The church must be an optical fibre lamp, gathered in a concentrated beam or dispersed, “but still connected,” says a Fresh Expressions leader. Photo: Yuyangc
If Jesus bids us shine like pure clear candlelight, the Rev. Nick Brotherwood thinks the contemporary church should shine like an optical fibre lamp. “This lamp is assembled from hundreds of filaments, which are gathered together at the base and powered by a common source,” he told a recent Toronto workshop on the basics of vital church planting. “They can be gathered together in a concentrated beam or dispersed and spread out, but they are still connected, and the same light shines in each and all.”
Calling these lamps his favourite visual aid for the mission-shaped church, the team leader of Fresh Expressions Canada added that although they are physically stronger when concentrated together, they are more sensitive to their environment and to change when dispersed.
Typically, church members spend two hours gathered together on Sunday and the remaining 166 hours of the week dispersed. “Over time, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on the gathered mode and very little on the dispersed mode. But I want to feel sustained and comforted by my church not just when we’re gathered together but also when we’re scattered-the way I feel supported by being a member of the Brotherwood family even though we’re scattered over at least two continents,” said the incumbent of St. Stephen’s Westmount and co-planter of a new Montreal church, Emerge.
In his view, clergy need to recognize and affirm what their dispersed parishioners do during the week. He first encountered Anglicans who felt unsupported by their clergy in their daily work when he served as a chaplain at McGill University some 20 years ago. Now at St. Stephen’s he regularly asks people on Sunday to stand up and take a couple of minutes to explain the challenges they face during the coming week and how the congregation can pray for them.
Sometimes he strengthens connections by visiting people in their workplaces. “This affirms people’s secular lives,” he said. “It gives clergy an opportunity to validate what the non-ordained do when dispersed during the week.” It is important that the message be sent that this is part of being church and ministry, too. “We gather for worship and teaching. We scatter for mission. God’s mission typically takes place in the dispersed community.”
That’s why he prefers the dynamic image of the optical-fibre lamp to the static bricks-and-mortar view of the church. “At this time we need to re-ignite our imagination about what it means to be church and generally place more emphasis on the dispersal mode,” he said.