want to see the church of God grow. I grant that in this part of London I am HTB-locked, so what do I do? I am so locked into the the need to have church pay its way in the present day that the idea of sending out some good folk with a roll of cash seems impossible. I so want the church that I love grow and thrive. It is an exciting time to be a Christian and the world is hungry, but I have been born into a tradition that seems to favour the liturgical moment and not the risk of a tomorrow in the dust and uncertainty somewhere new. As someone that I know (who is much wiser than I) put it - we need more mission-minded Catholics so that we can be contagious too.