One of my favourite definitions of church is this: the church is a safe place to take risks. The church as the body of Christ is formed of relationships of mutual support undergirded by our common dependence on God in Christ. This makes for a community in which all members are encouraged to try new things—and, at times, to fail—in the power of the Holy Spirit. (I’m not sure where this definition originates but I’ve seen it attibuted to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.)
As I write this in the season of Easter, I think about the readings from the Acts of the Apostles we have been hearing in the Sunday lectionary. Acts is a book that could be renamed the Risks of the Apostles. It was a risk for those first Christians to stand up and preach the good news of Christ in front of skeptical and hostile audiences. It was a risk for St. Paul and other evangelists to set out on their missionary journeys not knowing what awaited them. It was a risk for those first Christian communities to “have all things in common” (Acts 2:44) and challenge the prevailing social and economic values of their time.
It’s not just the early church, of course. Christians across the centuries have embodied this risk-taking approach to faith. We recently marked the death of Jean Vanier, whose deep Christian faith enabled him to take the risk of forsaking his privilege and form a community with those most peripheral in society. It was that risk that transformed his life and the lives of so many others. It was a risk that resulted in the formation of L’Arche communities across the world that allow women and men to take similar faith-filled risks today.
To be sure, “the church as a safe place to take risks” is an aspirational definition of the Christian community. We can too easily look at Christian history and the church in our own time and see instances in which Christians were and are unwilling to make risky, difficult decisions. These moments reveal a failure of the church to truly be the church God calls us to be. But the goal remains: in the context of God’s gracious love and with the support of other Christians, the church is to be a place where we try new, difficult, challenging—risky—things.
For many of our students, it is a risk to enrol in a program of theological education. In order to prepare for ministry in the church, some of our students give up stable employment and leave behind close friends and family to come to Montreal. They are excited to be part of a changing church and eager to continue to grow into what God is calling them to be. But they know it is a risk as well since the church is still discovering what our patterns and practices of ministry will look like in the coming years and decades. In spite of all this, this year we welcomed one of the largest entering classes to the college in years.
As we have grown together as a community in the past year, I have seen that the college community can be a safe place to take risks. I think of students who preached their first sermon in St. Luke’s Chapel—about the hesitancy and difficulty with which they approached the task, but also the confidence that comes from knowing that the chapel is a safe place to take this risk. I think of the students who struggled with encountering new and different views in the classroom—about the uncertainty, challenge, and even anger this generated but also the grace they showed in persisting in learning and growing as followers of Christ. I think of all the new ways in which members of our community reached out across the lines of racial, linguistic, national, and denominational difference in our community to form deep and supportive friendships with one another. We are already looking forward to welcoming a new class of students next year who will further diversify our community and join us in this risk-taking adventure.
Just as our students take risks in pursuing their call to ministry, the college itself is also being called to take risks and try new things. This year we began to see the results of some of our risk-taking. We launched new courses—in the college and online—to serve the church more widely. We made changes to our curriculum to ensure that it continues to serve the church as it is and as it is becoming, and not as it once was. We tried new ways of recruitment and communication to help people learn about what is taking place at the college. You can read more about all of this in this year-in-review. Stay tuned in the coming year for more new programs from the college.
At Montreal Dio, we’re convinced that God is calling the church into new ways of proclaiming the unchanging gospel message of grace. Grounded in that conviction, we are not slowing down in trying new things and taking risks to help the church become what God is calling us to be.
Faithfully yours in Christ