For the Church to be everywhere, it has to be local
Greetings from Castelldefels, Catalunya – from our Airbnb near Barcelona airport. We’ve now become regular user of this online marketplace for arranging accommodation, usually in people’s home. In fact, we only arrived last night, turning up in Avinguda in the dark, to be greeted by our welcoming ‘superhost.’ We began using Airbnb in Australia last autumn. The first two stays were with friends but then in Canberra, we stayed in a soulless Holiday Inn Express just like every other HIX. However, our subsequent two stays en route to Melbourne, were in real homes - thanks to Airbnb. Real people, locals. We felt plugged in. I recall a conversation some years ago with a clerical colleague from Middlesbrough. Prior to ordination, his high powered job with a software company meant extensive travel throughout Europe. The routine, he explained, was to be met at the airport, taken direct to the office for meetings, then out for dinner in the evening. Finally he would be taken to a smart hotel where he would be picked up the following morning to be returned to the airport. One morning, he related, he woke up and could not remember where he was. Looking around the hotel room gave nothing away; even looking out of the window at the commercial park didn’t help. He could be anywhere. So he turned on the hotel television. There were two languages: French and Finnish. He thought unlikely that a hotel in France would offer advice in Finnish and so, he deduced, he was in Finland. At that point he realised that it was time to resign his job and offer himself for ministry in the CofE. But increasingly in our global world with its global brands, shopping malls and utilitarian architecture, national and local character is being lost, possibly one of the factors underlying Brexit. So we’re here in Catalunya for a family holiday in Tossa de Mar, where my father took me for holiday exactly 60 years ago. In those days Spain was foreign, very much so. Everything was different – the buildings, the cars, the trains, the police (of course, in Franco’s Fiefdom): everything. Above all, the food. Until then I thought everyone on the planet had cornflakes for breakfast, except for the very rich who had Rice Krispies. I can still relive my first encounter with a croissant running with apricot jam: life-changing. Nowadays you can buy your croissant in Morrison's, along with yams, naan bread and fusilli. The balance between the local and the global has massively shifted towards the latter. This is always a challenge for the Church with a capital C. Fundamentally we are Catholic with another capital C – in the original meaning of the word meaning general or universal. We embrace all cultures and civilisations even over the centuries: an extra three c’s. It is the radical theologian, Hans Kung, who says “I like the catholicity in time: our tradition is one of 2000 years.’ However, at the same time we are local, meeting as congregations in a particular place, each with its own way of doing things. Archbishop Donald Wuerl comments: “At the parish level, where the church lives and moves and breathes, that's where we need to be engaging our people much more in understanding the Word of God.” Now I think about it, New Wine’s strapline is “Local churches changing nations.” It’s fascinating in see in the letters to the seven churches at the beginning of the New Testament book of Revelation refer to the specifics of each particular town. They are not interchangeable. For example, Laodicea – which I was reading on Wednesday – is supplied by aqueduct with water from hot springs. Accordingly the Christians there are warned with a metaphor which they can immediately relate to: “So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16) So an important goal is our ministry of sharing the Word of God is to make it to be accessible to our neighbours, understandable within our own culture. Always a challenge. However, the danger of being local is that we so easily become parochial. Sad to say, this adjective has the meaning in everyday speech of being inward-looking and petty-minded. For as Christians we are called to be the very opposite, to be outward-looking and in Jesus’ name to embrace the whole world. We are called to be truly internationalist. One area which I have recently become more active is in praying for persecuted church, my fellow believers who are suffering for following Jesus. As the apostle Paul teaches “All of you are Christ's body, and each one is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26f). So he challenges us: “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.” Currently I am using the excellent prayer diary published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “40 years of standing against injustice.” This week we are praying for the church in Pakistan, for these brave Christians who need our support. An already tense situation there is “exacerbated by terrorist attacks, sectarian violence and the state’s failure to hold perpetrators of violence to account.” (page 7) Their pain is our pain: we are in this together - for we each and all belong to the holy (like Jesus), catholic (universal) and apostolic (sent by God) church.