Our Rule of Life

Our rule of life is:

We are all on a journey. We are following in the Way behind our founder Jesus Christ. For a time our paths run together. During this time, we choose to travel together. We choose to be safe companions, we choose to love, we choose to reach outwards to others, we choose to reach inwards towards Jesus, we choose to share:

we share each other’s joys and burdens
we share each other’s gifts and needs
we share each other’s food and company
we share each other’s stories

When our paths part, we will part well, knowing that one day we will all live together with Jesus for ever.

As a church, we have all chosen to live under this rule for 2020. During the course of the year, we will review how well we are doing living according to this rule and whether there is anything we can learn about how to improve our life together. We will also, separately, reflect on the process of living under a rule of life and decide whether we think this is something helpful to continue in the future.

Everyone in the church, who is living under the rule of life, has this badge:

Badge

The badge is a reminder to us in our lives from Monday to Saturday that we are the people of Greenside Parish Church, living under our rule of life. It is also a sign to others and is intended to provoke questions and conversation.

What is a rule of life?

A rule of life is an idea borrowed from monastic communities, who have a great deal of experience in how to live as together well. The idea of a rule of life goes back at least as far as St Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine Order, whose 6th century rule is still considered today to be one of the great Christian writings of all time.

The essence of a rule of life is intentionality. To choose to live under a rule of life means to be community on purpose. Experience shows that this important choice has many subtle effects on life together, not least because we promise to love each other despite any differences we might have.

Many communities get along fine but their relationships are shallow and superficial. There are elephants in the room they dare not talk about - so they don't. But there is a kind of “true community” which holds together despite the tensions and, in so doing, touches people's deepest needs, heals our deepest hurts and sets us free from our deepest shortcomings to grow into the people God most truly made us to be. (The churchy name for this is “disciples of Christ”.)

A rule of life is a way of nurturing this kind of true community.

You can learn a lot more about living under a rule of life by exploring the "New Monasticism" movement. (A web search would be a good start.)

What does our rule of life mean?

Here are some of the things we have thought about when exploring our rule of life together:

We are all on a journey

Being on a journey is a common metaphor for life. It is also a common metaphor for Christians. From the very first, Christians were seen as people following Jesus along the road. The very first name for the church was people of the "Way".

We have talked a lot about travelling light and being people who are, ultimately, "not from around here" because when you become a follower of Jesus, you become a "citizen of heaven". Travelling light is also a very interesting concept for the church in this day when so much is changing and we find ourselves letting go of things we have found very precious over the years.

Being on a journey reminds us that we might not all be part of the same church forever. The make-up of our church will change. We commit to live with that change and engage well with it.

Our founder Jesus Christ

For many of us, the word “founder” is nowhere near strong enough. Jesus is our Lord and God. He is the great cosmic saviour. Yes, for those of us at the core of our travelling band, we acknowledge these things to be true.

But we want to be open enough to allow anyone to follow Jesus. The word “founder” attempts to point to the person at the centre of Christianity, the one who started this whole movement, without making a claim so strong that only the deeply committed can be part of the travelling band.

For a time our paths run together / we choose to travel together

This is about intentionality. All parish churches are made up of people who, for whatever reasons, are walking together. But when strains develop in the community, there is nothing to keep the group from splintering and parting ways.

In our rule we say we choose to walk together. The emphasis is on “choose”. We will do it on purpose.

Safe companions

We wish to be true community. True community transforms and heals people. But it does that through vulnerability. There is a danger here. If we are going to be vulnerable, then we open ourselves up to being hurt. And none of us is perfect, all of us still have some baggage that isn't yet completely dealt with. So as imperfect people, we could get it wrong and hurt each other.

So we deliberately choose to be safe for each other. The truth is that sometimes churches hurt people. We choose, in our rule of life, to do our best never to hurt and always to heal.

We choose to love

The Bible tells us that "God is love" and we all agree that love is a very good thing. But, whilst love is sometimes easy and joyful, it can also be very difficult to get right. Married couples know this. That’s why the wedding vows say “for better and for worse”. We are promising to love even when it is difficult.

We choose to reach in/out

We choose to grow our relationship with Jesus. That means deliberately finding ways to get close to him. And it means helping each other to do this.

We choose to grow our relationship with other people. This means our church can never be an exclusive "holy huddle". We need to be willing to go where people are - even if those people are different to us - even if it makes us feel uncomfortable - even if those people believe things we find difficult. We need to be open to the possibility that other people might be a gift from God to change us for the better.

We choose to share

The list of things we share is open to change over time. But it will always express that each of us is a gift to the rest of us. That my riches are your riches. That my poverty can also, through the God's power, become riches for you and me. We are all on a level with each other. We all share.

We share, most visibly, in Holy Communion, the meal that Jesus gave us. And we often share simply by eating normal meals together.

Finally, because we share in love, our sharing is not just about us. Anyone may join in the sharing.

When our paths part...

We take it as read that our paths will part. Some people may remain in this community for life but not everyone will. That's what happens in a parish church. We will part ways, with some staying and some going. Sometimes life will call us away. Sometimes God will call us away. But we will part ways in due course.

...we will part well

Zulu people do not have a word for “goodbye” – but they have two phrases: hamba gahle and sala gahle, “go well” and “stay well”. The one who remains says "go well" and the one who departs says "stay well". We choose to be people who can say these words to each other when our paths part.

This means people should not be hurt when we announce we are leaving. At least some members of the church will have journeyed with us as we make this decision. It will make sense to our community. It also means we will do our best not to walk out in anger after a disagreement. That is not to say we might not have to - but we will do our best not to. It means we will send each other off and leave each other behind with tears and prayer and hope.

Living with him forever

This is the awkward truth. One day we will all live together with God forever. We are told this in the Bible. So often the good news we preach is just about the individual and God. We paint a wonderful picture of the saved sinner living with God forever. But we forget that this means we will all live with each other as well. The good news is about people being together.

That is why we part well. Because we do not part forever. That is why we love. Because it is practising the life we’re all heading for. That is why we share. Because we will share everything when we get there.

What does the badge mean?

The badge is mainly for use when we are not together. It is a reminder to ourselves from Monday to Saturday about our commitment to live under our rule of life and it is also a sign for other people to see.

The image tells a story. We hope people we encounter will ask us about it. Here are some things we see in the image:

  • We are a community of people centred around Jesus.
  • If we’re centred around Jesus, then we are not centred around the vicar or the building or anything else. We are not tied to one geographical location. You should find us wherever Jesus is and Jesus got around and spent time with anyone.
  • The people in the picture could be facing inwards or outwards – it is ambiguous. As a community we face both inwards towards Jesus and each other and outwards towards everyone else – and especially towards those on the margins. It might seem odd to have our backs to Jesus, but this is exactly what happened when he sent his disciples out to share the good news.
  • The circle is not complete. There is always space for another person. Everyone is invited to be part of the circle around Jesus.
  • There are people of all sorts of different colours and sizes. Our community is made up of people of all ages and backgrounds. No one is excluded and everyone is as much part of the community as anyone else.
  • When our children first saw the image, several of them pointed to particular figures and said “this is me”. Which one are you?
  • The year 2020 is written on the badge. This represents our choice to be under the rule of life for this one year. If we choose to continue this tradition, we will form a new community every year and our community will change over time as people come and go. The year says that we are not set in stone – we change as people join and leave and grow.

By wearing this badge in our daily lives, we also hope that the church will become visible. We would love it if, one day, you could ask someone to point to the church and they pointed not to the building or the vicar but to someone wearing one of our badges.

Finally, if you come into Church of the Holy Spirit in Crawcrook, you'll see the badge physically represented in the layout of the chairs. A circle of people around the communion table which represents Jesus:

Seating

Rule of life liturgy

We began to live under our rule of life at our Sunday morning service on 17 November 2019, when Bishop Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, joined us to help us launch the rule. After the sermon, church members stood and Bishop Paul led us as follows:

 

Jesus calls us to follow him as disciples. But he doesn’t call us to follow him by ourselves. He calls us to follow him together. In your rule of life, you are choosing to travel behind Jesus. Your are choosing to travel together. You are choosing to be safe companions on the road. You are choosing to live in love, reaching both inwards towards Jesus and outwards towards others. You are choosing to share. You are choosing to part well when your paths diverge.

People of Greenside Parish Church, is it your will to live this way for 2020?
It is.

I now invite you to recite together the rule under which you intend to live for 2020.

(we all recited the rule together)

This is your rule of life. Will you encourage and help each other to remain accountable to this rule of life, remembering that none of us is yet perfect and all fall short of our ideals from time to time?
With the help of God, we will.

Finally, will you welcome into your community others who wish to live under this rule of life?
We will.

After this, the bishop prayed for us and distributed badges to us. We continued with the creed in the following form:

 

We believe in God the Father,
from whom every family
in heaven and on earth is named.
We believe in God the Son,
who lives in our hearts through faith,
and fills us with his love.
We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
who strengthens us
with power from on high.
We believe in one God;
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over time, as others join our community, we will use a variation of this liturgy to enable them to join us. We have a supply of spare badges and we hope to use them all up.