So – when are the kids you meet on the streets gonna go to church?
Or – its good that you’re out there telling those kids about Jesus. ..
Are two of the common phrases used as reposte when I or we (Durham yfc) say we’re doing detached work. To help that audience (of usually evangelical christians) we couch a suitable response in the concept of mission, or process. That by being there at all the church hasnt abandoned young people in a particular community.
However, in thinking again, and been drawn back to our responsibility to perform appropriately redemptive theo-drama, I would like to begin to re-consider how we see the street as the stage for emergent participative theology with young people. Not just the means to an end, or young people to move to a place to believe but that the public space is the new context of theological meaning making- notably through conversation.
Setting the scene…
What would it mean to do theology on the streets?
I guess what Im thinking is that whilst emergent church thinking has taken street based work on a trajectory which started from medical help to the urban poor (Rayman), to encouraging the unnattached to be attatched (Goetchius and Tash 1967) which kind of paved the way from those unnattached to church to become in contact with those attached to one (outside-in Breen 1993, Passmore 2003) and then as in Passmore (2013) and the Streetspace movement there coined the notion of church on the edge , church emerging on the streets.
Church on the edge has been interpreted in a number of ways and contexts, from corporating markers of the church and doing them on the streets, such as prayer or reimagined stories/parables, to collapsing the community/church notional distinction eschewing that the community of young people can be in itself church.
I wonder however if ‘church on the edge/street’ is slightly problematic without a discussion on what a contextual theology of the street would be and how this is given away in the process of emergence.
What would theology on the streets look like?
(And no, dear God, im not thinking of the street bible)
If the street is the context for an emerging christian theology where and how might this look like?
We start an understanding of a God who loves the city streets, a God who called Paul to love the city and who himself was moved by the lostness of those in Jerusalem wondering like sheep without.
Yet it was also in the streets that a new way of being was emerging, where the crowds would gather, where discussion and conversations occured, where battle lines were drawn and through which Jesus himself carried his cross. The streets are a place of neutrality, away from buildings with meaning or defined social structure, a place of escape from something or transition between. Yet most of our current thelogising occurs in the predefined meaning orientated buildings, saturated with implicit power and conformity; the church, alpha group, the college and academia. Does the egalitarian space of the street provide a better starting point for authentic/honest theological reflection to occur, given that the communicative power dynamic is not weighted in favour of the communicants, but the recipient.
Recently ive heard it said ( in a church) that to ask some questions of God would be trivial, ie what shape/colour is God? Yet these are exactly the kind of questions that are open to be considered with young people on the streets, as it’s here where young people we meet on detached are being able to ask and explore their responses to question about god, about church, doing so in their space..not a school RE lesson or church, but in spaces that are free for them. It shouldn’t offend that we do theology on the streets, just that on detached we open up the possibility for any young person to participate, not just those who make it beyond the walls on a Sunday. I wonder also whether in the space of the church we choose who might be ‘ready’ to progress to deeper theological thought yet on the streets or in conversations in community can we give away that privilege to all in a more inclusive equal way?
If theology on the streets gives the possibility of young people/groups participating in a new way of being whilst in that environment then so be it, better that than the only outcome of detached being that it leads them to somewhere else as a marker of success. Yet can detached work include not just exploration of spirituality as interest but also theological reawakening on the street, with those who don’t yet know.
As an addition I am just encountering, and being blessed by reading Vanhoozer (2014) Faith Speaking Understanding, in which he states that Biblical Christianity is about Public Theology, that Theology is public; in as much as it seeks to demonstrate and participate in the expansion of Gods reign in the world, that changing the world “depends on changing our hearts; how we perceive, name and act in the world.
According to Vanhoozer, the result of a church doing public theology as it follows the life, way and truth of Christ is that ” a “politics” of the gospel whereby the church engages in public practices for the public good, practices that also characterise the distinctive use of power in the coming reign of God – such as gathering together (on the street) , confessing Jesus (with young people) , peacemaking, truth-telling and doing justice”(2014:p8)