Once upon a time, when I was Readering in a rural benefice in the Cotswolds, I have to admit that I was distinctly sniffy about "C and E" worshippers.
They, of course, are those who attend their parish church regularly - once or twice a year..
Perhaps it's Christmas and Easter, or maybe Mothering Sunday and Remembrance, or even (randomly) Palm Sunday (because of the donkey??) and Christingle...
They probably describe themselves as ""C of E on forms, identify the church and its priest as "theirs" but otherwise ignore all that goes on there through most of the year.
From the lofty superiority of a Licensed Ministry I felt qualified to cast all sorts of nasturtiums at "people like that"...
Now, as a real live vicar, it's startling how different I feel.
As I stood shaking hands at the door after Midnight Mass I was (and am still) genuinely delighted at the number of people who joined us for worship that night.
Families I knew through weddings or funerals, faces familiar from dog walks in the park or conversations at the Co-op, people whom I'd never encountered inside the church before.. but all apparently feeling thoroughly welcome, even at home in their parish church.
Those who stopped to talk said that they felt that they'd been doing something important...had touched base with something of value
Some even emailed me to say so
We really enjoyed the Mass of the Nativity on Christmas eve gave us the opportunity to reflect and we both left feeling really positive.
Positive feedback! How often does THAT happen in parish life?
If the church exists to serve those who are not yet members, then the same is true a thousand-fold for the clergy. Living as we do in the kind of interesting times that throw the whole nature of the parish system into doubt, and recognising that there are only so many ways to configure the deck-chairs on the Titanic, it's hard to know what to do with this.
At present my parishes, even working together, are only able to pay a little less than 2/3 of the cost of my ministry (and that's before you even consider the 2 NSM curates who work with me here).
We may be growing in faith, hope and love (I truly believe we are), our links with the local schools are stronger and healthier than ever, and there is a general warmth towards the church in the wider community that I couldn't put a price on....BUT for all that, I'm often run ragged and spend way too much time knowing that I ought to be in several places at once...
I have to choose, every day, where to use my time and my energy
Do I try to build up the life of the church, recognising that most of my core congregation are a long way from embracing mission as anything beyond an invitation to "come and see"?
Or do I do what I can to nurture the green shoots that may be emerging tentatively in the wider community?
Do I spend more time in school or in hospital visiting?
Perhaps, if we had world enough and time, those "C and E" attenders might get round to visiting a little more often. Once a month, and they'd find themselves chairing the PCC!
But in the meantime, I hope there will be a place with open doors, a place that they can visit in search of holiness, a place where, however loosely, they feel they belong.I'm SURE that's what we're for...