'Big Tent Church'


Keith Hitchman

Keith's visioning report for the Church AGM 2018

2017/18 saw our move into a Big Tent for the winter months. The reason for this was to save on prohibitive heating costs, and also to keep us warm! God teaches us through the circumstances of life and there is a sense in which ‘The Big Tent’ has become a living parable for us as a Church.

To be in a tent suggests a community on-the-move, which of course we are. To follow Jesus means precisely that. We are a pilgrim people. The future of our church building has featured strongly in the life of Christ Church this year, and necessarily so, but we do well to always remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is a ‘movement and not a monument’.

Being in the ‘The Big Tent’ has somehow made us feel ‘bigger’ and more confident as a community of believers meeting on a Sunday. This is because when we are all dotted about the pews, it can feel that we are a few people in such a huge place. Being in the tent Sunday-by-Sunday has caused us to grow closer (and warmer!).

The prophet Isaiah exhorts us to ‘Enlarge the site of your tent and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes’ (Isaiah 42: 4). 2017/18 has been a year where we have seen our Sunday congregation gradually enlarged, which is something to celebrate. Some people have joined us through our Tuesday ‘Soup Group’ gathering, and others have come after seeing the church website (which has been upgraded) or through being recommended by friends. We are working hard at lengthening our cords (reach) into the local community and strengthening our stakes with new opportunities to meet and to grapple with the challenges of contemporary life through scriptural reflection and prayer. A new midweek ‘Connect’ group is planned for after Easter, meeting on Wednesday evenings.

The PCC met for a Re-envisioning Day at St Joseph’s Retreat Centre earlier in 2017, where we discussed our identity and ‘positioning’ as a church. Again, there is a sense that at Christ Church we are a ‘Big Tent Church’ theologically, embracing a Generously Orthodox ecclesiology (church tradition), seeking to keep Jesus at the centre of all that we do and say, whilst becoming a community without borders (fully inclusive), as is emphasised in our strapline – absolutely. everyone. welcome.

The Old Testament ‘Tent of Meeting’ (or Tabernacle) is ‘the portable earthly dwelling place of God amongst the children of Israel’. Here ‘The Big Tent’ is quite literally the particular place where God lives. This imagery prefigures the New Testament understanding of God living within us – our bodily ‘tent’. (2 Corinthians 5: 1-5)

As a church community we have the immense privilege of worshipping in an immense and majestic church building. Yet, it too is merely a ‘Big Tent’ and ultimately a temporary structure. We have an eternal dwelling place in heavenly places to look forward to. And we, as tents of God’s presence, embody God’s Presence (Holy Spirit) as we follow Jesus in our daily lives.