Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something I didn't borrow

for Sunday's sermon, but only because I didn't find it in time.

Mother Teresa once asked some visitors to hold up one hand.
"The gospel," she said, "is written on your fingers."
Then holding up one finger at a time,
she accented each word,
She then added,
"At the end of your life,
your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these.
You DID It To Me."

It does rather make the blood run cold, though.
The concept of "good goats" feels more real by the second, as I contemplate the world of needs that is just outside my window...And of course, the danger is that there's so much that I could engage with that I end up engaging with none of it. Paralysis by overload is, I suspect, a very real occupational hazard.
Just across the road from here is a fairly large estate where people are often viewed as "the least".
My neighbours include:
parents who found school a deeply damaging experience are passing on that damage to the next generation;
teenagers who don't see anything to look forward to in life, so that drink/drugs/joy riding seem attractive option;
elderly people who are (probably needlessly) terrified of the world outside their front door...

There are so many practical needs - and it's tempting to feel that in trying to address those I might somehow "earn" the right to explore a spiritual agenda with those in the community who would never seek me out- but there is every chance that instead of making a difference I'd simply be overwhelmed. Not helpful.
In some ways the current recession provides a route for the church to resume a 19th century persona as the source of good works...We are, for example, launching a "Help Yourself" food cupboard at Church in the Valley, which we hope will be a useful resource for those whose budgets are now strained to breaking point.
That feels like a sensible response to a genuine need which is there on the doorstep.
But the "priest as amateur social worker" model doesn't hold water, does it?...and the days of the great AngloCatholic priests who gave their lives to working in the East End of London and the poorest quarters of other cities have now passed.

So, how do I practise incarnation here and now?

What does it mean to "hold the cure of souls" for these parishes, - so many thousands of people to whom the church is barely present, let alone relevant...some living happily, some leading lives of quiet desperation?
The Church would say that as parish priest I am responsible for each of them under God...and much of the time, that feels very real...though I can imagine, too, the outrage with which my most secular neighbours would view that sentiment. It can sound so patronising, if interpreted as part of the culture of "Father knows best"...but I love the fact that there is someone tasked with loving and praying for every single person in this community - even as I tremble to realise that person is me.

Back to those five fingers. I'm pretty sure that using them to type is not precisely what Mother Teresa had in mind...
So I'll depart to do some visiting, wondering all the while what God really requires of me in this place.
Unsurprisingly, Micah's answer seems as good as any
"To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God..."


Crimson Rambler said...

I think it's a matter of "do what's at hand"...and don't stop...when you mentioned the food bank scheme, I momentarily flashed on the old Peter Sellers film -- was it "Heavens Above"? (ABSIT OMEN)...

Songbird said...

The care of all those souls sounds like a lot, my friend. We live in such a different world, yet we feel the care anyway.

marcella said...

"the "priest as amateur social worker" model doesn't hold water"
I'm afraid my immediate reaction was "well it can't be worse than the paid ones" and although that is unfair, both to social workers and to priests and their role which is of course different I think that you are right, the recession does give the Church an opportunity for thought and mission, as indeed does the government "social inclusion agenda" which I have (rather more publicly than I would have wished) criticised as being an excuse for state services to back out and leave it to someone else/any one else.
Visiting, praying, yes even blogging - they sound like good use of your hands to me.

Cal said...

Love you. Thought provoking as always. Thanks

Michelle said...

...I'm still thinking about this one, and suspect I will be for a while.

Thank you for the work of your hands here...

liz said...

Kathryn, last gasp as usual. I'm putting together a Christian Aid advent service for tonight. Procrastinating, I checked out your blog and found the hand illustration - perfect - our gospel reading is Matthew 25 - so thanks - I'm stealing it. Blessings