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A life


Fr. Richard Norris was one of the great theologians and teachers of the Church. Though his field wasn't parish development he offered one of the most useful and significant insights used by practitioners in that field.

People naturally make the analogy between the Church and other groups with which they are familiar: clubs, corporations, families and so on.  References to "organized religion" or "institutionalized religion" reveal the assumption that the Church is just one more form of human organization.  While the process of making analogies with the club, corporation, etc., is inevitable, it also creates a problem. "People come to the conclusion that the Church is a "society created by human enterprise and designed to serve particular human ends," that it is created by the "agreement of a number of individual persons who presumably define the terms of their association and its goals." …  "Church means, not corporation and not club, but a collection of people who have been called out together by a voice or a word or a summons which comes to them from outside." (Richard Norris, Understanding the Faith of the Church, Seabury Press, NY, 1979)

For some years now the church, maybe especially the Episcopal Church, has lived as though we were justifying our existence on the basis of being a social service agency. The more we served the poor and troubled -- the more value we have. Mostly we don't say that. We still know it's bad theology. But it is how many of us act. 

While being empathetic about the tendency Norris questioned that approach. 

A.M. Allchin understood that our "activity" was to rise from a life grounded in Office and Eucharist -- "a life which overflowed into activity, not an activity supported by a life." We exist to glorify God. We exist to participate in the life of God. And from that participation will flow faithful activity. And that activity will be for almost all of us primarily done in the routines of our daily life -- in family, with friends, at work, and in civic life. 

We need to beware of the tendency of the parish to see itself as the center, as the important thing. A tendency that has too many parishes measuring faithfulness by what you do in and through the parish.  So instead of the organic rhythm of the Body of Christ we get institutionalism.

Evelyn Underhill helps us understand how bad theology, and confused practice, ends up distorting the activity, our service.

 One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good. P 22

For the real saint is neither a special creation nor a spiritual freak. He is just a human being in whom has been fulfilled the great aspiration of St. Augustine – “My life shall be a real life, being wholly full of Thee.” And as that real life, the interior union with God grows, so too does the saints’ self­identification with humanity grow. They do not stand aside wrapped in delightful prayers and feeling pure and agreeable to God. They go right down into the mess; and there, right down in the mess, they are able to radiate God because they possess Him. P 96  Concerning the Inner Life

The icon is from "The Anglo Catholics" an icon series. This one was written by Mary Ellen Watson