One of my favourite definitions of church is this: “The church is a safe place to take risks.” (It’s not clear where this originated, but I’ve heard it attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.) The basic idea is this: the body of Christ, in its mutual networks of support undergirded by our common dependence on God in Christ, provides an environment in which its members can feel encouraged to try new things—and, at times, fail—in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this first week of term, some of readings at Morning Prayer come from the Acts of the Apostles, a book that could be renamed the Risks of the Apostles. It was a risk for these first Christians to stand up and preach the good news of Christ in front of skeptical and hostile audiences. It was a risk for Paul and other early evangelists to set out on their missionary journeys not knowing what awaited them. It was a risk for these first communities to “have all things in common” and challenge the prevailing social and economic values of their time.
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 failed to take risks. The deeply distressing revelations this summer about sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Church of England and in the Roman Catholic Church are just one example of a church in which some leaders were and are unwilling to make risky, difficult decisions. They reveal a failure of the church to truly be the church God calls us to be.
As we begin a new year together, I hope that this college community can be a safe place for you to take risks, to try something new, to venture into places unknown confident that the Spirit and this community are walking alongside you. It can be a risk to sit in a classroom and have one’s views challenged, just as it can be a risk to articulate a view that dissents from the consensus in the classroom. It can be a risk to preach or chant compline for the first time. It can be a risk to build a new relationship with a fellow Christian who comes from a different racial, language, national, or denominational background. But it is my hope that during the year ahead you have the opportunity to take all of these risks and many more as you continue on the journey to which God has called you.
This reflection was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a community news digest named for our patron, St. Luke, and published weekly during the term on Monday (or Tuesday when Monday is holiday). Photo of the former Church of Santa Barbara in Llanera, Asturias, a 100-year-old church transformed into a skate park and covered in murals by artist Okuda San Miguel.