Abbey Way began almost eleven years ago. As a church plant, our model of Christian faith community was adapted from a 1500 year old rule of life written by an Italian named Benedict of Nursia. We loosely applied what he and many others had lived, doing our best to honor the roots of the tradition that has given a structure of Gospel living for many.
Starting at a point that was very different than most other evangelical church plants, we have learned many things over the last eleven years. Some are normal part of the church planting process such as defining essential identity questions of who we are and who we are not. But most of our schooling came in the practice of community making itself. With a lack of an unified conceptual framework readily available, we encountered together distinct moments of stumbling ...sometimes coming very near to the possibility of experiencing a deadly blow to something precious and good among us. The monastic instruction encapsulated in the innate inevitably of "falling down and getting back up again" helped to sustain Abbey Way's willingness to journey on even when our corporate story's unfolding seemed hard or overwhelming.
One of the surprising places of learning for me personally as the planting pastor was the application of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's wisdom from Life Together. Life Together always floated around as a resource in the background of Abbey Way for many of our people--myself included. When a significant time of hardship occurred among us, Bonhoeffer as a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor coupled with his respect for the monastic tradition and love for the church gave his words respectable weight as applied to Abbey Way's life together. The words that flashed in intensity for me were these:
"Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it's pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.... Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts."
Abbey Way begin with the working model of three essential elements working in tension with each other. They are: spiritual practices; corporate rhythms; and intentional relationships. With many people coming to Abbey Way from a large mega-church context with its inherent struggle to find deep relationship and friendship, people came hungry if not starving for something different. Quite quickly intentional relationship arose to the top of the reasons why people came and stayed at Abbey Way. For some, relationship was the only reason they remained at (or even left) Abbey Way. Ironically, the mega-church experience of disconnection became a small church experience of over connection. Pastorally, I struggled with how to lead and guide the dearly loved of God from a corporate self understanding of being a community of relational connections to church of Christ's own formation, confronting my own failures and weaknesses along the way.
At the eleven year mark, I feel more reflective than in years past. Some of it may be that there are more years to reflect upon. But I think that is not all. I need to acknowledge my years at Abbey Way are numbered. This is not because there is a plan a foot of my leaving Abbey Way--a place I truly love--that I am now announcing. No, that is not it. I see a dawn of new season ahead that has yet to be named. I want to write the goodness of what Abbey Way has been down so that we can all continue our learning of what God has done and is doing in us. In some tangible way, I would like to complete my cycle and in turn our cycle of faithfulness here by recording some it for others to see.
This is the first of hopefully many musings.
Peace of Christ to you,