Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christian Charity or Selling Out?

I hate it God,
No, I really do.
When people walk into the Church and begin with 'I don't want money' they almost always do, and I hate the 'game' that we have to play before they walk out in a huff (generally shouting obscenities or bewailing my lack Christianity), or I give in because I am just so weary of all the lies.

Today was a classic - I don't want money - I jut want food he said. I immediately offered to buy a weeks groceries at the shop opposite. No, that wasn't acceptable, his children were coeliac and he didn't know what to buy, could I give him the money so that he could take it home and his wife would buy it.
I told him no, and asked if he could he ring his wife so I could find out what she needed? No, he didn't think that would be a good idea, besides, he says, the food would be cheaper if it were bought in his local shop. etc etc etc. No matter what I tried to do, it quickly became obvious that the only thing that was going to be acceptable was the money that he had said he didn't want!

In the end of course, I am the bad person for wanting to actually buy the food, I was treating him like a criminal, I was insulting him by not trusting him etc etc etc I was a disgrace to Christianity for offering to buy the food instead of giving him the money. He left shouting abuse, and I am left feeling dirty, disgraced, angry and ashamed.

And.. God,  I am so weary of it all.
Tell me - what was I supposed to do? I have got to the stage where I no longer know what I am supposed to do.

Just give the money anyway - money that has come (often sacrificially) from pensioner's pockets - just hand it over to the con-man for his next fix of alcohol or drugs or tobacco or whatever else it is (credit for a mobile)?

Just give the money anyway -  on the grounds that if someone is so desperate that they have to try and con a Church they must be desperate indeed?

Just give it and forget about it - because he has asked for it? Even though we have none to give and what we have would undoubtedly be better spent on families here that have a real need?

Tell me God ? I really don't know anymore.
The presumption seems to be that all ministers are idiots, a soft touch, easy picking, fair game: That we don't have feelings, can't be hurt by groundless accusations, that its ok to lie about us, shout and rant and rave at us and call us everything under the sun when we don't give in to emotional or religious blackmail and give them the money they begin by saying they don't want!

Having to  live daily with these presumptions is a far cry from “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."

I concede I'm just having a bad day God, but I'm not sure I know any more how to "Rejoice and be glad" or even care about how great my reward is in heaven" when such presumptions make such a hell of life on earth!

What I know is that this amount of anguish and emotional abuse has cost me far more than the £20.00 he would have accepted - but would I then have been selling my soul?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A trinitarian calling

Good morning God,
I've been thinking about the number of ministers I know who have left or are leaving the Church and circuit ministry and I need to talk to you about this.
I remain convinced that there is nothing more wonderful than being a minister of the word and sacrament, but I would be a liar if I didn't admit that I too, frequently, think long and hard about leaving the Church.  So how is it possible to love being a minister, but still have such thoughts.. and what has made so many of those I trained with make the decision to leave?

I believe ministry is a trinitarian calling:

It is a calling from you - to be more fully who I am, to be the person you created me to be
It is a calling from the Church - to live out my calling in service to the body of Christ
It is a calling from the people - to minister your grace to them and tell them the truth of Christ. To go, not only to those who need me, but to those who need me most!

All three calls are necessary for ministry:

I still hear your call - I wake to it every day, it upholds me, delights me, challenges me and transforms me. I cannot conceive of my life without you in every part of it - not as some religious symbol or abstraction, but as the ground of my being, the spark in my soul and the truth of my life.

But, yes, I admit, the other two calls become harder and harder to hear as the years pass - especially when they are mistakenly conflated into one by those who believe that ministry is all about keeping a local Church the way that it was when they were younger.

For a Methodist, the calling from the Church is not the same as the calling to a particular local Church as with the Baptist or URC. The calling from the Church is the calling to serve as an ordained presbyter in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. It can't be pinned down to one local Church, or Circuit, or District:  It is a calling to live the life of a Presbyter in Connexion with others :-
'Declare the Good News
Celebrate the Sacraments
Serve the needy
Minister to the Sick
Welcome the Stranger
Seek the lost'
Of course - the problem is that too many people presume that this can only be done in a local Church setting. I suspect that good ministers are lost when their calling to the Church is denied to them by those who insist that they KNOW what the minister should be doing - and they are going to make damn certain that they do it!

The calling from the people is the one that causes the most heartache. The words of the ordinal haunt me as I am sure they do others:
Let no one suffer hurt through your neglect.
 Like many ministers I grieve for the lost - and for those who suffer hurt through my neglect. I know one minister who left because he could not live with the pain of neglecting the lost.

Peculiarly, the opportunity to proclaim your truth and minister your grace to those who need it most seems to decline as the Church declines. The smaller the Church becomes, the less willing or able the laity seem to be and the greater the insistence is that the minister tend the sheep that are found - rather than the one that is lost.

I am convinced that Presbyteral Ministry ceases to be Presbyteral ministry when its primary focus is on those who are 'found'. And I believe it may be the inexorable demand for this 'maintenance ministry' which causes so many to leave Circuit ministry - and some even to leave the Church altogether: It exposes the Church as a self-serving society, more concerned with its own welfare and comfort than with the Gospel it was set up to proclaim and the kingdom it was created to serve.  It denies the minister the ability to fulfill their calling and in so doing severs the two-way nature of the Covenant relationship behind the call of the Church and the minister. Consequently, too many ministers have suffered harm through neglect, too many ministers are never 'ministered to', are seldom, if ever, given the opportunity to HEAR the good news, RECEIVE the sacrament, BE served, be ministered to when they are sick,  - and too few - far too few, are sought when they are lost...

Tell me God, might this be the reason so many leave?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My how these Christians love one another

Ok God,
I confess that I am totally disgusted by what happened this weekend - no matter which way I look at it.
There we were, enjoying a good morning in the Church cafe which as usual on a Saturday was bustling and busy - when we notice people canvassing outside. Being curious, I went out to see what was going on.

The Vinyard Church from Putney were busy canvassing for new members outside our Church by inviting them to a free Hog roast and healing(!!!) event.

Aside from the obvious questions about how healed a hog would be when it was roasted, I found myself wondering what sort of 'Christians' canvass for members directly outside another Church and what sort of signal does this send to non-Christians?

On the one hand I would love to have admired them for their evangelistic zeal(?)  But the claim that all they were interested in doing was leading people to Jesus that day was clearly untrue given that what they were actually doing was luring people to the Vinyard's worship in Putney on a specific date - using roasted meat and 'healing' as bait...
Unless, of course, their claim was based on the conviction that the only way that people could be led to Jesus in New Malden was if they travelled all the way to Putney.. because they certainly weren't directing the people they were 'evangelising' to any of the Churches in New Malden - leave alone the open Church they were just a few steps away from.

I wish I could believe in their sincerity, but there was nothing on the leaflet they were handing out that was Gospel - nothing that spoke of the love of God, of the power of the Cross, of Jesus, of Salvation - no: there was no evangelism happening yesterday - only an advertisement for Vinyard's next big sale. The whole thing was a crowd pulling exercise. Except, after watching for over an hour, it soon became noticeable that leaflets tended to only be given to those below a certain age.. I guess those aged 45+  who would be most likely to need 'healing' weren't invited to the feast.

I am disgusted God,
On all sorts of different levels

I am disgusted at the lack of common courtesy and Christian fellowship shown by members of the Vinyard this Saturday and the way in which that demeans the whole people of God.

I am disgusted at what has been made of the 'truth' of the Gospel - when those who preach it feel they have to bait it using an advert for 'Hog Roasts and Healing' before people will come to listen.

And of course, I am disgusted at my reaction - surely what matters above all is that people learn of Christ?
YES, YES, YES.. after all - Wesley also preached OUTSIDE churches..

So I have had to ask myself, am I so disgusted because in my heart of hearts I wish we were as evangelistic?

Yes and no.
Yes I wish that all Christians who worship in New Malden were more outgoing in their willingness to talk to people, whether in the street or at home or in work about the Good News of Jesus Christ
but No..
I pray that none of us become so desperate for 'members' or so determined to promote our own brand of Jesus worship, that we feel the need to canvass - sorry - evangelise -  in such a manner.
It was, after all,  only AFTER a pulpit was denied to him that Wesley preached outside a Church!.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Binge Worship and the Loss-leader Spirit..

Pentecost, by Lawrence OP
Good morning God,

What should your Spirit cost us ?

The government are considering a minimum cost for alcohol as a way of trying to curb binge drinking and the increasing rate of alcohol abuse amongst all ages. It sounds simple enough.. and now that one of the largest supermarkets has said that they would support such a stand, it seems likely to go ahead. But not until after the world cup of course. Most supermarkets will use alcohol for the world cup as a loss-leader again to try and draw the customers in.
Beer and football..
I confess its not a culture I'm familiar with,  but I can't help but notice the similarity between the supermarket's use of alcohol and the Church's use of your Spirit to try and draw people in..
Especially this weekend.

This is the last great main event until Harvest (Whew - say all the ministers)
After Pentecost the Church calendar moves into 'Ordinary Time' - and many churches sleep their way through June July and August. (Well.. people start going on their holidays etc etc)

So if the Church is going to capture anyone's attention - this weekend is IT until late September..
And, let's be honest about this, the Church hopes to use the outpouring of your Spirit as the loss-leader needed to draw people in. This is a time of joyous celebration - party time!

This weekend most Churches will unwittingly try and binge worship on your Spirit - they will look to recreate or re-enact the events of that First Pentecost - in many there will be an outpouring of languages (not quite glossolalia - and very stage managed, but people will get the point won't they?). There will be a celebration of the Church's birthday and (most important of all) we will all be happy and high. We will get drunk on your Spirit and be happy and joyous in your presence..

Until next Sunday - when we return to ordinary time.

Pentecost binge worship runs the risk of cheapening the gift of your Spirit, the outpouring of your power and the gifts of your grace. It can sell the truth short - and make a lie of the real gifts still being given every day to those on whom your Spirit rests - the gifts of evangelism, of healing, of teaching and of preaching - the gifts of healing, of discernment and of peacemaking. These are essential gifts which the Church and the world needs but which the Church as a whole, doesn't really seem to believe or think it needs anymore.  They are also the gifts which demand sacrifice and commitment. According to Church tradition, only one of the original disciples on whom your Spirit rested died of old age! Then as now, these are gifts which cost lives.. and which should not be sold so cheaply.

I'm not sure what saddens me the most - the presumption that the high that happens in binge worship is any substitute at all for an outpouring of your Spirit, or the way in which we sell your Spirit and your presence with us so short.

This Pentecost, the challenge must surely be to try and open ourselves to receive from you the gifts that the Church needs to proclaim your gospel, rather than rejoice in the fact that you did that once already!
Rather than just celebrate the birthday of the Church, the Church need to be 'born again' (a trite phrase, but you know what I mean) The world and the Church needs good preachers, teachers and evangelists who will speak the truth regardless of the cost, who will be open to your Spirit and willing to be led wherever you send them, to risk scorn, persecution, ridicule, and perhaps imprisonment - for the sake of your gospel.
Pentecost should remind us that there has always been a minimum cost to your Spirit:  life. Nothing less will do.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ministerial Performance Indicators..

Good morning God,
How am I doing?
I know it's an odd sort of question, but then, it's an odd sort of job I do. When I worked in I.T. I knew how well I was doing - I had all sorts of indicators to help me assess my performance: Salary, level of responsibility, no. of 'projects' completed on time and in budget, and the less tangible but just as essential 'feel good factor' - going home at the end of the day knowing that you have achieved something that other people valued.
A ministry that could be assessed along those lines would not be ministry for me, so how should I assess my ministry?
Should I judge myself according to the number of people who attend Church on a Sunday, or the number of people who have become 'Methodists'? If so, I have failed. Like most ministers I am witnessing the decline of the inherited Church, and I have a perverse reluctance to make 'members' of the Church before making 'disciples' of Christ so I tend to be a little slower at 'bringing up the numbers'.The report card would have to read - 'Must do better'.

Perhaps a more accurate measure might be the level of Godly communication I have helped to stimulate and provoke, or the number of people who attend Bible Study? Well Cafe Church and Heretics Club get people talking - but its such a small number in comparison with the whole Church, and so few seem to want to study the Bible that I'm beginning to wonder if people are reading a different book to me! Here too the report would have to read ' Must do better'

I could, of course, get literal, and assess myself by the number of services I have conducted, the number of pastoral visits I have made, the number of meetings I have chaired and the number of letters, books, tracts and blogs I have written.. At least here the report card might read 'Fair'.

But none of these things even begin to touch how I feel about the role of ministry - these things are just the incidentals, the background noise to the real task of trying to mediate your grace.

So how can I assess how well I am mediating your grace?

It matters, not because I want to defend my ministry to anyone, least of all to you, but because the task is so important. I only know one way of breaking through the barrier that prevents humanity from realising its full potential, allowing it to rise up from its subservience to greed, pain, self-obsession and fear - and that is your grace.

Grace alone has the power to do more than expose how petty our politics are - how self-centred and condescending: The media might make it clear to us how few non-white middle-class, middle-aged, men are involved in government - but it takes grace to enable us to understand and begin to tackle the sins that create and perpetuate this scenario at every level of civic and social life.

Grace alone has the power to open our eyes to the real value of a human life, so that we do not see it terms of how a person 'performed', what job they did, how much money they made, what school they went to, how popular they were, how many friends they had etc etc. Grace grants us the vision to see EVERY life as you see it, worth sweeping the whole planet for, worth leaving everything for, worth dying for, worth living for, because each life is unique - hand-crafted by you. Every life counts.

I really can imagine living in a world where every life counted - but I also know we are a long way from there at the moment.

So I need to know - how well am I mediating your prevenient grace? That grace which first awakens interest in people to your presence and invites them to ask the first question about your relationship with them: Or your saving grace which liberates and energises your people as they begin to realise who they really are: Or best of all, your sanctifying grace that provokes and challenges your people to become more than they ever dreamed possible - to believe in themselves and in humanity - really believe - and LIVE.

It is only by your grace that I am in ministry at all..
So tell me God
How am I doing?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fixing the Order of Pentecost

Good morning God,
There's no doubt about it - having to prepare worship for a Church does steal some of the spontaneity of worship. I mean - here I am worrying about Pentecost and the coming of your Spirit and trying to figure out how to pin you down to an order of service..

What an odd expression that is -

'Order of Service'

It reads like an honour of some sort about to be bestowed - like the Order of the Garter,
Yes.. it is an honour to serve you by participating in worship.. but I'm not sure that is what most of the congregation think they are doing.
'Nice service', 'good service this morning', or my personal favourate 'I really enjoyed the service'.. all wonderful compliments which suggest that the 'service' is something that the congregation thinks it has just received rather what it has just given to you!

But that's an issue for another blog - back to my main concern.. scripting your holy Spirit..

You do know don't you God, that according to my current order of service you are due to make a personal appearance at 28 minutes to 11?  I know you are always with us, but on this rather special day it would be helpful for the congregation if you could be more, well, 'present' - perhaps you could be a little louder, rush around for a bit, slam a door or two.. but only for three minutes if you don't mind, because at 25 minutes to 11 we need to be singing our first hymn.

You see.. I just can't do it, I end up ridiculing us both - and that's not what this is about.

There does need to be some 'order' to our service - I know that.
People like to know when they are reading, or when the hymns are, or when the Children are to come in/go out or when the offertory is to be taken, and, of course, when they are free to go home!

BUT - I know you best as the God of surprises, you surprise me often- especially in worship! So preparing for Pentecost is something I find especially disturbing.  I can't help feeling that we go too far, that we 'script' your appearances and dictate our responses as our way of trying to impose our order on your glorious, creative, gracious, chaos.

The very idea of a congregation just bursting into song because the words come to mind and heart would terrify most organists (to say nothing of the projectionist who would have to find the words in Easy Worship or Songpro or whatever..) yet we do know the words to some of our hymns .. it could happen.. And as for the whole congregation breaking into spontaneous extemporaneous prayer or testimony... just because its improbable doesn't mean it's impossible.. And would it really matter if we forgot to take the collection or if the Lord's prayer wasn't said, because some of the congregation began to dance with joy and others to weep with relief at their release from sin and fear..? It happened before in England.. it could happen again.

And all in one hour...?

You are the God of surprises - and I choose to believe you might yet surprise me with an outpouring of your Spirit in the heart of the congregation at 28 minutes to 11 on the 23rd of May....

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Olive Morgan: Virtual Friendship makes for Gospel Reality

Good afternoon God,
In the pause between Sunday Services, I just wanted to thank you for my very real virtual friend Olive.

Olive had thousands of virtual friends all over the world, people who, like myself, had never met her except in cyberspace but who nonetheless were invited to share in her world and in what mattered most to her.

In spite of her age (88),  Olive didn't understand the word 'technophobia'. I have no idea whether or not she mastered her video-recorder, but she certainly manged to master modern telecommunications - and my bet is that if heaven has an internet - it wont take Olive long to find a way to get back on-line!

Those of us who followed her blog knew her as a lively, and passionate campaigner for social justice, someone who believed in speaking out as loudly as she could for those who had no voice. Her postings were designed to be informative and challenging, they were her regular early-morning wake up calls to a society and a Church which she sometimes felt were sleeping their way through life-changing moments. She took the best of the news and communicated it as a part of the contemporary gospel. proof positive that faith in action can and does change the world. It is a wonderful testimony to her ministry of communication that the last posting Olive made on her blog was concerned with the passing of the cluster munitions (prohibitions) act.

It's at times like this that we recognise how blurred the edges are between the 'real' and the 'virtual' worlds that some of us live in. Although I never met Olive, I always knew that behind the pages of her blog was a real woman, one who sometimes struggled with pain and ill health. Someone who knew grief as well as joy, but someone who chose always to live on a bigger map than most.
Through her blog and her interaction with the rest of the Methoblogosphere, Olive enjoyed a  second-life which was far more real and engaging than anything that could be bought with linden dollars. She was precious to us, and we were real to her, real friends, real company, real conversation partners with whom she could be wonderfully honest and engaging.

Olive's blog 'Octomusings' was a window onto what was most real to Olive, which, because of her faith, meant that we were given a window onto life with you God, and onto the activity of the Methodist Church which she loved (and like most of us - wrestled with!).

She found a means of evangelising without preaching, a way of telling the good news that was truly 'pioneering' for her time and her generation. She was Methodism's own 'Fresh Expression' of a Local Preacher - on-line and up-to-date, engaged and relevant, passionate and pertinent.

We will miss her musings

Saturday, 8 May 2010

With Great Sadness

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that our Mum, Olive passed away on the 5th of May, 2010 in the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

We would like to offer our warmest, heartfelt thanks to all who have followed her blog, enriching her life with interest and happiness.

She will be greatly missed by all those who knew her.

Tony and Sheila Morgan.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A prayer for the also-rans.

Good evening God,
I think I was designed to come second in life.
It used to bother me, never quite managing to come first at anything, never quite achieving what I wanted to, never top of the class, or the best of the bunch. But eventually you get used to it - and even though it never stops being a source of inner grief, you do come to value it.

After all, if nobody came second, coming first would be meaningless!
It's nice to know that I enable others to shine..
but there are times (and elections are one of those times) when it just feels rotten.

So tonight, I want to say a prayer for all the other 'also-rans' who, after weeks of campaigning, after perhaps years of building up to this moment, will hear that they didn't come first in the ballot.

God of Ishmael, Esau and Reuben,
of John the Baptist, Thaddeus and the other Judas,
God of Martha and Anne and Juliana,
hear my prayer for the also-rans.
Bless them with the knowledge that they too are special,
remind them that they are the light without which there is nothing to make the others shine,
they are the contrast without which there is nothing spectacular to see.
And Lord,
when they doubt their value,
when they count second place as a failure
remind them that you chose to describe yourself as the first and the last,
the alpha and omega
so that no place could be counted worthless,
And everyone could know
You delight in making the last first,
the first last -
and all of us the same.

I give thanks this night for all those who have stood for election.
Whether they have won or lost.
Bless them for their conviction,
for their commitment,
and for their willingness to run the risk of not being elected.
Enable them, I pray, to know that whatever happens,
they have played a crucial part in the life of this nation.
Though they cannot all win the election,
they are all worthy of our respect and thanks.
Without them, without their willingness to risk it all
there would be no democracy.
Bless them God.
Bless them all.