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Orthodox emerging missional dialogue

9 February 2009

Last Saturday St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg had a visitors night, and visitors at Vespers outnumbered the regular members of the congregation. Most of the visitors were involved in the Emerging/Missional Church tradition, and after the service we had a discussion on how the visitors experienced Orthodox Vespers.

I hope some of the visitors will blog about their own experience of this, and that by comparing the various blogs we may continue the dialogue.

Our visitors were from various backgrounds. Most were from emerging/missional church groups. Some were from the Tshwane emerging cohort, and were the first to be invited. Among them was Cobus van Wyngaard, who is at the NG Kerk at Kameeldrif, and I had visited one of their youth services the previous week.

Azar Jammine, chairman of the St Nicholas parish council, chats to Cobus van Wyngaard and other members of the Pretoria Emerging Cohort after Vespers

Azar Jammine, chairman of the St Nicholas parish council, chats to Cobus van Wyngaard and other members of the Pretoria Emerging Cohort after Vespers

There was a group from Nieu Communities in Pretoria North, brought by Arthur Stewart. Nieu Communities is a Protestant “new monastic” community, and they have “apprentices” who come to spend a year with them in order to learn something about being missional. Many of the apprentices come from outside South Africa, and these were a new group who had arrived in South Africa only a few days previously, so their visit to Vespers was for many of them one of their first experiences in South Africa.

Other visitors included Reggie Nel, a lecturer in Missiology at Unisa; Roger Saner, a former apprentice at Nieu Communities; and Andries and Cecilia Louw, (Andries is a former NG Kerk dominee). They are all bloggers, and the invitation had reached them through the blogosphere or through Facebook.

There were also a few visitors from other Orthodox parishes, some of whom were visiting St Nicholas for the first time, and there were also some friends and relatives of St Nicholas parishioners.

I will try to summarise the responses of the members of the St Nicholas community to having the visitors with us, and the discussion. Perhaps the best summary was given by the parish priest, Fr Athanasius Akunda, who said at the Sunday morning Liturgy that it was like a mirror. The visitors provided a mirror in which we could see ourselves as others see us. We could see the good things, and the ugly things; good things that we need to nurture and strengthen, and ugly things that we need to correct.

Some of the things that visitors mentioned that struck them (ones I can remember)

  • there was nothing digital
  • there was no sermon
  • there was a different use of space, people coming in late, lighting candles

One of the things that struck me in the discussions is that I don’t recall anyone using the word “spirituality”, which I think was a good sign.

Members of the St Nicholas parish who were present were unanimous in saying that they had found it a very useful exercise, and they hoped that we could have more such events.

The visitors also challenged St Nicholas to be more missional. Reggie Nel asked if we had any involvement in the neighbourhood — Brixton and surrounding areas. And we had to admit that we had not. When we first bought the present church building, we had distributed pamphlets in the neighbourhood, and that had brought in some local people, and members of the local Anglican congregation visited our patronal festival, but there has been little of that kind of interaction recently. We started with a missional vision (one reason for choosing St Nicholas of Japan as our patron saint was that he was a missionary saint, and represented the kind of cross-cultural mission that we hoped would be our vision too). But the vision has grown a bit dim, and the visitors challenged us to renew it.

To help prepare the non-Orthodox visitors for what goes on at Vespers, I posted a blog article Notes from underground: Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee with links to resources on Orthodox Vespers..

To continue the dialogue I will link to any blog posts of others who were part of the discussion, as a kind of synchroblog, so if you are a blogger reading about this, and have written about this event, please let me know, so I can add it to the list of links, and please copy the list and paste it at the end of your post.

Neither of the following were at St Nicholas last Saturday, but they also give first impressions of Orthodox Vespers (the second from an “emerging” point of view).

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 March 2009 9:01 am

    Thanks for organising this, Steve – I notice that the photo you took of me is so bad that even the internet wouldn’t allow you to post it!

    These kinds of dialogues are so necessary to the church and to us as Christians. I hope they’ll continue…

    I’ve blogged about the service here: http://www.futurechurch.co.za/item/it-was-all-greek-orthodoxy-to-me

  2. 2 March 2009 6:20 pm

    Roger,

    It was my fault that the photo was bad — the camera was on the wrong setting.

  3. 8 June 2009 4:56 am

    Here’s another description of a Protestant visitor responding to Orthodox worship, on Real Live Preacher.

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