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Integrity

>>> this article first appeared in Reality Magazine, April/May 2001. Mark Pierson.<<<

Today I attended a Memorial service for a young woman recently murdered. The service in the hot open sunshine of the Domain drew several hundred people, mostly her friends or acquantances, many of whom were recovering from addictions of one sort or another. All news media were also well represented. In his tribute her father described how she had taken him and her mother to Cityside Baptist Church one Sunday morning. He gave a glowing tribute to the peace, safety and warmth they’d felt during the service. They were not church people or Christians he explained. After the service I talked with other people who weren’t Christians but who wanted to talk about how God could allow such a tragedy to take place, and why their friend had started coming to Cityside, and what did we do that she had found helpful. I met people who had been to church youth groups as teenagers and not been back for decades; young adults who saw nothing of value in institutional religion; followers of non Christian spiritual paths; those damaged by appallingly bad (abusive) experiences of church. Some said they might come along to Cityside some time. It sounded interesting. I found it very difficult to explain in a few minutes what we were about as a church, to people who carried only very old, very traditional, mostly negative pictures of the Church. Their stories were sad and moving. I wondered how we will respond at Cityside if some of these people do turn up - still wearing his large pentagram around his neck, he obviously under the influence of something, she clearly selling all she has to support her habit, emotionally and spiritually starved. How would they feel in our worship services - the public face of our church? How would they feel in yours? I am totally opposed to worship that is designed for ‘outsiders’. I think it lacks integrity and ultimately satisfies no one. It is ‘us’ trying to be something we’re not in order to impress and influence a mythical person who’s characteristics we’ve determined by some form of generalisation and distillation. The outcome is a group of people trying to be something they’re not - ie outreaching, trendy, friendly, connected, concerned, interested etc - toward someone who doesn’t exist in reality. If there is one characteristic that postmoderns can smell a mile off it’s integrity- or lack of it. Their sensors are finely tuned even though their own lives may at times seem to lack what they look for in others. And their sensors tell them that the institutional church lacks integrity. The reality isn’t important. Image is everything. Perception is reality. So what we do in our public worship needs to above all, have integrity. Integrity is slippery. My Form 1 teacher wrote in my autograph book (getting your teacher’s autograph was the done thing several decades ago), ‘An inch of integrity is worth a mile of make-believe’. If by that he meant that I shouldn’t try to be someone I’m not, it’s a good definition. If we think of integrity as ‘to thine own self be true’ it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. It’s too narrow, too individualistic, too lacking in the breadth and depth that makes community. Integrity means that it works, it adds up. It’s whole. It brings the bits together. Think of it as integration. Which means if our worship is to have integrity it needs to reflect who we are as a worshipping community. And your worship needs to reflect who you are as a worshipping community. Who we are as people. Worship that relates to life as our community experiences it. We shouldn’t try to be someone or something that we are not. But we do this all the time in our worship. We so often present a public face that is clean cut, decisive, has all the answers, never has any problems, when privately the exact opposite is true. I understand the main purpose of church as being a gathering of people on a journey toward following Christ and following Christ as best they can, who come together to support each other on that journey. I can’t see any other reason to justify meeting. If our meetings don’t do that then there is no reason to meet and we are not the church, we’re some other organisation or club. When we come together, whether as the 6 who meet over breakfast or the 600 who fill the auditorium, if our being together doesn’t move us toward wholeness and healing and Christ-likeness and a deeper understanding of who we really are as people, then we have failed to be the church. Who we are when we come together needs to have integrity, but what we do should be put under the same scrutiny. The Gospel we present, the view of God, the worldview, the language we use, the messages we communicate also need to have integrity. What we say and what we do need to line up with what we believe (and vice versa), which in turn needs to grow out of our understanding of following Jesus as the Bible portrays it. If we can discover worship that truly reflects our humanity and the realities of who we are and how we live as well as the realities of the Gospel, then I don’t think it matters if the style is liturgical, fundamental, Celtic or Catholic, some of the people at the Memorial service may feel at home among us. The bottom line is nowhere put better than in Will Campbell’s description of the Gospel in 10 words or less, ‘We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.’