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News St Martin – Talking Points

Sunday 27 October 2013

Many Protestant churches around the world mark today as Reformation Sunday.

Many Anglicans are a little more ambivalent about whether it’s a day of celebration or not.

In 1965 the psychologist Bruce Tuckman described a sequence of four stages. Forming, where a group comes together around a common interest or goal. Storming, where the group bickers and the members tussle for top-dog status. Norming, where each person and the group as a whole develops habits and adjusts to one another’s easy and difficult characteristics. Finally performing, where everyone works together towards the common project. Tuckman suggested every group needed to go through these stages in order to find solutions and deliver results. If you’ve ever brought up a family you might recognise what he’s talking about. In 2006 another psychologist proposed a further stage, reforming: conflict is constructive, but even a high-performing group has its limitations, and dismemberment and reformation may often help to reach even stronger performance.

This is how a lot of Protestants now see the Reformation. It entailed conflict, but it unleashed positive energy that deepened discipleship, renewed worship, galvanised the laity, restored the place of the Bible, and motivated mission. That’s a legitimate view if you see the church rather like one of Tuckman’s groups. But what if the church isn’t a gadget and a means to an end, but thing of beauty and an end in itself?

Then the Reformation begins to look less like a healthy management shake-up and more like a relationship split – something one can see as understandable, perhaps inevitable, surely forgivable – but nonetheless a tragedy one wishes never had to have happened. Today, Reformation Sunday, then becomes not a celebration, but a day of lament, truth-telling, and resolving to make things different in the future. 

Revd Dr Sam Wells