Expressions of Faith: Local and Global; Networks and Flows

Being new to the region, someone recently asked me where I had ended up going to church.  I remarked that I had been either going to Highrock Salem, a church plant, or to an Episcopal church in Hamilton.

A moment of confused silence was followed by the question:  “But aren’t these at the opposite ends of the high church-low church spectrum?”

“Well, yes.”  I said.  “But I just can’t decide, so I get up each Sunday morning and decide which I am drawn to that week.” [ Actually, if the truth be known, I keep trying to figure out how to belong to both of them.]

Sitting in the Episcopal church Sunday morning, having chosen high church this week, it finally came to me—it wasn’t about choosing high church or low church.  It was all about local and global!  You know the phrase:  think global; act local.  I had just spent the week focused locally.  I had attended two basketball games, gone to a dinner with two faculty departments, and attended a local concert.  I needed a more global worship experience where I could be alone but still feel part of the church universal  through a globally recognized and focused liturgy.  This is the liturgy that moves from prayer for people who are alone, to the community, the nation and the world.  It is the service that moves through confession to absolution and the giving of peace, to consecration and communion.  It is the form that I recognize from Anglican churches I have attended around the world, allowing me to be alone, yet remember my belonging to the universal church.

At other times, I need to connect locally to feel like I belong and so I go to the other church.  There I find people who are connected to my networks that in turn connect local places together.  The church is Evangelical Covenant, which means it has Swedish roots.  American Swedes have connections to Minnesota and often to Bethel College, so along with chatting with people I know from work, I also connect with people who have roots in another local place—Minnesota.  I might run into someone who knows someone I know.  And the focus of the church is much more on reaching out to the local community.  When I feel like I need to belong here, to a local congregation, then I go to Highrock.

This global/local distinction has led me to think about networks and flows as well.  I recently ended up talking with a group of people who all had connections to the American Baptist denomination.  We had grown up in different parts of the world, but had all spent time at the national conference grounds in Green Lake, WI when we were growing up.  The denomination might be the network, but the conference ground was the node in the flow pattern.

I believe my desire for the global partially comes in response to spending many years within the Dutch Reformed community in North America.  It is a community that you could say is national, or international, but really it is made up of a network of locals—Sioux County, IA; Pella, IA; Lynden, WA;  Redlands, CA; Edmonton, AL; Whitinsville, MA; Western Michigan; St. Catherine, ON;  the Netherlands.  I remember being in Grand Rapids, MI, listening to a group of people talk about a particular rural intersection in northern Alberta, several thousands of miles away, and they all knew exactly where it was!  The faith tradition is one of locals and flows of people and ideas amongst these locals.

So I remain of two minds, depending on the week.  I desire to belong individually to the global church and I desire to engage communally in the local church.  Which will win out in the end?  And why do I have to choose?

Vocation and Place

I have been in my new region, but temporary apartment, for almost seven months.  I have finally been able to locate myself in regional space.  I live in an area called the North Shore.  But throughout much of time here I have been trying to decide where I want to locate myself more specifically–where do I want to buy a place to live?  Do I want to live in one of the more urban environments—Salem or Lynn—or in a small town like Ipswich?

Since reading the book Make Your Job a Calling by Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy I have been thinking about the connection amongst these choices, vocation, and sense of place.  I have lived in many different kinds of environments:  houses in small towns in the Midwest; remote New Zealand island; high rise apartment in Hong Kong; manor house in rural England; small lot houses in an intermediate-sized American cities; suburban apartments and more urban apartments;  dormitories;  a condo;  rural line settlement in the Southern U.S.  No wonder I have trouble answering the questions for myself—What is my preference?  Do I want to live in an urban setting, a rural setting, or a small town setting?

Dik and Duffy make several comments that have gotten me thinking.  They say:  Work needs to be a good fit for you, but also for your life and its transitions.  Your calling, or work links you to the larger community and provides an arena for using your gifts with purpose for the common good.

When I look through the list of environments where I have lived, I realized that it wasn’t the particular environment that was key to my satisfaction, but rather its connection to my work.   My work has connected me to a community in a place.  My satisfaction and choices have been made based on how it will fit with my work and my family rather than something inherent to “type.”

I have to say that I am a bit unsettled by the idea of moving to a place without work to shape my engagement with the larger community.  I think I would feel a bit “placeless.”  Because of my work here I have become connected to the public library system through a collaboration, met many people involved in science-related industry who represent the local economy, and had lunch with colleagues in similar positions at other institutions close by.  I’ve met people connected to local historic preservation and met local politicians because of some of our programs.  My sense of the place has grown through this growing network that arises out of my vocation.  What would my encounter with the North Shore look like without meaningful work?  Would I just know where the shopping centers and restaurants were?

There is something inherently satisfying about meaningful work that deepens your understanding and connection to a place.  I live on the North Shore.