Everybody Needs a Place
"For freedom Christ has set us free."
One of our good friends when we lived in Durban many years ago was a Lutheran priest from Norway who was a missionary in the Indian community. Eventually he built a very large, very modern church building for his congregation in Chatsworth. One day, as the building began to take shape, our friend saw some people looking quizzically at it, so he asked them what they thought it was. To his surprise, they all agreed that it was a new security prison! He was bemused. But how often people think of the church as if it were prison, whereas Jesus intends the church to be a place of freedom and joy.
There has long been a tension, and sometimes a conflict, between legalistic Christianity, with its emphasis on fault-finding and the excommunication of sinners, and inclusive Christianity with its emphasis on forgiveness, on allowing God to be the judge, a form of Christianity that lives by grace not law, that cherishes freedom. the creativity of the Spirit, and a concern for human well-being. This tension was well-expressed by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians where he contrasts the bondage of the law with the freedom of the Spirit. "For freedom Christ has set us free," he exclaims. Of course, he also says that we should not misuse our freedom in irresponsible living. It is being free to love, embrace and serve other. It is the freedom of the Spirit whose fruit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control." (5:22) These are the marks of the true church, of those who live by the Spirit in the freedom for which Christ has set us free.
I rejoice when I come across churches, of whatever denomination, who express their Christian faith in an open, inclusive, generous and Spirit-led way; churches that are providing a home and a hospitality for the many people who are seeking express their faith and spirituality in a way that has integrity and is relevant both to their own lives and to that of society. People seeking grace and forgiveness, not judgment and rejection. Everybody needs such a place; a community of faith that provides them with support, and direction, and the freedom where they can grow and mature in their discipleship and spiritual journey. There are many churches like that, but sometimes they are a little hard to find, and it is regarded as a prison not a place of freedom, a place of law not of grace.
During our recent visit to Jersey Island we visited Trinity Parish church where my grandfather was baptized, and his father before him, and his ancestors going back to the 13th century! In the churchyard are dozens of tombstones bearing the name de Gruchy, many of them Jean or John de Gruchy. I am related to them all! The original Jean who came from Normandy was of Norse or Viking stock, as is our surname. The story goes that his father, Hugh, was a nobleman but when the Frankish kings invaded Normandy Jean fled to Jersey which is only seven miles from the coast of France. And my family is descended from him. So I was delighted when visiting Trinity Church to discover an excellent statement on the notice board as you enter on what it means to be the church today as a place which everybody needs.
Everybody Needs a Place
We hope you find yours here.
Here is a place that is ancient and new, a faith that we hold going back to Jesus, back to his spiritual ancestors, back to those who walked the earth and found holy ground. And what we do is often based on really ancient patterns—worship and music; loving service to the poor, the hurting, the lonely; working for justice and peace; lively, fearless education and formation of minds and souls. And that faith is also completely contemporary, engaged in the culture and the needs of the moment.
What we are for
The dignity and worth of every person. An open minded, passionate commitment to truth. The importance of everyone’s own spiritual journey. God’s friends wherever we find them. Seeking Christ in every person who comes through the door. The sacredness of life’s rites of passage. The value of community. The hard work necessary to make sure that all are welcomed. Telling the truth about life’s challenges. A “user-friendly” church experience. Children, youth and families. We believe that God is love, and we pray that God will use us to spread that love.
What we are against
Claiming to have all the answers. Elitism and exclusivism, especially in church. Bigotry for any reason. Authoritarianism. Indifference to injustice and suffering. Certitude in the face of ambiguity and superficial answers to hard question. Boring sermons, bad music and general cluelessness. (So, God help us, because we don’t always avoid these!)
What we value
Community, open hearts, open minds, open arms. Faith. Fortitude. Staying current, but equally staying rooted in tradition. Reason and honesty. Civic responsibility. Debate that allows for mutual respect. Music and beauty for their own sake. Joy in God’s creation. Anyone who makes an effort to get to know and follow Jesus.
At a time, by no means the first in history, when many people reject the church, though they may still respect Jesus, it is good to reaffirm what we really stand for as his disciples who have been set free from the bondage of legalism in order to live by the Spirit.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 31 July 2014