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In an age of too much certitude I have been playing with some short statements meant to suggest a more humble approach to life and leadership. While The Catacomb Churches is trying to suggest that the mission of the church is the continuing creation and healing of the world - it would be every so possible to make this mission overwhelming.  So here are a few statements meant to help guard against this:

  • To lead without having to win
  • To trust without having to be certain
  • To try without having to succeed
  • To think without having the answer

Let me know what you think.

Introducing The Catacombs

In the last ten years the percentage of people in the Pacific Northwest who do not participate in a faith community has grown to 69%.  At the same time, many of our churches, pastors, and members are doing great work to build relationships with people outside our congregations and are inviting them to participate.

There are people in the Northwest who share many of our values and have a deep respect for Jesus. They are interested in theological and ethical conversation, in engaging the scriptures, and even being formed in spiritual practices. Yet for many, large corporate worship is just not their thing. They see a world of challenges and want support and formation to engage those challenges in some meaningful way.

As one way to reach out to them, the Northwest Washington Synod and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia are supporting an experimental mission start called The Catacombs with Pastor Terry Kyllo as its developer.

The vision of The Catacombs is to create connected house churches to Free, prepare, and support people as they participate in God’s healing of the world.

The Catacombs will be neo-monastic house churches each with a distinct focus of leadership and service in the world. You can find out more at www.catacombchurches.org.

The ancient church began its ministry in houses. In larger cities, an overseer would work with the house churches to help imagine, equip, support and celebrate the ministry of the congregation and to guide the formation of new Christians.

House churches will be groups of up to ten people plus children, with two leaders, who meet weekly for about 2.5 hours for formation, relationship, discernment, to share a meal, and to plan their nonviolent public leadership in the larger world. The house gatherings will be liturgical and sacramental in nature.

All of the house churches will jointly assemble on major days of the liturgical calendar for worship, mutual support, and fun. Participants will also be invited to an annual retreat at Holden Village.

The key questions The Catacombs are going to engage are:

  • How do we understand and manage life and death as human beings?
  • How do we live together despite the significant differences between our worldviews and cultures?
  • How will we live on this planet in a way that respects the ecosystem and those who will live after us?

This new mission is not intended as an indictment against other ways of being the church. There are many ways to be the church.  The Catacombs is an attempt to add to the ways that Lutherans and Episcopalians currently express community gathered in and around Jesus Christ.

The Catacombs will be starting in March in the Everett area and south into Lynnwood and Mill Creek. As Terry begins his work to develop The Catacombs he will focus on finding people who do not participate in existing churches. He hopes that some people may become interested in the conversation but find a home in existing churches. If people from existing churches seem to be interested, he will require them to have a conversation with their pastor before any participation takes place.

Please pray for those who will be called to participate in The Catacombs, for Terry Kyllo the developer, and that all the churches of the Northwest Washington Synod and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia may continue to grow in our capacity to meaningfully engage our neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I met tonight with a great group of people in Mount Vernon. I gave an introduction to the Catacomb Churches and we tried on a few of the personal and group spiritual practices.

This is a very diverse group. They seemed especially interested in a church that mixed the power of a small group, the spiritual practices and gift of theology and tradition of the larger church, the oversight and support of a pastor, and the freedom and money to get engaged in leadership in the larger world.

I really struggled this last week to find ways to better express what the Catacomb Churches could be and I felt I did okay.  Always more to learn!

I ended my time with them by inviting them to consider being a test group for the Catacomb worship order for 2 to 4 weeks sometime in January or February. But I told them to take some time, let the information settle, and get back to me when the time is right.

One of them said, "That's nice, because you are trying to lead without having to win."

"I manage that sometimes," I said.

It was a great evening.

I got an email from a friend of mine with a link to a great article from Brian McLaren in which he wonders what would happen if the church was more like a seminary:

  1. A robust intellectual environment where they can openly and energetically explore God, the Bible, doctrine, faith, liturgy, mission, church history, and the spiritual life.
  2. A diverse ecumenical environment where they can read and learn from (and with) a broad range of Christians from a variety of cultures, denominations, and perspectives.
  3. A reverent soul-friendly environment where spiritual direction, practices, and formation are taken seriously.
  4. An engaged missional environment at the intersection of faith, contemporary global crises, and local social needs—where students are guided into experiences of practical involvement.
  5. An accepting communal environment where they can experience what Bonhoeffer called "life together."

Amen brother Brian!

This is a big part of what I envision for the Catacomb Churches.

Here is the full article:

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Seminary-Is-Not-the-Problem-the-Church-Is-Brian-McLaren-11-02-2011.html/#.TrG_K_gh5uY.email

I had a great time today preaching and presiding at the Lord's Supper.  I preached on Luke 15 and the parable of the lost sheep. I spoke about how comfortable we get with the idea of "acceptable losses:" in war, in homelessness, in the hungry, and in losses to our environment. But to God there are no acceptable losses. God won't stop until God heals the whole world. We find meaning and a measure of peace in taking our part with God in the healing of the world.

I had a great time talking to Josh who is a worship leader there about his ministry at TLC and at a new ministry on Sunday nights. I hope I can come and hang out some Sunday Evening.

Vacation was great!  A week in Oregon with our friends, a week in Coeur d'Alene on my brother's boat, and a week of house painting, drive sealing, and deck finishing.

I got back to a great email.  Bethany in Mount Vernon, a pastor of a Nazarene Church, has a bunch of friends who are willing to participate in a house church worship experiment. This sounds like the perfect group: from many different backgrounds, religious experiences, and perspectives. And the group is in Mount Vernon - so I won't have to drive all over the place to do a trial.

I am still thinking of how to best engage the group - the idea is to try out the format for house church worship and get some feedback on it.

I can't wait!

I had a great time with Erik Samuelson from Trinity Lutheran College today. He and I are planning to do some Catacomb events at Trinity in October of 2011 - including some participation in the chapel services. Very Fun!

Trinity will be a great partner in resourcing and referring people to the Catacomb Churches.  I hope that the Catacomb Churches, even in the exploration phase of things, will be a great conversation starter and a source of fresh imagination about the church in these changing times.

Which one comes first: the chicken or the egg?

One response is that both are a miracle.

I realized yesterday that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself that I didn't need. I was thinking, without being totally conscious of it, that I needed to find 30 people interested in participating before I could hope to find any funding for the Catacomb Churches.

This is simply not realistic. Thanks to a good conversation with Ryan from Church of the Beloved I realized what I was doing to myself and I feel much better today.

Luther called this the "mutual consolation" of the people of the church. We all need some help getting our balance once in a while and I needed it yesterday.

I have been making a list of potential partners for many months now, jotting them down in my IPhone. This week I spent an hour or two one evening sending out emails to about the first half of them.

High on my list are seminaries, universities and collegesin the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions. I can't expect to be able to provide resources on my own, and I can't expect to provide support without receiving it.

So far the response has been really positive - but of course they need to discern if they are called to take part in something experimental like this.

But then, everything in life is experiemental - especially in this time of deep and persistent change. The church will simply be much more diverse in 20 years so let's start trying some things out.