Dave Mullan and David Pratt: Following the Dream. Shared memories and reflections on the centenary of Russell Methodist Church.
What we have here is not a retelling of anecdotes or a record of dates and decisions, but a creative approach to one hundred years in the life of a small and somewhat isolated church. Although a Jubilee Booklet printed in 1963 and some dates and happenings are included as appendices, the main body of the book is history with a difference. In the foreword the authors state they recognise that the congregation at Russell exhibited styles of life that predominated at certain times in the congregation’s life. These styles or characters suggested the main chapter divisions and prompt reflection on theology and mission.
Following the Dream is a well-chosen title. From its beginnings and through its life, the congregation at Russell was motivated by its dream of what the people believed it meant to be church in their community. The scope and content of the book may be glimpsed by chapter headings. These include (1) Family Church. This refers to a church where everyone knows each other and decisions are made informally by general agreement. (2) Ecumenical Church. While changing parish structure embraced Russell within a cooperative venture, as in many small communities, local identity seems to have been given greater priority. (3) Silent Church. This acknowledges the absence of records for a large part of the church’s life, possibly related to informal decision making. (4) Sunday School Church. Youth work was seen as a significant feature of any church prior to the 1960s. (5) D.I.Y. Church - particularly exemplified by the local effort that went into building a parsonage. (6) Minister Church. The long dream of having a resident minister was part of what it meant to be a (7) Proper Church. (8) Hospice Church. This is a congregation in decline and dependent on others until at last its life was ended.
For one hundred years, members of the Russell congregation followed their dream in commitment to Christ, each other and their community. Russell was a small church never destined to be a large church. The authors hold that regardless of their span of life, small churches have a distinctive place as centres of worship and witness provided they do not seek to emulate large churches with their buildings, programmes and clergy. This can readily sap energy and resources; and small churches should never feel, or be made to feel, that they have failed. What is important is to know who they are and why they are there. As the authors state in their final chapter titled Future Directions: Small churches should be encouraged to identify the particular strength of being small and play to these strengths … Increasingly they will look less and less like conventional churches, but they must be encouraged and supported and not left to flounder alone.
Dave Mullan and David Pratt have written a worthy tribute to one particular small church and offer insight into possible ways ahead for others following their dream into the future. Readers should not be limited to those who knew the Russell congregation. The book offers inspiration and encouragement for all.
Published in Touchstone November 2014
(review of free book)