Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ordination is for life not death

Good morning God,

I really need you to help me deal with this anger I feel at those who seem to believe that ordination is until cancer is diagnosed.
I am so angry and so hurt, God, at the way in which ministry and life are being denied. This anger is more dangerous than the cancer because it eats away at the ability to be compassionate and gracious to those who are so obviously in need of your gospel. In my case, it destroys my desire to be patient and loving, forgiving and Christ-like. But the truth is I deeply resent the hushed voices, the conspiratorial well meaning meetings which plan ministry and hence my life without me, and most of all, I hate the constant pitying sorrowful reminders of how sick other people think I am which masquerades as Christian fellowship in the oft repeated refrain - "I am praying for you."

Thankfully, God, as you know, there are many - here and throughout the World wide fellowship of Christ who have been and who are are praying for me, upholding me and loving me. They all know that they can trust you and the love that binds us together in your name. They have no need to tell me they are praying for me in every conversation or in every email!!!
What do those who do insist on telling me at every available opportunity (often in hushed, breathy voices) hope to gain? brownie points with you or me? Can they really be so ignorant of the fact that what they are doing is repeatedly insisting that I be reminded of the fact that in their opinion I am not well, that in their opinion I NEED their prayer?
We are ALL in need of prayer, whether we have cancer or not.
I accept that it is not the same for everyone but I want to tell such people point blank - I would rather you didn't pray for me if you are going to insist on telling me every time you do, because this makes your prayers life-denying rather than life-enhancing. Throughout his ministry, Jesus took himself off to pray, he found a quiet spot, and in solitude, he offered up his prayers for us, for the sick, for the lost. He likewise taught us to make our prayers in secret - for the truth is that only then are our prayers a blessing to the sick instead of another burden for them to carry.

Christian's shouldn't need to be told that they are being prayed for, they should be able to expect that they are being prayed for because this is what being a part of a Christian community means. We build each other up in love.. don't we? Do we really only believe that love is as love says? Are we so insecure in your love that we have forgotten that love is as love does?

Dear God, we really do seem to have turned your gift of life upside down and inside out haven't we?
The focus all seems to be on the sickness, on the shadow of death, on what a person can't do, on how they are not able, on how much in need they are, on what might befall them...

If this is what passes for pastoral care in the Church then I seriously think its time I left.

I realise that I am a problem for your church - I wont die nicely. I have no intention of passively sitting on the sidelines whilst what remains of my life is 'managed' by people who genuinely believe that what is best for me (and especially for the Church) is for them to focus on, plan and pray for the worst case scenario (ie my incapacity through either sickness or death) rather than to find ways to release the real potential that my life and ministry offers.

God, please, please help me to turn my anger into compassion, so that I might in love and by your grace teach them WHY what they are doing is so life-denying and gospel-defying.

In love and grace I can accept that their way of thinking is the only way they know. Thankfully you have taught me through your Word and its powerful message that it is a denial of who we are as your Children to give primacy to death and disease rather than life and potential. It grieves me that as your people we have almost completely forgotten how to pray for and celebrate the life, love, hope, potential, and gifts of grace you pour out on us. Sadly God, the knowledge that YOU hold my life in the palm of your hand brings some people no joy; all they can see is the threat of sickness and the finality of a coffin and the problems that will cause...

If you can't cure this passion God, then please tell me whether there is somewhere, anywhere I can go where your people would be willing to let me live as much and as fully as YOU decide I am able. Is there somewhere where people wont make decisions in secret about me and about what I can't do in the future, (for the sake of the whole Church you understand!). Is there somewhere where people will pray with me and make decisions with me based on what I CAN do now and be willing to trust to you for the future?

Jesus had a ministry which lasted only three years - yet he managed in that time to communicate your GOOD NEWS that life is what we are given, life in all its fullness. When Peter tried to curtail his ministry, for fear of Christ's death he was told - Get thee behind me Satan - Death is nothing to be afraid of. It is not something that we can plan for, and it should never be the focus of our life or our ministry or our relationships.

Death does not have the victory - unless, of course, we give our lives over to it.

I do not know how long you have called me to minister to your people for, but I do know that ordination is for life. You called me to minister your gospel of life throughout my life. You have not stopped calling me to preach your Word, it burns within me as it always has.
Now more than ever I want to proclaim that YOU are the way, the truth and the LIFE - and that no one comes to YOU unless YOU call them (no matter what the doctors say!)
Now more than ever I want to proclaim, to make you real and present, to make the truth of your love KNOWN to people, by unashamedly being who I am, as you made me, broken in body perhaps, but whole in spirit, alive to you in Christ, and dead to sin.
Ordination is for life - all of life. Christ continued his ministry until his last breath on the cross .. even whilst dying he preached, he forgave, he loved..
Am I called to do less?

Is there anywhere God that I can go, where your people would be more concerned to hear the gospel you have given to me to preach for as long as you have given me to preach it, than they are for how the Church might cope if or when I fall sick and die?

Is there anywhere I can go where I will be allowed to be who I am, an ordained presbyter, and be helped to preach and celebrate your gospel of LIFE for as long as I have it, instead of being expected to quietly submit to the prayers of others and languish away as a foretaste of death?

Ordination is for life - for as long as life lasts.

Please God, find a way for me to live my life to the full by ministering your grace.


  1. Perhaps praying for you and to let you know is a way of expressing their pain and need. I don't know because I am not in your situation, but might it be part of your continuing ministry to help them, because they love you and are hurting too?


  2. When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and unable to continue in active work, people found it very hard to deal with the fact that "their" Minister was so ill. I was mostly left alone - perhaps because that's what people had been told to do - when what I needed was support. I felt very dis-connected.
    Part of my "retirement" - and the healing of acceptance has been to be able to find the space where I could still exercise ministry, but in a different way - and being allowed to by those around me.
    I hope that you are able to reach that space in your illness and ministry.

  3. Dear Angela,
    I don't know whether this is appropriate or not... I hope so.

    I have been looking for a research supervisor to guide me through a first research degree. Having browsed many Theol college web sites for the options available, I found that your interests most closely match with what I want to study. I found you initially on the Trinity Bristol web site and then via Twitter to this blog.

    If it's a possibility, and you want to, and you feel up to it, I would love to talk to you about my intended research. Even if it doesn't lead to a formal arrangement I think you might find it interesting.

    Situation: I have been challenged by my Anglican DDO to take the theology and "prove it works" before I go to a selection conference - this I am proceeding to do. However, I want to apply some structure into the process and think that modelling the project along research lines and incorporating some academic rigour into my approach might be wise.

    Any thoughts appreciated.

    Sincerely, Mark CE

  4. Angela - this is me just now finding out about the cancer. & if you don't mind :-) I'll pray for/with you & your continuing ministry. You're doing the job you're here for. Take care.

  5. Hi
    Thank you, Contrary to how it might seem, I delight in the knowledge that I am prayed for (thanks Rachel) It's how I'm told that causes a problem.
    Mark, I do recognise that the need to endlessly repeat the refrain almost as a litany is a combined fear/care response - in truth my anger is not directed so much at those who need to do it as to those of us who have failed to teach/share a more gospel response.
    I try and teach/preach that a better refrain in the presence of the person for whom we are praying might be somethign as simple, but as profound and as accurate as God Bless you, or Go with God, or Christ be with you..
    A theology of prayer is long overdue I think..

  6. Angela I think you meant to reply to Nigel, rather than to me, about the litany of "I'm praying for you".

    I personally think it's hard enough knowing what to say to people who are going through scary things, without having to worry about our best intentions potentially making them angry depending on how we say it!


  7. It was so wonderful to read this post, Angela. Thank you for sharing your anger and frustration. As long as your calling to preach God's Word burns within you as it does now, He will find a place for you and I believe, is even now preparing it for you.

    I am not ordained but my Christian commitment to tell others the Good News still burns in me as it always did when I was doing youth work. I have not had cancer but other complaints that have made people tell me over the years that I ought to be taking life easy - and now, at 88, they are telling me this again. Yet if I had not volunteered to help with this weekend's Churches Together Gospel Outreach to the thousands of fans at the Reading Rock Festival, a neighbour of mine would not have stopped for a chat and revealed that she is desperately seeking to know God. I am amazed at the work of various kinds that God has asked me to do for Him since I became 80 and I am a living testimony to the fact that a broken body does not limit our usefulness in working to bring in His kingdom. May God continue to bless your ministry and to continue to give you the peace and joy that comes from preaching His Word.

  8. Angela, I would come pray with you. I hope we can meet up one of these days.

    I am so sorry that your parishioners and whoever (MCH?) are being a pain in the xxx

    Pray that you get the courage of the Lion of Judah to tell them what's what. And model what loving one another and carrying one another REALLY means.

    This is a brilliant post but I'm furious on your behalf (and on the behalf of Chrsitians everywhere) that you should even have to write it

  9. Hi Lorna,
    Thanks for the prayer, much appreciated -
    I need to make it clear however that most, if not all of the membership of the Church and circuit where I currently minister are fully supportive of my ministry, as are folks at MCH.
    As I have tried to say in the blog - the problem is not that people dont care - they do, they care very much - the problem comes when they just don't realise how completely life-denying rather than life-giving the care that they want to give can be.
    I remain angry - but by grace the anger has been redirected..

  10. "Death does not have the victory - unless, of course, we give our lives over to it."

    Indeed it does not, I don't want to pray in hushed tones for you, I want to shout about the encouragement you have just given me. Too often we look for ease and forget passion. Thank you for your passion for the gospel. And thank you for not letting anyone or anything prevent you from expressing it!

  11. Hiyawho are these people who think you are going to go away and sit in a corner and die quietly however long it takes. Doesn't sound like anyone who knows you?! You must live your life to the uttermost- none of us knows the day or the hour and a reminder of that can make our ministry even clearer. Still praying. See you soon. R x