These are my notes from my presentation at the regional gathering at Next Church in Nashville. I had a great time and thank the organizers for the opportunity to talk about ministry from my perspective.
For those of you who do not know me I am the Rev. Brian Merritt. I am currently the Evangelist for East Tennessee Presbytery serving a new ministry called Mercy Junction. Currently we are a worshipping community that is advocacy oriented and a food desert ministry. As an active anarchist and Presbyterian minister I have participated in many local actions including, Home Defense against bank foreclosures, Trayvon Martin Rally, Anti-NSA spying rally, an action against Sen. Corker to protest bombing Syria and Idle No More Rally with Cherokee leaders in Chattanooga. I am part of the Chattanooga Worker’s collective, the Polaroid collective, Occupy Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Foreclosure Defense working group and a teacher at Citizens Organizing for Action Justice School.
Here are my list of practical advice for Christ centered gatherings that are revolutionary, non-hierarchical and radical in nature.
1. Collaboration instead of competition
-In a highly driven culture we are sometimes lured into the belief that progress is the goal of the church. This comes from capitalism and not the reformed understanding of the faith. With our emphasis on sin we have a unique understanding of society and against a utopian optimism that both Evangelical church culture and the modern self help movements have given to our church ethos. People are looking for something that is an alternative to our overly marketed culture.
-Similar ministries for similar action
Ideas: Bagged food for school children.
Build a community garden mutually with a racial ethnic congregation.
-Be good patrons of the arts. Find local artists at the markets and offer to pay them for making liturgical arts, prayer books… ALWAYS PAY STRUGGLING ARTISTS!!!!
-Let artists use the church’s space for studio space.
-Collaborate with farmers to open a fresh fruit stands on unused parking lot spaces
2. Smaller is better.
-Local movements are emerging so that one can know the source of one’s food. The same goes for the church. We need to be communities that we know each other intimately. This allows us more room for transformational rolls. Studies are showing that people are preferring smaller, more intimate gatherings.
3. Action, Reflection, Action. Action is an act of worship.
-Orthopraxis (Correct action) is something that many realize as a fundamental characteristic of faith in the 21st century. The lecture model and over intellectualized Sunday School model attract only an elitist grouping of people. Generations that can watch much better Ted talks online do not see these mostly boring monologues as an attractive avenue for the Proclamation of the word. We must find an Ignatian way to connect that proclamation to every aspect of our daily lives and challenge us toward action for peace, mercy, love and justice in the world. This may mean breaking out worship from beyond the pulpit.
4. Suit Up & Show Up
-A reporter once asked the hugely corrupt Democratic Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island how he remained so popular. He proclaimed that he attended everything. Schools, businesses openings and Parking garages. He proclaimed that if someone was going to open a letter he would be there too.
Often in the radical world there is very little competition. Often at the occupy camps and foreclosure defenses I am the only clergy. There are plenty of places that the institutionalist clergy still refuses to participate. I would say that is a terrible misuse of our opportunities to witness to Christ to the uttermost part of the world.
Example: Now that LGBTQ rights have become fashionable amongst some clergy it might be good to take it one step further. Attend a drag show fundraiser for a transgender person fundraising. How about attending a Slut walk? Wear a clergy shirt to a stop and frisk rally. I think you will be surprised at how transformative to your ministry this will be.
5. Relationships Instead of Programs
-Yes this is more time consuming. It will mean friendships, trips and mutual work. Yet, I do not think the programmatic church has been good for our spiritual socieities. It has made people numbers to plug into something rather than collaborators on the work of building the Kingdom of God.
6. Consensus instead of Debate
-There are a few reasons for us to reform or entirely reject the parliamentary system of Church governance in which we work.
- It is an 18th Century form of governance
- Almost no one still sees it as divinely inspired.
- It is oppositional
- Insider power dynamics have learned how to corrupt and manipulate it.
- It is no longer the most effective democratic system.
- Sociology is moving against us.
7. Be vulnerable
-The day of the aloof pastor are over. Long live servant leadership that trusts others!