An Old Remedy for a New Cure

The Rev. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw, PIC, Trinity Church, Brooklyn

A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning out my books to set up my new study at Trinity Church in Brooklyn, CT and I ran across a book by John McKnight and Peter Block called The Abundant Community.[1] It’s not a book about church, per say. But as I begin my new cure, it has been a good reminder of exigencies of the wider context in which I am  serving as the leader of a small church struggling in a changing world.

The thesis of this book is that the culture in which we live is shifting, and in many ways has already shifted, from what the authors call a “citizen-based society” to “consumer-based cubby holes.” They say we are no longer a society that values our own agency as creative, connected neighbors and friends who have the will and the means to provide a satisfactory life for ourselves and our loved ones by working together to support and nourish each other. Now, we are becoming consumers who live isolated, alienated lives that are measured primarily by our purchasing power. The central “belief” of consumers, say McKnight and Block, is that satisfaction can be purchased.  And that, say McKnight and Block, is an ontological social shift of monumental proportions.

The shift from citizenship to consumerism has led to a fundamental shift in our general perception about the quality and fullness of our lives. It’s a shift from a feeling of abundance to a dread of scarcity. Citizenship is grounded in the notion that there is enough for everyone. But consumerism operates in a world that is grounded in the notion that there is not enough for everyone; a world that is predicated on supply and demand. As a society, we have traded lives of abundance grounded in community for lives of scarcity grounded in purchase-power; from communities of citizens who are connected to each other for the greater good into buyers and sellers of commodities for personal satisfaction.

Given this shifting context, it begs the question: Who are we as children of a loving, living God if our habitat is governed by an open market? And for we, as clergy, the question extends to: What is the purpose and role of our communities of faith and our collective church as a whole?

None of this is news to anyone who is….here and now. But as a newly called Priest-In-Charge, with a background in retail marketing and a rising field of dreams centered on building the Kin-dom of God, I am abundantly aware of my need to be more than intentional about keeping my eyes on the Gospel. To worry less about the waning “customer count.” After all, Jesus seemed perfectly contented with the size of his community.

My reacquaintance with Abundant Community has reminded me that church is not an anachronism in a changing world. It is more relevant and needed than it has ever been. Because what the world needs above all else is some serious Good News. But the trick, in my humble opinion, is to put our effort into building the integrity of our faith, as a community of radically committed followers of an itinerant preacher/teacher/healer/ Son of the Living God, and resist the growing temptation to become a chain of ecclesiastical store-fronts. Onward!

The Rev. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

PIC, Trinity Church, Brooklyn, CT


[1]The Abundant Community, John McKnight and Peter Brock, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco (2012).

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