Congregation-wide book study paves way for featured speaker, ecclesiologist Tony Jones

January 16, 2013

Church: United Methodist Church of Anoka

District: Big Waters

Submitted by: Bill Eaves

Tony Jones spoke on a recent Sunday at the United Methodist Church of Anoka and at Northern Light, the church’s satellite campus in Ramsey. Most of the people in the congregation had never seen him before, and yet many felt as if they knew him. They were familiar with his spiritual journey, his struggles to know God more deeply, and even with some of the people who had influenced him along the way.

That was because many of them had read The Sacred Way, a book written by Jones that invites readers to embrace the ancient disciplines of the Christian spiritual life, disciplines like fasting, pilgrimage, Sabbath keeping, meditation, and daily prayer. Jones is a leading authority on emerging Christianity, he blogs about postmodernism and the use of social networking by faith communities. He is also  theologian-in-residence at Solomon's Porch, a unique congregation in Minneapolis.

Many in the Anoka congregation on Jan. 13 had read The Sacred Way because Anoka's adult spiritual formation team selected it as a book that everybody in the church would be invited to read, ponder, and discuss. Jones’ book “describes sixteen spiritual practices that can bring us closer to God,” according to Jan Warren, who leads the team. “Whether reading our Bibles with more intention, praying more deeply, or exploring new ways of serving others, this book meets adults of all ages wherever they are on their spiritual journeys.”

They decided to call it "One Congregation, One Book," and all the adults in the congregation were invited to read along and to join a small group to discuss how they might embrace the spiritual disciplines in their own lives. Groups met at different times for seven weeks--some in the evening, others in the daytime, one met very early in the morning at a local coffee shop. Lora Steiner, a member of the formation team, led the group that met on Sunday evenings at the Northern Light campus in Ramsey. She said the program “encouraged people to take a class that they may not have otherwise, since the whole congregation would experience the same thing.” She was enthusiastic about the choice of The Sacred Way: “Tony Jones gave us a book of practices that he has studied, researched and tried himself. I think it showed the church community that we need to take spiritual growth seriously, and that if this author, as busy as he is, can take the time to find what works for him, we can all do the same.”

The team decided early on--more than a year ago--that they wanted to invite the author of the book that was chosen for a culminating event of the "One Congregation, One Book" program. In his Sunday message to the congregation, Jones talked about how the expression of the Christian faith needs to change with changing times. He outlined his own family’s experience as an example: from his great great grandfather who immigrated from Wales and was the minister of a Welsh speaking Presbyterian church in southern Minnesota, through his parents who joined a suburban mega-church, to his own involvement in a non-traditional emerging church that “does church differently” inside the walls of a former United Methodist church. 

Jones thanked the Anoka congregation for choosing his book for the whole church to read, and urged them to hold onto the ancient practices of the spiritual life. “We are in a time when there’s going to be another reshaping” of the institution we know as church. But the “personal spirituality” will continue as always. The challenge for the church, he said, is “how do we respond to the very real spiritual needs of people in a time that is changing. I think we look to Jesus, who didn’t have time to build a tabernacle . . . instead  he set his face to Jerusalem and he kept ministering to people. He was on the move.” Our church buildings, Jones said, “should just be the starting gate from which we take off to go out into the world to practice our faith in ways that are always on the move." 

Learn more about Tony Jones by visiting his blog

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