Flat-pack church

The courier arrived at the pre-ordained time. The table tennis table needed to be carried to the back garden. Unfortunately the table did not come ready made. It was contained in a cardboard casing which was bigger than any recycling bin could handle. This was a flat-pack and required assembly before the family could enjoy any fun and games.

The assembly would cost an extra £60 of the courier’s time and effort. I would make the saving, going solo and test my DIY capabilities. This was going to be an examination of patience, strength and dexterity. My past history with flat-pack engineering has not been particularly impressive. I was not looking forward to this exercise. In fact I was able to build the table, no thanks to the instructions. I watched the process on a Youtube clip and kept watching the critical stages of assembly using the pause button with great aplomb. The table, which the manufacturers promised me would take 1 hour to assemble, took me two days (albeit two evening sessions).

Flat-packs seem to be the way that many of our purchases are packaged and transported. The consumer is then asked to do the work – ordering the selection of screws, bolts, steel and wood to purposeful action. All well and good if you have a degree in design and technology but if you are anything like me with a tool kit to hand, the word ‘nightmare’ comes to mind. So, what is going on here? What is this dysfunction all about? Is it simply the inability to read instructions or is there a deeper causal problem to my flat-pack phobia?

I was talking to a colleague this week about the need for the Church of England to plan ahead and becoming more imaginative in communicating the Christian faith where new housing developments have grown, where new towns have been built and where new communities have evolved. Even though we minister within a parish system, some new communities may feel distinctly under-churched. Some DIY minded church leaders aspire to the assembly of a flat-pack church! The idea is not as hideous as it might at first appear. The Christian Church has been developing a set of instructions for over 2000 years. The tools for assembly – the sacraments, doctrines, liturgies, prayers and governance – are all contained in the cardboard container. So, what will this flat-pack church look like? If you could design a church from scratch what are the features that you would include? What materials might you choose? Most importantly, are the people of the church included in the cardboard casing? How do they relate to the building and with each other?

All of these challenges are part of the fun and games of building a healthy church, making disciples, shaping confident collaborative leadership, creating vibrant Christian communities and making a difference in the world. These are the features of the living faith vision which is the Oxford Diocese’s priority for mission. If we find that we are not good at building alone, the clue is that others are at hand with various skills to help in the building process. Far from this being a solo effort, church building becomes a group challenge, even a community task. Let’s quickly discard the cardboard and get building our dream church and God’s chosen vision.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.