Thursday, January 26, 2006

"It’ll look better in the morning!"

So my mother always used to say,- and she was usually right.
This time, in fact, it looked much better by the evening, thanks to all your kind comments and a lovely service at the Cathedral, to celebrate our Suffragen Bishop’s 10th Anniversary of Consecration. The Cathedral was impressively full, and had the atmosphere of a really good family party…wherever I looked there was someone I recognised, a significant person from some stage of my ordination journey. It was a good to be with them,- and the final hymn, And Can it Be? is on my desert-island hymn list. The last time I sang it was at the end of my First Eucharist back in July…Happy happy Curate.

Just as well, actually, as the 11.00 BCP Communion congregation this morning were full of ire at the “desecration” of their Chapel. Clearly it is much worse to receive in the wrong posture than not to receive at all…An attempt to talk about the message that the building gives was met by blank incomprehension. I might as well have been speaking Urdu.Why on earth should anyone want to suggest that God might be close to his people? Would he still be God if he were??
A huge gulf yawned between me and these parishioners. We simply didn't understand each other at all. I'd fondly imagined that if I put my view across, it would be met with a degree of understanding, if not acquiesence. Now Wonderful Vicar's reluctance to indulge in expositions of the theology of architecture make very good sense. Oh, I have so much to learn!

Mumcat’s comments brought to mind another “ouch” moment in a sermon on the call of Samuel I heard 2 weeks ago… (on that same memorable CME Sunday that inspired so much blogging). J.’s suggestions was that sometimes the distractions that hinder us from hearing God’s voice are the voices that cry “That’s not the way we do things” (rueful grins here…we all knew those voices) or, worse still “That’s not the way I do things”. This one was more challenging. J pointed out that as bright shiney baby curates, fresh off the ordination bench, we might be particularly prone to this problem. After all, we’ve spent time during the training process refining our vision, and when we arrive in our parishes, we are longing to see our dreams become realities. Sometimes this is just as it should be, but J suggested that there are times when the exasperated clergy have to accept that God may be perfectly happy with “The way we’ve always done things”…That to impose our vision of “the way I do things” on our faithful congregations can be the highest form of arrogance. Arrogance is probably top of my list of most hated character traits in others (and, unsurprisingly, it's therefore one I'm not good at acknowledging in myself). I’m one who really struggled with the possibility of a call to leadership of any kind, because, I thought, I was fundamentally reticent about imposing my own agenda on anyone…but I could definitely recognise myself in the frustrated professional who knows so much better than her congregation what we should be doing with the church.
"Ouch",- of a lesser order, but still ouch! It is so much easier to assume a concerned, vaguely holy look and murmur about God going ahead of us into a new future, than to look for him in the things of the past and present that we find uncongenial. I'm not suggesting that dreams and plans are always wrong,- not even that our dreams and plans for St M's are mistaken. I'm just reminding myself that I might actually be quite wrong about how God's dream for the place will actually play out.

This morning, one elderly lady of great dignity said with mounting despair
“You’ve changed so much in my lifetime. We don’t have the Prayer Book. We don’t have a “proper” (west facing) altar. And it hasn’t brought new people in”
There are other reasons for this, as many of the mothers who attend Little Fishes will tell you,- but her perception is clearly that we are attempting to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic to no good purpose…Implicit in this, of course, is the understanding that the ship is going to sink anyway (and an unspoken thought among my older congregation that this won't matter as long as it lasts them out). That’s not a conclusion I’m happy to go with, though. Here, more than in many places that I’ve lived and worshipped, I can really see the value of the parish system. The presence of the church building speaks loudly into this community, and we have relationships and contacts far beyond the regularl congregation…People who are not yet ready to commit themselves to the search for God but who might well never get around to it without that daily invitation which they have to pass wherever they go in Charlton Kings. So, I'm going to continue to do everything I can to encourage the church to recognise and accept its responsibility for mission in this place. That may, I suspect, involve a building that speaks of openness and welcome...but of course, I might be wrong.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I wouldn't be surprised if this elderly lady's response also comes out of dealing with all the changes she must be experiencing as she ages. Losing the ability to do minor tasks easily, perhaps losing the privilege of driving or living on one's own, feeling your independence slip away and watching the world operate in ways very different from your heyday (true of elderly people in any generation)... no wonder some minor changes in the church feel so huge! If even the eternal church can change (and no, I'm not saying your changes affect the character of the church eternal, but I can see how it might feel that way to someone who's always experienced the church in one particular way) then what is left to be certain of, to know that you can hold on to, no matter what?

Sad and frustrating, but understandable.