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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007
    Crying out for a polycentric church
    Joe Hasler emailed me having found my blog about his excellent booklet Mind Body and Estates: Outer Estate Ministry and Working Class Culture. He wondered if I'd seen his recent book, Crying out for a Polycentric Church (£7.99 from Church in Society). He'd obviously forgotten that I'd asked him to sign a copy at the National Estate Churches Network Conference [Where Mark and I did our Norris Green thing - see pics].

    Now I have to admit that I don't immediately warm to anything with a word like polycentric in its title. And having read the book I'm still not a hundred percent sure I understand precisely what it means. But it's a good book because it's helped me grasp its key point, which is that church needs to find ways of affirming and embracing many different cultures.

    That doesn't sound like a particularly radical proposal. Except that the cultures Joe is on about are ones like white working class council estate cultures. Which concentrates the mind. Because the church Joe is critiquing tends to embrace a white middle class suburban culture which is monocentric (I think I just made that up) inasmuch as it doesn't realise that it embraces a white middle-class suburban culture and it therefore doesn't acknowledge the significance of that or any other culture in our society. A church which can't comprehend how it relates to society is culturally vapid. It lacks the tools to joyfully build thick descriptions of its context, and flourish within it. Hence Mission Shaped Church with its many, many cultural blind spots.

    Joe's spent a long, long time living among the people of white working class council estates. Thirty years building an understanding of church and society from outsider perspectives. And this short book is consequently very powerful. It demonstates how networks and leadership function on outer estates; it critiques the urban church's gospel according to projects which, dominated by managerial and professional culture, may not be good news to local people at all. It surveys a lot of good contextual theology and it makes it clear that good thinking about culture is quite complex - we have to dig deep into the richnesses formed where geography and networks combine.

    Like many books written with passion Joe's is not the easiest read. But it is very rewarding. It is currently quite hard to find, but hopefully will become widely read because it takes a sideways view of much current in-church debate about mission, a sideways view strongly rooted in the everyday realities of many people's lives.