Book review: Carol Howard Merritt. Reframing Hope: Vital ministry in a new generation. Alban Institute. 2010
Over the past few years I have worked in a mostly rural diocese where we have read about and urged parishes to “move from a theology of scarcity to a theology of abundance”. Many of our churches that are dying are focussed on what they are lacking, and so get sucked into focussing on what they once had, and forget the abundance of what may be in front of them.
I worked to teach many people to change this thinking, countless parish council meetings looking at financial statements in the black and members still convinced we were poor and couldn’t afford office supplies.
However, in other settings, it was harder. It felt trite to not acknowledge the very real scarcity that existed. Any talk of dying or closing were not to cross my lips, but we all knew the reality that I was told not to name. Talking of abundance in these settings was merely prolonging the inevitable with false hope.
Carol Howard Merritt’s latest contribution is for congregations who know they have something special to share with their communities but know that their historical tradition as it is currently practiced is not reaching a new generation. Carol has never minced words when it comes to the dire straits of our institutions. Rather than focussing on an elusive abundance we may or may not feel confident in, Carol encourages us to trust not in the false hope of a contrived abundance, but in the hope of the sustaining God of the exodus and the desert.
Using examples from rural and urban churches, young and old Christians and “otherwise”, Carol encourages the church to seriously consider the concerns and opportunities of our contemporary time when discerning the Spirit’s course for our faith communities. Rather than asking us to dispose of so-called archaic or historical practices, this book acknowledges the power and opportunity of historical, institutional churches, particularly the resources these churches have to explore new ways to communicate the gospel.
For those who are confused and afraid of the technological explosion of our current age, this book places social media and multi-media in a context of enhancing the sharing of the Gospel. It is stressed that these are not requirements, but means to an end. If you are curious about how the tools of social media and multi-media have become so critical in our current generations, but are not so sure if your church is ready to jump on the broadband, there is encouragement here for you, as well.
I have shared Carol’s first book, Tribal Church with many and the pages of Reframing Hope will be turned just as often. Where Tribal Church introduced the church to Generation Y and the Millenials, Reframing Hope introduces the church to a culture that extends from 10 year olds to those who are past retirement. The current state of the institutional church is not limited to one generation, although the burden will be borne by the younger generation. Reframing Hope is for the whole Church, a Church that is ready to try something different to keep on living.