Toward an Ecclesiology of Presence: Understanding the Church as a Thin Place Where Heaven Touches Earth through the People of God

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2022

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Abstract

In a world that often seems to be burning around us, both literally and figuratively, it is difficult to notice a single burning bush. In a world deafened by the noise of the loudest and most powerful voices, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit all but disappears. Yet God continues to speak in the stillness, in the silence, and in the quiet out of the way places so few dare to walk, let alone take off their shoes. What will it take to notice? What will it take to pay attention and stay awake to God’s presence in our midst? And what will it take for the church to recover her role as sacred space where all people can drink deeply from the fountain of living water flowing forth from the loving presence of their creator?

Beginning with the Celtic image of “Thin Place,” I will explore our need to rediscover a sacramental worldview in which everything and everyone is sacred and all of creation is aflame with the light of God’s Holy presence if only we have eyes to see. I will then move toward a scriptural foundation for thin places with particular emphasis on Jacob and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, as each encounter the presence of God in the unexpected places of their ordinary lives. I will consider how the theme of God’s presence with us through the incarnation and the Holy Spirit is central to the entire Biblical narrative.

On the practical side, I turn toward the question of how we might become more aware of thin places in our midst and more readily encounter and respond to the presence of God with us. The ancient practices of silence and stillness offer a doorway into such sacred spaces in every time and place. I will also explore the vital role of the faith community or church in cultivating sacred space through the practices of silence and stillness together and examine our role as the Body of Christ to be a thin place both gathered and scattered throughout the world so that others may encounter God’s presence embodied in the life of the Church through the Holy Spirit. I believe that recovering a sacramental worldview and living a sacramental life is essential to our identity as Christians. As the Church, we must become thin places through whom the living water of God’s presence is readily accessible to a dry and weary world.

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Sefa, Craig Joseph (2022). Toward an Ecclesiology of Presence: Understanding the Church as a Thin Place Where Heaven Touches Earth through the People of God. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25013.

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