The American author and broadcaster Garrison Keiller created an imaginary home town lost in the wilds of Minnesota called Lake Wobegon. Every week since 1974 he has broadcast a report from his imaginary hometown on American public radio describing events in a town where essentially nothing ever happens. His reports begin with the words: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” His reports express a charming view of life in Middle America, with all of its challenges, hopes and dreams. It describes an ideal world that has probably never really existed except in the collective imagination of Americans from the Midwest.
Many people think that the Church is like that. They think of it as a fantasy place for people who want to escape from reality and take refuge from the realities of life with all of its challenges. They understand faith as a thing invented so that people don’t have to face life and live it for themselves or take responsibility for themselves.
A recent series of exchanges in the letters column of the local paper demonstrates this. When Rev Derek Hinge from St Michael’s illustrated faith with a story about faith being like getting on an aeroplane in the belief that it will fly and reach its destination safely, his critic responded by suggesting that this was a ridiculous comparison because flying in a plane is based on evidence that it works, whereas faith is just blind superstition.
These kinds of views are profoundly and tragically mistaken. It is true that just about every time I get on a plane I do a quick mental exercise to remind myself why a plane will fly (look up Bernoulli’s Principle if you are scared!). But when I find that life is tough and I’m being challenged I do a quick mental exercise to remind myself why my faith in Jesus will also fly! Faith is not an irrational choice but is based on evidence. Jesus’ claims about himself, and the Church’s historical claims about Him, stand up to scrutiny. Indeed I believe that there is no other rational explanation except that what the Bible teaches us is the truth. I’ve tested that theory many times over many years and never had reason to come to any other conclusion.
I have a relationship with the living God which is born out in my experience of Him day by day. The Church is not a place that we go to to escape; it is a community that we are part of to bring change and transformation. We should not be afraid that the Church today is heading in a radically different direction to much of society, or that we seem to face opposition: the Church always has.
There is one way that you can compare the Church to Lake Wobegon though. Lake Wobegon is a place where Garrison Keiller can explore the world as it is and as it might be. That’s our task as well. The Church is a place of refuge but not so that we can escape the world but so that we can engage the world. It is also a place where we can dream about the world as it might be. The difference is that this is not meant just to be a dream: we are called by God to fulfil the plans that He has to end injustice and hopelessness, to overcome evil and to establish His Kingdom of love and hope.
Our vision moving forward is to continue to be a place where people can find refuge when life is tough and receive the resources in Jesus to face that. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said:
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Our vision is not for a place of escape, but a place of hope and change where not only lives are transformed but our world is too. One life at a time.
Yours in Christ