Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flying Pastors...

are very much the rule in CSI. During the time I spent there, I was shown a model of ministry that is almost shocking to someone trained and working in a western context.
You see, CSI believes in sacrificial ministry with knobs on. On more than one occasion I heard the Bishop publicly berating his clergy for taking time to go home to visit wife and family when he’d posted them to work in parishes 2 hours away from home. He had very little time for the CofE concept of a day off, speaking critically of it during one address, and the “Pastors’ Retreat” at Kanyakumari seemed to me far more like a conference, with a series of addresses (and a few stern talks from the Bishop to boot) . Certainly there was little if any time out for the clergy to engage with God, or simply to rest and recoup.
A month of holiday is prescribed each year, but there is the option of taking payment in lieu, and in households where funds are tight that is an understandably popular option.
That endless coach journey to the tip of India was punctuated not only with the sound of the horn (announcing every manoeuvre, planned, complete or abandoned) but with the constant sound of mobile phones. “Crimond” “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us” and “The Entertainer” were particular favourites, and barely a minute went by without one of these sounding through the coach. Even during worship, phones were answered without any embarassment, and during one hour on a Monday afternoon, Christy’s mobile rang 16 times. I asked what would happen if he ever turned it off, and was told that there would be instant complaints to the bishop that he was a bad pastor, who put his own needs before those of his congregation
You see, a good pastor in CSI is always available to his people.
S/he always answers the phone…and on answering, the first thing s/he will hear is “Pastor, where are you?” followed by a demand that, wherever the pastor may be, and whatever the hour, s/he drops everything and comes at once.
That is a reasonable request if there is a real crisis,- indeed, I rather envied my hosts their genuine and unquestioned involvement in all the major life events of their congregation – but often it is a question of blessing a new car, or admonishing a wayward child, of recognising a daughter’s first period or a son’s first motorbike. Whatever it is, the pastor is expected to respond immediately, and does so without hesitation..
When I asked whether Christy ever took time for himself, citing Jesus’ withdrawal to pray alone and recharge, he told me that , yes, indeed, he usually rose an hour before his family in order to have some time to himself with God. Perhaps I’m being silly, but I didn’t think that was really how it worked…

So, I’ve come home with some big questions.

I loved the way that prayer is interwoven into every aspect of the lives of Indian Christians,- but I despaired at the clerical dependency that is taken as read by clergy and people alike. No social visit to a parishioner (and these are an essential part of the fabric of life) is complete without a prayer and blessing,- excellent!- but the dominant focus on the role of the “holy hands” seems to disable everyone else altogether. There is a lot of lay involvement in the day-to-day running of the church, and in its work of teaching and social care but when it comes to prayer and spirituality, only the pastor will do.
After a 2 hour service, in many churches there will be at least another half hour when individuals descend upon the pastor asking for prayer. There’s no suggestion that anyone else could possibly pray with them, and rapid petitions and blessings are repeated again and again, as you struggle to make your way across the church compound to the next meeting – Sunday School, or Boys’ Youth Group, perhaps. After one such session, the only image left in my head was of nestful of baby birds, their beaks wide open, cheeping their needs at the top of their voices. Each encounter was special, but the cumulative effect was terrifying, - even for me, with my love of being needed, my aspiration to be "Superpriest" and my persistent urge to make things better.

No wonder most CSI clergy spend their lives on their motor scooters – it’s the only way they can hope to keep up with a ministry that redefined “demanding” for me.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honesty in this post.

Anonymous said...

Well, that produced a variety of reactions in me... relief, guilt, appreciation (of my parish and Bishop!), questions (regarding sacrifice)... I think I'd keel over after a month if I was ministering over there though - not to mention what TeenSon would make of that.

Kathryn said...

With you all the way, Chelley...I saw WonderfulBishop at Chapter just a few days after my return, and had to hug him on the spot for being him and not his equivalent in CSI!!