Unlike the writer of Psalm 84, I don’t like being a Gate Keeper in the house of God, because the trouble with gates is that they shut as well as open.
Lovely lovely youth group resumed last night, and it was wonderful to see them all again, after a summer of varied travels and exam successes…to be back in touch with a part of my congregation and of my ministry that fills me with the greatest hope and excitement, so that I'm energised even after a long long Sunday.
However, I have to say that I wasn’t flavour of the month with them last night, and I totally sympathise.
In June I wrote about the delight of their Birthday Service, and the reverence and joy with which those kids came to God's table.
I remain confident that each of them was there by choice, drawn by a genuine longing to engage with God and to receive the incredible grace that is on offer.
I have no doubt at all that in placing a precious fragment of bread into those open hands, I was honouring God and doing what I was ordained to do.
But last night I had to explain that, due to a change in Canon Law (which is, ironically, part of standardising practice in the Church of England, so that all dioceses must enable the baptised to receive Communion before Confirmation, if that is their desire) I would not be able to encourage them to receive the Sacrament again, unless they were willing to go through a preparation course, and be formally admitted, their details recorded in a register (another register, for heaven’s sake! As if we didn’t already have enough records for me to lose, confuse or fail to complete) and their baptism certificates inscribed with the information that they had been duly prepared and admitted.
I’m proud to say that they didn’t take it lying down.
They recognise the anomaly of a situation where a human institution seems to be intent on fencing round and restricting access to a means of God’s grace.
They have no problem with learning more about their faith – indeed, that’s something we’d already included in our plans for the term, as a result of their interest and enthusiasm.
We’re going to use some of the Youth Emmaus material and see where it leads us,- and I'm really looking forward to the sort of conversation that might emerge…(though the Footballing Fringe, God bless them, will struggle with the balance of manly cool and slowly germinating interest in God, -which may make for an interesting dynamic sometimes).
But they are not impressed with the institutional church and its demands…
I talked about the inevitable flaws in any human construction, but reminded them that I am bound by vows of obedience to WonderfulBishop (whom I really do love and respect) and assured them that whatever decision they made, they would be loved and valued members of the group.
But my heart tells me it’s all wrong.
There should be no need to draw lines like this.
On Maundy Thursday, it is this group that will stay awake and watch with Jesus all night long (indeed, after our first attempts to explain the new situation the first anxious question was "If we don't get admitted, will we still be able to do the Watch?")
It is this group that is alive to the questions, challenges, joys and demands of faith.
And I’m supposed to make sure they are duly “qualified” before they approach the table??
Sometimes the institutional church brings me to the edge of despair.