I was chatting to a friend recently about not really fitting in with church. He pointed out that Jesus spent most of his time with the outsiders, the ones that didn’t fit in. The religious people of the day excluded the poor, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and all the others who didn’t fit with their strict criteria. If the Messiah was coming, surely he would visit the righteous, they thought. But when Jesus returned from his going out into the desert, he came to the synagogue and made the announcement to the religious people –
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me…’ (Luke 4:18)
He makes a speech about Jubilee – the blind see, debts cancelled, prisoners freed. They all say how wonderful he is.
‘And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to Him, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country.”
Then Jesus tells them that, just as in the past, he isn’t coming for the religious but for those who don’t fit in. He lists some of the times God did that before.
‘But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. (An outsider.) And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. (An outsider.) So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.’ Luke 4:21-30.
Then the people got really angry with him and threw him out of town. But, actually, if you don’t fit in, or you’re a bit of an outsider, Jesus is good news.
At his birth he wasn’t found in the palace or even the hotel. He was found outside in a stable with a few farm workers, outsiders.
In his death, he wasn’t in the city, but outside the city wall. He came for the outsider. He identified with the outsider. And most of his miracles were done out on the street, with the outsiders – the least, the last and the lost.
So many people tell me of their struggles with Sunday church – feeling like a passive observer, watching an irrelevant performance, cringing at a shallow and often trite worldview.
We seem to have wandered far away from what Jesus left us in the Early Church – a group of people who just spent time together each day, who went about their daily routines, and yet transformed the world.
History is at a crossroads. Recent studies show that more than two thirds of Christians in the UK have left the Sunday morning event and gone off to explore a deeper more meaningful walk with Jesus. Something is happening in society. There is a sea change going on. It is time to be prophetic.
But we need not fear. Jesus comes to us outside. The Community of St Anthony is a scattered group of believers who are journeying in a more Celtic or monastic way with their faith.
If you sometimes feel you don’t fit in, you’re welcome to join us. There aren’t any services as such, but a meeting for coffee, or a walk, here and there, now and then, in twos and threes, and journeying online. This Christmas, even if we don’t fit in – especially if we feel we don’t fit in – Jesus comes to us with hope, healing and life.
St Anthony is known as the Father of monasticism. He was a man who sought spiritual truth and decided to get away from everything and everyone to find it.
Anthony began his spiritual journey into monasticism by going into the desert and purposely living alone. He was the first known ascetic going into the wilderness (about AD 270–271), a geographical move that seems to have contributed to his renown. He is notable for being one of the first ascetics to attempt living in the desert proper, completely cut off from civilisation. His lifestyle was remarkably harsher than that of his predecessors. Yet the title of Father of monasticism is merited as he was the inspiration for the coming of hundreds of men and women into the depths of the desert, who were then loosely organised into small communities.
As the rest of the church fitted in with the Roman legalisation of Christianity – a move which led to the introduction of pagan elements into Christianity, like temple, priest, and ritual – Anthony, and eventually his followers, developed an alternative to the Romanised version of the faith. It was, once again, people seeking an ‘aliveness’ in their faith rather than being stifled by the institution.
Anthony seems to be a great example of some parts of the emerging church.
The friends I meet with are seeking a similar alternative to institutional or organised religion.
The idea of the Community Of ST Anthony came to me one day as I sat in a coffee shop waiting to meet another Free Range friend. I was thinking about having some loose community of like-minded people. As I looked down at my coffee cup, the logo on the cup – COSTA – seemed to suggest the Community Of ST Antony. I wouldn’t for a minute say ‘God told me’ but the idea of something light and all about friendship, which often happens over coffee, readily suggested itself.
I started this blog to help develop friendships in a group of scattered spiritual seekers I meet with individually from time to time. I believe in the power of cross-fertilisation of thoughts and conversation – the synergy of friends on the journey.
Sometimes we are viewed as those who ‘don’t go to church.’ But who we are is not a negative – we don’t meet to not do something! We meet for positive reasons of mutual encouragement, growth, friendship and exploration.
There is no particular creed in this community – we are friends on a journey, exploring spiritual truth.
Perhaps we have in common a dissatisfaction of the institution and hierarchical leadership. We seek the mutual respect of each other and a belief that the Spirit of God moves through all of us in different ways.
We are not looking to start another institution but perhaps feel the common bond of fellow travellers on a similar journey.
We meet here and there, in ones and twos, now and then. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
This blog is a place to share thoughts and insights and resources, like books we have found helpful on the journey.
Fellow travellers are welcome.
[ If you are wondering who ‘I’ am, there’s info my personal blog at http://donegan.wordpress.com ]