Embracing Ubuntu: The Meeting House
This post is the fifth in a short semi-autobiographical series I’m doing called Embracing Ubuntu. Ubuntu, for those who aren’t familiar, is an African concept that is hard to translate but means something like “diversity in unity.” It is neither uniformity – making everyone the same or not talking about differences – nor is a free-for-all battle where anything goes. It is a recognition that is simple in theory but hard in practice: we are all different and that doesn’t make me better than you. I’ve expressed this idea many times, often using the Anabaptist phrasing the “Third Way,” but in this series I want to give examples of where I have encountered it working.
I first encountered The Meeting House through a podcast about peace theology that somebody shared on Facebook. I thought it was interesting but couldn’t quite get on-board with the idea and didn’t feel any particular motivation to continue tracking with them. Probably a year later I stumbled across another podcast of theirs and subscribed. A few years later when Emily and I moved to Toronto after the wedding, we made it our church home. By then, I had come to identify myself as an Anabaptist, with peace theology being the last hurdle. We moved from there to Hamilton, attending the West Hamilton site, and then to Kitchener, attending the Waterloo site on Sundays but a Home Church affiliated with the Kitchener site on Mondays.
There are things I/we don’t agree with The Meeting House on. I’ve even blogged about some of them. Some are pretty abstract and don’t have much practical difference. Others are more meaningful but still pretty peripheral to the centrality of following Jesus. The most controversial is that Emily and I affirm same-sex marriage; The Meeting House welcomes married same-sex couples but will not perform the weddings, with some differences of opinion even in leadership about it. Some liberal friends and family have even called for us to leave TMH as if this is the only issue that matters. I’m sure extreme conservative friends would similarly disown us for being in a church that welcomes them, if we still had any friends that extreme. Interestingly, extreme liberals and extreme conservatives seem to agree on that being the most important issue to true Christianity. I might also disagree about the contemporary worship that disregards so much beautiful church history or argue for Open Theism instead of the Arminianism most common or any number of other things about TMH.
Of course, we do agree with The Meeting House on the vast majority of the most important things – e.g. discipleship to Jesus meaning love of God, neighbour, and enemy – but we keep going not so much because of that central agreementm that most churches could at least say in theory, as because of how they don’t force other issues into the centre combined with the Home Church structure that embraces dialogue in diversity. On the former, they understand that not all questions of theology are of equal weight. We have a lot of people honestly doing their best to follow Jesus who may disagree on various questions, but we can disagree about them as family. That is particularly possible in the HC setting where you journey together with a small group over a period of time.
This approach has been directly taught at times as well, such as this sermon which I think I’ve shared here before:
I have been asked a couple of times why TMH is so successful, often with a hint of jealousy as so many other churches decline. In short: this attitude is it. Jesus is central, not a celebrity pastor, a doctrinal statement or our understanding of Scripture. We strive to take Jesus’ commands to love each other seriously, even if we see those with theological disagreement as “enemies.” The teaching, the Home Church structure, and the vast majority of interactions with people no matter their authority level all encourage ubuntu.