To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to attend LNSI in Cambridge. I wanted an excuse to travel to Europe for my first time and this conference seemed to fit the bill. If the conference wasn’t a good enough excuse, then we had our 20th wedding anniversary to fall back on. Regardless, I was thrilled for the opportunity to travel to new places.
Before arriving at LNSI 2017, we spent a few days in Frankfurt and then Paris. From Paris, we hopped a train to Cambridge where the Summer Institute was being hosted. My travel leading up to Cambridge had already humbled me with the challenges of language barriers and a rusty knowledge of geography and history of the places we were visiting. So, I was feeling a bit overmatched coming into a conference attended by deeply educated people in a rich educational setting like Cambridge. The last thing I was looking for was a group of theologians discussing the theology of their theology.
Thankfully, that’s not what I found.
I care deeply about faith, who Jesus is, and the role of his church. But I also get fatigued by the church culture, especially in the United States. It seems we get so caught up in our consumeristic tendencies, exploring faith communities as if they were places to feed our already full bellies. New churches pop up right next to existing churches regardless of whether they are thriving or struggling. There is a world watching and perhaps justifiably mocking the bride of Christ. We’ve divided ourselves into ideological communities that compete with one another as if we’re athletic rivals rather than one body seeking the unity and peace of God together.
Theology is useless if it doesn’t inform our daily lives. It means nothing if it can’t speak to our, moments of crisis, our daily decisions, and the questions of our neighbors.
At LNSI 2017, I was refreshed to be surrounded by theologians who seemed to subscribe to this very type of real and relevant theology. With Lesslie Newbigin as their inspiration, they were looking for hope for the future, while also strategizing over the difficult goal of unity among the church now.
On one of our first walks through Cambridge, I noticed scaffolding covering a building. Alongside this construction, there was a plastic barrier erected to provide a walking path for pedestrians. I commented to Brian, “Too bad that that scaffolding is there.” It was cluttering up the cityscape that I wanted to see! He looked where I was pointing and casually replied, “I guess preservation or repair is necessary at some point.”
You see, I was longing for unobstructed views of this beautiful city I was exploring. But a more honest view would have allowed me to see it for what it was, necessary repair included, and imagine it as it could be…fully restored.
The scholars I was surrounded by at LNSI this summer taught me to open my eyes to WHAT MIGHT BE in the church. While I know destruction and repair are a natural process in our world and as a result, the church, I was also encouraged to see “beyond the scaffolding” so to speak.
At LNSI, I was surrounded by women and men who were able to see “beyond the scaffolding” in their everyday calling. And at LNSI they were able to gather with others seeking to do the same.
I believe we all left encouraged to seek the hope of what’s to come: the ultimate unity of the church… the unobstructed, fully restored beauty of all of God’s kingdom living as one.
Katie Prentiss is a professional photographer and owner of Katie Prentiss Photography. She is a wife and mother of four who resides in Portland, Oregon.