Church: as garden, park, glen and meadow…


I have been reading this book- ‘The church in emerging culture’, ed Leonard Sweet. It takes a look at where church is up to from 5 perspectives- Andy Crouch, Michael Horton, Fredrica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren and Erwin McManus.

I have lost my way with it a little- more because of the format I think. Each person writes a chapter, then the other authors get a chance to put in footnotes and comments. I like the idea, but in practice, it makes for a strange book- lots of the comments are congratulatory, or disagreeing whilst being terribly nice.

However, there is an introduction by Leonard Sweet in which he uses this image to make us think about the different ways of being church. I have simplified (because I had to- the bloke it too clever for me!) the discussion, and reproduce it here.

What do you think? Is this a good analogy?

I suppose the interesting thing is that flowers and fruit grow in all of these places- and they can all be very beautiful…

Garden- traditional church?formal-garden

An ‘enclosure’- fenced off enclave of righteousness. Rooted in traditions. Collaboration between divine gardener (God), master gardeners (ministers) and horticulturalists (theologians), along with the canonical seasons.

Fruit and flowers grow and are appreciated.

The outside of the garden is of little concern. The garden is shaped and hallowed.

The garden demands that we walk slowly, prune quickly, earn the flowers by hard work- composting them well with the goodness distilled from previous generations.

Alien seeds are not tolerated. Constant struggle to win back the garden from the encroachment of time and surrounding wilderness.

Park- evangelical church?phoenix-park

Made for walking. Tied together by paths and vistas. Taking the old story of nature, and reforming it in new ways.

Rather than setting up high barriers, the park regulates the space by RULES. It is open to visitors at appointed times and under the supervision of park-keepers.

Technology and innovation are employed in parks- fountains, play areas- things that attract visitors.

The park manager decides which features to include in the park, borrowing from a wide variety of flora and fauna- but does not do so uncritically- always striving to work within the opportunities given by landscape and tradition.

Glen- progressive church?welcome-to-glen-clova-scotland

The glen is an open and unprotected, surrounded by encroaching vegetation and forest.

It is defined by the relationship between landscape and soil fertility that allows settlement. The edges of the glen- its crags and steep slopes, require hard work to navigate. People avoid these places because of the fear of falling.

Glen dwellers revel in the mystery of the seed and season. They travel in packs of people of group consciousness. They are concerned with the cultivation of food from the land to feed the hungry, not about the beauty of gardens and parklands.

In the garden, you are what your parents planted- here, you are what your seeds become…

The people of the glen have to be highly adaptable and innovative to survive. The thin soil easily washes away, and new production methods have to be embraced.

However, in the Glen, tradition is powerful. People are more likely to look backwards than forwards. The reformers often seek to purify what already exists…

The meadow- emerging church?meadow-grass-blue-flowers

A tract of moist grassland where flowers and grasses grow in profusion- all muddled together. There are also boggy places with fragile mosses and lichens. Willows and shrubs also grow there. They just happen. They are not managed by humans. The are rich in botanical (theological) diversity.

They are what first grows after devastation- for example, a forest fire.

Meadows are then inventive, creative and developmental.

The plants that grow in the meadow are intermingled and to some extent dependent. A Flax will never become a meadowsweet, but they will grow side by side. Beauty is evident in each. Fruit grows amid flowers and weeds.

Dwellers in the meadow are not interested in rules or doctrines- but rather in images and relationships and stories that bring people together.

There may be no easy, well trodden paths, but the meadow invites you to run through it bare foot. In this way, every generation can cut its own path. Every generation can turn from a world in which we have tried to garden everything and walk free.

In the meadow, all parties are active, none are passive.

In the meadow, there is a high rate of invention, but a high rate of failure. Plants come for a while, but die away to be replaced by other plants, as the soil conditions and moisture levels change.

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