So, I acknowledge that maybe this blog post is just an excuse to post a picture of my new son, Henry Walter McNamara, born on May 8. But he has been a big part of my sights and sounds lately.
This is my wife and I's second child, so we had some sense of what we were getting into, but so far, over the first few weeks, i have been amazed at how everything has slowed down, how time flows differently. This might be partially because of a lack of sleep, but i think it is also because it is such an intense experience, our minds slow things down, giving an opportunity to experience them fully. I think it goes without saying that this is not something anyone would want to rush through.
In the case of newborns, the slowing down of things, it helps with the parent-child bond building, it helps forge the relationship that with grow and shift and change over the years, it is a bond that last just about a lifetime, and these first few weeks and months, where time seems to almost slow to a halt, those are the most important moments, they are the foundation upon which everything else is built. It has to go slow.
Of course the world today, it doesn't like slow, it doesn't like to wait, it likes to get everything immediately, whether its news or the latest thing tech gadget, or the newest TV show, everything is nearly instant, slowness is counter to a world that seems to be speeding up every moment. There are people out there that have made fortunes on speeding things up.
I wish i could say i was immune, but in the past week i could barely wait to watch the newest season of House of Cards, I caught my self fast forwarding songs on an I-Tunes new music playlist at a staggering pace, i was counting the minutes my fresh direct delivery was past its delivery window. (Ended up with them 6 minutes late, and I was already getting ready to call to find out where the delivery was)
For the last 4 years, I have been serving a church that really enjoys a long worship service. We normally clock in around an hour and a half, and as far as i can tell, there is a good chunk of the congregation that could handle and enjoy an even longer service. As a born and raised presbyterian, i grew up in the culture of congregants making sure the pastor could see them checking their watches as the worship service started to clock in around 45 minutes, I visit churches as part of my presbytery job, and there are a lot of churches like that. Another thing about my current congregation, we almost always start late, i really have to work to get things moving. At my last congregation, at 10:01, if i wasn't out there ready to get things moving, someone came looking for me. Too long a sermon would draw the ire of many a church goer, too many songs, songs too slow, or god forbid, singing any of the extra 2 or 3 verses listed at the bottom of the hymnal page, and the pastor, or the music director, or someone would hear about it. And although this is nothing new in presbyterian churches, who pride themselves on doing everything decently and in order, the added pressure of NFL kick offs, kids soccer match, or not wanting to have to compete with the baptists during Sunday brunch, has not only caused some folks to seek faster services, but has caused a whole group of folks to leave the church entirely.
What is even more startling is that this trend has started to extend beyond worship as well. Churches buy flashy and ready made Christian education curriculums that often are fasted paced. It seems most mission projects are designed to require the least amount of effort possible, and are more often than not facilitated by some sort of outside organization (think Church World Service or Hefer Fund, even most mission trips these days are designed as one off work trips). This is not to mean these organizations are doing bad work, because often they are great work, but think about how they speed up the Mission process for a congregation. Even evangelism, the number of ads I get in the congregation's mail for "proven evangelism tools" is overwhelming!
Recently i started to get involved with the Industrial Areas Foundation, a organization started by Saul Alinsky. There is an affiliate getting started in Prince Georges County, where the church i serve is located. One of the toughest selling points for getting congregations involved is how long the timeline is until an independent affiliate is officially created. The organizer working on the project has already been working on this for a few years, and momentum is just now starting to really build, but the reality is, the Prince Georges affiliate is still at least two more years from coming into full fruition. This turns a lot of people away, makes people impatient, but the reason it takes so long is because it is completely reliant on relationships, strong trusted relationships, and those take time, just as it takes time to develop a strong life long bond with a child after they are born.
Looking at the bible, given the shortness of the gospel accounts, it can seem like Jesus' ministry happened over night, but in reality it took at least 3 years from the time of Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan to the his encounter with the cross in Jerusalem. I say at least 3 years, because it could have taken longer, and who knows what kind of work Jesus did during his teens and twenties that prepared him for his "3 year" Galilean Ministry.
On top of this, Jesus is often slowing things down in the bible. He often takes off for the hills to pray, he quiets a storm so he can go back to sleep, he is always saying that no one will know the time of the father, and on at least one or two occasions, he faces pressure from his followers to go to Jerusalem, instead intentionally putting the journey off because he knows the time has not yet come for that.
And maybe more striking is to look at the post resurrection accounts. When Jesus is resurrected, it is done so quietly, only the women know at first, then the disciples, and then looking at the early chapters of Acts, maybe a few dozen folks. It is easy to think that the resurrection was this huge ground shaking event, particularly given the nature of our Easter worship services with horns and flowers and new clothes, but the reality is it happened slowly. It took another 10-15 years for Paul to start to do his most serious work and almost an entire generation before the gospels started to be written. The first couple 100 years of the church was spent discussing things like whether Christ was the same or a similar substance as God, and how to make sense of the trinity, things that the modern church barely bats an eye at.
One of the reasons I got into ministry is that churches can be wonderfully counter cultural and prophetic. And these days, what is more countercultural than being intentional slow. Think of it, church as an intentional slow place, slower worship, slower fellowship, slower Christian Ed, slower mission, slower evangelism. Think of the counter point that can make to the break neck pace of everything else in the world.
This isn't an idea I came up on my own, there is currently a full fledged slow church movement occurring, inspired by the slow food movement. I can't say i know everything about the slow church movement or that i could or would advocate for it all its finer points, but the basics are important, that a church has a unique ability to really take it's time, time to build relationships, time to reflect, time to be vulnerable. This doesn't mean that churches need to all start having 2 hour long worship services, but it does mean that churches can consider intentionally slowing things down. The questions can be, how can worship develop deeper relationships, how can fellowship opportuntites develop deeper relationships, how can mission be more effective built on relationships, how can evangelizing be about relationships, how can Christian Education and Spiritual formation aid a deeper relationship with God?
How wonderful a slow church can be!