Having lurked for some time now, it's beginning to feel rather rude not to introduce myself. I was ordained 3 years ago in the Church of England, and am working as a curate in a suburban church in Gloucestershire (which you may have heard about in the context of recent floods). My context for ministry is about as traditional as it is possible to be, - and there is lots that is good in that. The world is not made up, solely, of cool urban sophisticates, any more than of the begloved old ladies of Barbara Pym novels...and the church needs to serve both constituencies, and many another in between. I guess I'm very much the sort of hybrid minister called to serve in what ++Rowan Williams calls a "mixed economy church"....and seeing the value of so many different expressions of the church as God's mission in the world.
I realise that Charlton Kings has probably given me an unreal perspective on the opportunities that the parish system still provides, but here certainly I’m regularly in contact with non-church families, who still approach us for rites of passage. This is such a privilege, and I've made some really important connections along the way. My children tease me about the way I seem to enjoy funerals…but truly, the combination of being allowed to share people’s stories and to speak words that might, by the grace of God, make a difference is nothing short of mind blowing.
So in my experience here, the benefits of the parish system still outweigh its drawbacks, and
I’m always surprised and delighted by the amount of free floating good will that seems to exist for the church, and her ministers.
BUT I know too that the connection between what happens within the walls of St M’s, and the lives of hundreds in this community is not just tenuous – it’s non existent.
And I long for all those other people to know directly how much they are loved by God– to feel the difference that Love makes to each and every second of their lives and their eternities….The first time I cycled up to Morning Prayer in church , the Monday after my diaconal ordination, I did so against the tide of children heading to the primary school round the corner. I arrived at the church in tears. We live in a community with many young families but I work in a church whose average age is definitely a few years older than my own. And it hurts so much that we’re not connecting with those many others.
So – OpenHouse (a monthly congregation of families who have no other connection with St M's) was born…and is, I think, making connections with those families whom jargon would describe as “Open un(or de?) churched”…those who’ve some idea of what might happen behind the doors of St M’s…who are prepared to come and see.
But there’s the rub. Come and see.
I love welcoming school-children to St M’s, and many come there to meet the assorted demands of the national curriculum. Certainly there are arguments in favour of taking them to a special place and using the power of an ancient building to enhance our telling of the Best Story Ever…but not if that prevents them from believing it could actually relate to the reality of their lives.
The risk is that clergy and congregations may carry on behaving as if we believe that God is to be uniquely encountered within our churches…and trying as hard as we can to lure people to meet God there…whereas we know that he has “already gone before us into Galilee” ..He’s waiting in the bus queue, taking pleasure in the bounding (and boundless) energy of the dogs being walked on the recreation ground, and the skate boarders in the shopping precinct...
So…I want to be involved in a church that does not just look outwards, but steps out to join in, to bless, celebrate and join in with God’s transforming activity in the world.
I thought a bit about this during Holy Week, and in a response to a comment on my own blog, wrote
“ I do realise that liturgy and buildings are often the problem, I'm not saying they are the whole answer, but I do think that we need a combination of church through relational networks (yuk phrase, but can't think of a better way to put it) and church that is just identifiably there as church.
Of course, you can have buildings without liturgy...or liturgy without buildings....or community without either. I'm a real believer in that famous "mixed economy church" which ++Rowan wants to see...even though the process of being both/and could potentially exhaust everyone.”
Holy Week brought me right up against that, since on the Monday night I was refreshed and inspired by time spent with some prayer installations provided by an emerging faith community in the Lady Chapel of our Cathedral…while on Thursday morning, I was back in that same Lady Chapel with rank on rank of robed clergy preparing to renew our ordination vows at the Chrism Mass. God spoke to me in both services, both situations….I’m excited that I’m part of a church that recognises this will happen.
So…if I were asked to choose between ministry in an inherited and an “emerging” congregation, my answer would have to be “Yes please.”
I want both. My dream church would have as its mission statement something like this
" We exist to demonstrate to ourselves and to our community that everybody is loved and precious to God, and to enable response to that love"
It would not only keep the rumours of God alive, but both live the Gospel and enable others to do so. Enabling others is surely very close to the heart of emerging church....I'm excited to be part of the journey.
Labels: Community, Women in Ministry