Thursday, March 23, 2006

Some serious navel gazing...

Or thus, I'm sure, the poor LongsufferingClockmaker would describe it. He could well have a point...
You see, following on from the preaching experience, I’ve been thinking a bit more about how personality can help or hinder in ministry. I don’t mean the obvious, that you will connect better with some of your congregation than others, simply because you are who you are. It’s rather a question of how far it is appropriate or desirable to use oneself, and the relationship that exists with the congregation, when leading worship. I don’t expect I’m making any sense, so let me do a bit more digging.
I guess this is something that has been at the back of my mind for a while, but it was brought into sharp focus by the experience of leading that London funeral 2 weeks ago. At the “do” afterwards, several people said things like “I could cope with it all as long as you were speaking…you held me together….”
And I’ve been trying to work out quite what is going on here. I worry that somehow by being as “me” as I was, I was somehow getting in between those people and the God who was there pouring love and consolation into the whole situation. I know I can’t lead worship as anyone except myself, and I would be totally unable to manage the kind of remote and impersonal style I remember from some AngloCatholic priests of my childhood (who would also remove their wedding ring in the vestry, as a sign of this negation of self), even if I felt that this was the right thing (which I don’t). I know that loving my congregation and being loved by them is part of our being church together.
But God forbid, please, that anyone should get so embroiled in relating to me that they forget to look any further
Reading that, it sounds incredibly arrogant. How could I ever imagine that they might?
And yet, I do know that when I’m having a totally blissful time celebrating the Eucharist there are some there who are at least partly enjoying me enjoying the experience. It’s another manifestation of the great trap for clergy of being needed and loved and loved and needed. To use our whole selves to attract people to God seems fine (isn't that sometimes known as witnessing??)…to have a life so shaped by Him that it inspires others would be totally wonderful…but how does one ensure that people do make the whole journey? There are too many stories of maiden ladies of bygone years who went to church to worship the vicar, and though I’m not talking about exactly the same thing, there are some disturbing similarities.
So, how do I get myself out of the way,- while being true to the understanding that God has called me to ministry, to be myself for Him?
Or shouldn’t I even expect to?


Dayzeee said...

'How does one ensure that people do make the whole journey?' I think the answer to this question is that one can't! We can only take responsibility for our own journey and trust others to take responsibility for their own.

I think the people who have helped me most in my life were not conscious of how inspiring they were to me and simply got on with being who they were, while at the same time allowing me to be me, even if that was very different.

As a woman in ministry, I imagine you are the recipient of so many hopes and fears (about God as well as about yourself) from others that it is quite difficult to process them all. I wonder if your 'navel gazing' is a necessary process as you attempt to work out what are your responsibilities and what are other people's expectations of you, which may not be the same!

Maybe people imply somehow that you are responsible for their journey and they don't want to take responsibility for their own. If things go well and what they hope for and what you provide are the same they will be very pleased! If, on the other hand, you don't come up with the goodies they hope for, they may become critical, leaving you feeling you have failed them (and God)in some way. I would see that not so much your failure, as their failure to take responsibility for their own hopes and fears.

From my own experience, as long as I am willing to carry other people's stuff for them, they will willingly let me do it! But I believe I serve them better by helping them to acknowledge what is theirs and trusting them to develop the resources to take responsibility for their own journey and relationship with God.

It is easy to say 'just relax and be yourself, Kathryn' but far less easy to do it, I know! As you yourself would say 'Hugs'!

Karin said...

As the previous comment implies (I think) this is one of the dangers of the job. If you aren't putting on an act, but just being yourself, I'm not sure what you can do, and I can't see how you are to blame.

Maybe if there is anything about your style that goes a bit too far, too emotional, too empathetic, too huggy, you could try to curb whatever it is a bit, but then that might make you so self-conscious you might not be any good to anyone.

For those of us not in ministry, but trying to live as Jesus, the quesiton is similar: how vulnerable should I let myself be? Is it safe, is it sensible?

Purechristianithink said...

This is a tough question. It's not being authentic that causes problems, though, I think. It's allowing the praise or criticism of others move us away from being our authentic selves with God and the community.