Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Exception proves the Rule – more on Hard Questions

The speaker who got me so excited that I had to restrain myself from leaping onto my seat and cheering was Bishop Lindsay Urwin, - suffragen bishop of Horsham, in Chichester, the diocese where I grew up. Chi. has a penchant for traditionalist bishops, - so,much though I miss the sea and the South Downs, it won’t be on my short list of places I’d love to work. (In any case, I'm hoping that a Kathryn-shaped vacancy will emerge here in Gloucester).
Sadly, +Lindsay is among those who would not see my priestly Orders as valid, - but in every other way he is a breath of fresh air, and it was a delight to listen to him.

His basic premise was that it is through the Sacraments that we come closest to God, and that we should therefore develop “a lively doctrine of Exceptions” to enable us to share those Sacraments with as many people, in as many and creative ways as possible, while remaining firmly rooted in tradition...He certainly doesn't have any reservations about the Eucharist as the ultimate mission tool - though he was as clear as I am that many of the things with which we surround it get in the way of our seeing the reality of Christ's presence there.
He spoke of “perforated boundaries” to allow Fresh Expressions a sense of the wider Church – but it seems to me that those perforations are also a feature of the “doctrine of exceptions”, since we are thus freed from the need to establish who is “in” or “out” in institutional church, to welcome all who come, all who ask…

Key points (mainly +L, with a few comments and expansions from me...his are the bits thought through and coherent, OK?)

  • the purpose of the Church – to worship and proclaim God (In the season of Annual Parochial Church Meetings, I found that rather a useful reminder. Some sidetracks are so convincing that you don’t even notice they are leading you off course until you find yourself at a dead end.)
  • we don't need the tragic and inauthentic “competition” between Word and Sacrament that seems to divide the Church so often. Why do many people assume that words are more accessible to the unchurched than sacrament, symbol, silence, mystery? Preaching Christ should not be undemanding of ourselves or of our hearers. Often symbols and sacraments connect to depths that words will just not address, - just because words have a clear, precise and limited meaning. Symbols can bear a greater weight and connect in different ways. Yet we behave as if eating together at the Lord’s table is too demanding for “outsiders”. Who are those outsiders anyway? What process of vetting went on before Jesus fed the 5000. They were hungry and he fed them in the way that only he could.. The crowd had no understanding of who or how…they simply knew that their needs were satisfied
  • Sacraments are not something that the Church does, but rather something God does, a spiritual gift, a “fresh expression” of Christ who is present in the mystery ;so each sacramental encounter can be a fresh touch from Him (“The Spirit hovers over the elements and a Sacrament results…” Augustine) .So…
  • We need to liberate the sacraments from institutionalism and over-ritualisation – , to unclutter them, determining which elements are really essential and being prepared to discard or reshape the rest (at this point he told us the wonderful story of Derek Spencer’s ordination, blogged at the time by Jonny (Maggi had good stuff to say here on knowing what the roots of our liturgy are, so that we remain true to them even as we reshape them for the contemporary context…maybe if we ask nicely she’ll blog them). Having established the essentials, we must then shed the fear that has developed as liturgy has become entrenched…continuity is important…a 1st century Christian attending worship would be baffled by so much, but would recognise and encounter God in bread broken and wine outpoured.
  • God is quite used to doing things “in the wrong order” so we can afford to sit light to this…the important thing is that people are enabled to meet with God, not whether they’ve negotiated the hurdles in the correct ecclesiastical sequence…sometimes receiving Communion will encourage someone to seek Baptism. +Lindsay brought the house down when describing the grey area around adults who want to make a fresh commitment, that is perilously close to the forbidden field of re-baptism” “The Lord knows his own” he said “And what’s he’s already done to them!” That’s great.. Stop panicking! Believe in the power of the Sacraments, specially the Eucharist as a “Converting Ordinance”…it works. (Wonderful contrast between coffee and donuts which become what we are, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist, that enable us to become what they are, the Body of Christ)
There was lots more - suspect I'll come back to this again and again...but right now there's a Baptism service to prepare.

1 comment:

MikeF said...

'"Perforated boundaries"' - what a beautiful phrase. Oh yes, by all means, let us have boundaries, good and wholesome boundaries; but let them be well perforated!

'God is quite used to doing things “in the wrong order” so we can afford to sit light to this…the important thing is that people are enabled to meet with God, not whether they’ve negotiated the hurdles in the correct ecclesiastical sequence... Stop panicking! Believe in the power of the Sacraments'

Yes, yes, yes!

Thank you Kathryn!