The Seeking Church
Stephen R. White, Columbia Press
Feel disenfranchised? Apathetic towards church? Is your church mysterious, chaotic, flexible, welcoming, listening or generous? Does it need to be? The Very Rev. Dr Stephen White challenges us to rethink how we do “church”.
Dr White, Dean of Killaloe in County Clare, Ireland, contrasts two models of church: the “Dispensing Church”, which has “fixed” theological statements about faith, doctrine, ethics, belonging, boundaries, and culture; and the “Seeking Church”, which acknowledges uncertainty alongside commitment, faith that has doubts, inclusiveness with responsibility, risk in relationships, and changing identity.
A “middle sized” paperback of 164 pages, with some good notes and an index of names; this book is the third in the series. Dr White carries on the conversation from his previous books (A Space For Belief and A Space For Unknowing) and while they are mentioned, it is not necessary to have read them to appreciate A Space For All.
Dr White is very clear: he doesn’t believe “anything goes” or that the rituals and traditions of the Church should be thrown away. Rather, he sees the Seeking Church as knowing its doctrinal markers but recognising them as partial and provisional with the possibility of differing interpretations; Jesus and His story remain at the centre.
With implications for so many areas including ecumenism, mission, pastoral care, and membership, Dr White isn’t confident that the Seeking Church can become a dominant reality when the Dispensing Church is still powerful and often scared of change. But he hopes so. He hopes that it will for the sake of all those faithful and faith-seeking people who find the institutional Church uninspiring.
This book will be polarising. I liked it as for me it helped with my understanding of chaplaincy and mission at the edges. Dr White’s vision is that, “The future will be, if uncomfortable, nonetheless dynamic: a people in via, journeying with God to God, and a Church sans frontiers — truly, at last, a space for all.”
For those of us in the Uniting Church I think that’s a good fit for “pilgrims on a journey”. Onward Ho!
The Rev. Christine Senini is currently working as an ADF Chaplain.