Sunday, June 19, 2005

Do you know this church??

On Thursday, I went along to Deanery Synod. As you might imagine, this was not the most exciting way of spending an evening, but could probably have been far worse.
It was the first session after elections, and so the agenda was planned to allow each parish 3 minutes to talk about their joys and sorrows in the present, and their dreams and nightmares for the future. A good idea for a large deanery, which is currently divided into 3 mini-chapters, so that not even the clergy know each other particularly well.
The St M’s spokesman went first, and I listened with some surprise. Was he describing the same church that I knew and served? Certainly there were features in common, but the emphases were all “wrong” as far as I was concerned. The projects I’m engaged with for children and families was there on the list of joys,- but the parish’s dream seemed to be that they would all file nicely in through the doors, to become part of the main congregation,- and for me that would be something close to nightmare! I don’t want to see those hesitant, exploring souls lose their independence, the freshness of their engagement with God. I’d hate to see them constrained or alienated by those same liturgies that are precious and helpful to others. This doesn't mean that either group is right or wrong… but their needs are so very different, and just now it feels right for me to be engaging more with those on the fringes,- but not as part of a concerted effort to lure them inside.
Another surprise was the discovery that the excitement we, as clergy, feel about a growing habit of prayer among our congregation just doesn’t impact anyone else. Since the beginning of the month, my vicar and I have only twice said the Office alone: this in a church which has in the not-too- distant past seen the priestly role as doing all the “God-stuff” on behalf of the laity. During Lent, our Bishop’s Prayer Initiative encouraged some people to join us morning and evening…the new CW Daily Prayer was the catalyst for others to come along and you can really feel the difference that this is having across the board.Except, perhaps, if you are busy writing reports for Deanery Synod.
Two views of the same parish. I don’t know what the synod made of our 3 minute slot, but the vicar and I both found it informative.


John said...

Sounds...interesting! I know what you mean about different dreams, though, and it can cause real problems. Hope it all works out for you.

pax et bonum

Mary said...

My current perspective on our church, and on church generally, tends to have more than a touch of double vision about it - as an OLM trainee I'm clearly not clergy, but nor am I exactly congregation although I very much belong to the parish. So I can see that even in a group which is not at all bad at collaborative leadership, the "clergy" perspective and vision is almost always different from that of the laity - and that can be a strength and it can be a weakness. I'm not surprised that you were surprised, Kathryn, and I wonder how surprised the DS rep would be by your perspective..... perhaps you need an OLM ordinand to interpret between you!(I don't know how long the ability to do so will persist, but I do mean to try and retain it). But I fear that even in the most united churches there will always be those small silent moments when two world views don't meet, or when they collide, or when the mist that usually fills the gulf between them suddenly clears to reveal.... whatever. I'm sorry this sounds fatalistic, and I hope it isn't true.... but.....

Mark said...

Perhaps you've been hearing the "ground bass" of the church? In the musical sense the gound bass is a bass line that recurs repeatedly while the melody and voices change and vary continuously. It developed in England in the C16th - maybe another of Cranmer's influences !?!
Vicars, curates, fresh expressions - all these come and go but maybe the ground bass recurs over and over again.

Have you come across the idea of discovering the "angel" of the church (Health Churches Handbook ch 9 & 12 - Robert Warren, CHPub 2004)? Some interesting ideas to explore.

One of my more zany ideas was as a newly arrived parish priest to invite each member of the PCC, one at a time, to go to the top of the church tower with me and tell me about themselves, the church, the parish and everything they could see. It was absolutely fascinating. Of course, I then offered them the whole world if they'd just bow down and worship me - no takers, sadly. But it was interesting to note the effect of vertigo upon those with a previously very high opinion of themselves!!

More seriously, my perspective was much enriched and many of them also spoke later of how their understanding has been changed through the experience. One said she felt like G-d looking down with eyes of compassion; another that he understood more the idea of the church as a body/community.
Use the dis-ease you feel as a sign that here maybe something important to unravel?

As for the clergy initiative on prayer - well if we clergy remembered to fully involve the people we serve in planning, delivering and assessing our pet projects maybe they'd be more effective?

Kathryn said...

Mmnn....thanks for comments, peoples.
I'd done the Warren "angel" exercise in my old parish, but we haven't here and I agree that it would be instructive. Surely, though, the point of a ground bass is that the other parts can weave their harmonious way over the top of it, complementing it rather than jarring. And the "more prayer" idea was at least in part a response to a desire expressed by a respectable proportion of the congregation in our "Way Ahead" survey of their hopes, fears, and delights just before I arrived,- so you'd expect some awareness that it is happening, not least because it seems to be working!

Mark said...

I agree about the desirable harmonious interraction of the ground bass and other parts. But are they playing from the same hymn sheet?
Maybe the work on prayer needs some good PR? Has implementing the ideas from the Way Ahead survey been given good coverage in magazine/sermon/follow up reports? Were the outcomes from the survey clearly disseminated and a review planned? If poeple don't know what good is being done then perhaps they find it hard to own it for themselves?