If, as Hauerwas maintains, the principal social ethical activity of the Church is to be the Church, then the most significant witness of St Elizabeth's is to gather together on a Sunday. Given the fragilty of institutions in the community, the regular and frequent voluntary gathering of people who have no blood relationship, finanical gain, or common pastime, and no particular economic or racial identity, is the most remarkable thing about the Church. The assembly comes about through geographical location, a shared commitment to the Christian tradition, and a common identity which one member describes as 'a bunch of misfits who somehow fit together'. As Hauerwas himself says, 'The church, as a society of the liberated, is thus the necessary paradigm that can offer us imaginative possibilities of social relations other not thought possible.'
The 'imaginative possibilities of social relations' at St Elizabeth's are perhaps most in evidence in the interaction of adults and children. Several factors contribute to making St Elizabeth's unusual in this respect. Children outnumber adults at a Sunday morning service by about four to one. Not a single one of these children brings a parent with them. The church has adults, and the church has children - but the church has no nuclear families ... Thus all who come are prepared to interact with whoever walks through the door. The building is modern and flexible, with no fixed seating and a comfortable floor. These four factors have made it possible to develop a particular style of worship in which children and adults together explore God's word and mystery. for example, at Epiphany adults and older children discussed in groups where was the darkness, where was the manger, and how we could be the star in relation to Iraq, Ethiopia, and a street near the church respectively, while the younger children cut out shapes representing darknesses, mangers and stars. A shared enquiry and shared discovery helps the adults break out of comfortable modes of thought, and offers the children adults who listen to them and take their questioning journey of discipleship seriously. This is not a 'family service', for there are no families: it is the body of Christ in communal discernment 1.By learning to be friends with people very different from themselves, old and young learn more about what it means to be friends with God.
1. Of course there are occasions when the children and adults worship separately. But on these occasions it is the adults, not the children, who leave the main worship space and go into a smaller room, later to return and report on what they have discovered in their 'group'.
(Sam Wells, 'No Abiding Inner City: A New Deal for the Church' in Faithfulness and Fortitude: In Conversation with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas, 2000, 117-137, (eds.) M. Thiessen Nation and S. Wells, T & T Clark, Edinburgh)
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