Two things struck me with huge and terrifying force in the course of Tuesday's seminars….
One was the sobering realisation (which I had glimpsed so often, but had somehow managed to discount) that the many spiritual seekers of the current age would simply not consider that the church was in the business of spirituality at all.
It’s not just that they don’t feel we wrap it up attractively,- they don’t think it has anything at all to do with our purpose as an outmoded and irrelevant social institution. One speaker told of conversation with someone who was asking all the Big Questions with single-minded seriousness….Their talk had gone well, and the speaker suggested that it might be fruitful to continue it with a local vicar. The response??
“Why on earth should I do that?”
Another insight with which I’m struggling to do something concerns the way that the church still tends to tell people to “come to us”…not just in physical terms, as in hoping that they will cross our threshold if we offer more exciting or appealing worship, but in expecting them to come round to our way of thinking, to accept our moral and ethical framework before we’re willing to let a relationship develop.
This played directly into my own anxieties about our Baptism practice…
It sometimes feels as if we're operating a kind of double standard, in that we are willing (even keen) to baptise anyone who requests it, but we make sure that our preparation (admittedly not hugely lengthy or demanding) includes a good dose of guilt, so that if they don’t become regular attenders at OpenHouse at the very least, they will know that we are noting their absence in reproachful silence.
We need, surely, to have confidence in the Sacrament that we are offering! Either we believe that God is doing something amazing for each individual as they are baptised, or we believe that it is only effective if it is followed through in a regular commitment to the life of the Church.
From my Catholic perspective, I’d go to the stake for the first view….. so what am I doing loading my own views about regular worship and a supportive faith community onto the shoulders of parents for whom this is just not meaningful? There must be a route through this that recognises that seekers are just that. They haven’t yet found what they’re looking for, nor will they ever necessarily arrive at my way of thinking,- but what we're surely called to do is to allow every possible opportunity for them to encounter God at work. We need to help them to hallow and to recognise the holy in their own experiences…not to tell them that their experiences should match ours.
I can hear anxious clucks from readers who might feel that I’m at the top of the slippery slope to affirming everything no matter what…I hope this isn’t the case. It was, simply, another reminder that we are called to live and minister in the world and not just the church, and that (praise be!) the Church has NEVER had the monopoly on God.