Spent the morning at a supervision with my vicar. Gloucester curates have the benefit of a training manual, "The First Four Years", which aims to help us join the dots between what we are doing in our parishes and the way that this should equip us for future ministry. At the end of the book there's a sort of profiling exercise, which looks at the main areas of ministry, divided into subsections, and invites you to grade them according to competence. The theory is that this happens at the beginning of each year, areas for action are highlighted, and the whole thing is revisited at the start of the next year. However, life being real and earnest, things haven't actually worked out quite like that, so we're still working our way through these rather substantial topics, and today it was "Mission and Evangelism".
This has been something that has become very immediate and real for me in the past year, as I realise the full implications of the new context in which we live and work. To state the obvious, things are quite different in a suburban parish with a large proportion of young families, as opposed to a small Cotswold village with a settled population, most of whom you know fairly well. M. and I had a helpful and ( I hope) productive discussion, and identified some points for the future. However we foundered when we came to the question about "ability to present the Gospel to those of little or no church background".
We both agreed that relationship was very important...we felt that we had to earn the right to share the Gospel, if we wanted it to be received positively. Neither of us felt really confident that we were ready "constantly to give an account of the hope that is in us", though when pressed, we could each see that we were able to use our own faith stories to encourage others to encounter God. St Francis's words "Preach the Gospel. If necessary use words" seemed far more in keeping with our preferred styles, though we agreed that there was a danger that this would be a cop-out. After all, the Anglican Church has often tended to engage optimistically in social action and community work without proclaiming the Gospel, in the hopes that people might somehow work out the motivation from the action. History suggests that this is not entirely successful....I just wish I'd read ron's post on the subject earlier. As part of our efforts to convince the congregation that ministry is something we all do together, and not a peculiar habit of consenting adult clergy, I've been preaching about the universal Christian calling to be God-bearers to the world...and now he has tied up the ends beautifully for me. Listen to this bit, and then make sure you go and read the rest.
"The early disciples had little ritual but a mighty realization. They went out not remembering Christ, but experiencing him. He was not a mere fair and beautiful story to remember with gratitude - he was a living, redemptive, actual presence then and there. They went out with the joyous and grateful cry, "Christ lives in me!" The Jesus of history had become the Christ of experience.
Some have suggested that the early Christians conquered the pagan world because they out-thought, out-lived and out-died the pagans. But that was not enough: they out-experienced them. Without that they would have lacked the vital glow.
We cannot merely talk about Christ - we must bring him. He must be a living vital reality - closer than breathing and nearer than hands and feet. We must be "God-bearers."
As for me, I came home to the sort of email that makes me realise that if I'm a walking book at all, then it's definitely not so much gospel as rather bad news. I've managed to upset a friend even as I tried to help, so I would really value prayers as I try to put things right.