Thursday, August 19, 2010

God's Clearing House

Good morning God,
I wonder how many of our seminaries will be contacted as part of the UCAS clearing process today, after all, every one of them offers degree programs, from Foundation Degrees, through to Bachelors, and even Masters and Doctorates.

This could be a great opportunity for us.

We could advertise for students by suggesting that a failure to obtain the grades they needed for university might just be God's way of 'calling' them to the ministry instead.

No, I'm not being facetious.

We have long since stopped expecting the countries brightest and best to join the ministry. (if we ever did of course) Historically it was once expected that the oldest son of the landed Gentry would inherit and manage the family estate, whilst younger sons would enter the Army or Navy or the Church!
Now, to be truthful, we no longer expect or even try to attract young people of university age into the vocation.


Instead of retreating from the younger generation we need to be courting them: advertising our degree courses, pushing our vocational degrees, even attending the milk-round of graduates and offering them further vocational training to complement their degrees, if they will take a fast-track to ministry.

We should be thinking about our failing Churches and Circuits in the same way that the government thinks about failing schools. It takes good management skills, entrepreneurial ability, marketing and business skills to turn a failing Church into thriving centre for the next generation's growth in grace and holiness. It's time to start fast tracking student ministers in the same way that the state fast tracks student teachers. We need young people, with the necessary skill base who are prepared to take on the challenge of real leadership, to use all the gifts and graces that God has given them, to turn the Church around and bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Perhaps getting the wrong A level Grades is just the start - try a different sort of degree...

NO - we don't need the young person to be an exemplary Christian first, we don't even need them to have faith - we need them to want to do the work, to want to have faith.
Wesley's lack of faith didn't stop him doing the job.. He was told : Preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it - you will preach faith..

So for all the young people out there who don't have the grades they needed and who want a real challenge in life: Contact one of our seminaries: Not only might you get a place on a degree course, but the way might be open to a whole new way of life that is deeply rewarding and endlessly fascinating!

You too might be heading up a charity with a turn-over of over of anything from £50,000 to half a million pounds or more a year, managing a highly skilled staff and using your position to make real changes to the local community and perhaps even the world - all within just a few short years of your graduation/ordination...

Monday, August 16, 2010

May the Lord lift up his face..

Good evening God,
can we talk frankly for a moment? I need to be honest about something that's really bothering me..
it's my face, or rather,  the fact that the face I see in the mirror these days isn't a face that I recognise as mine, and that's something that really is beginning to bug me. What's disturbing me is how quickly other people have grown used to this face - as though it is mine, as though this is who I am now...

I've never been particularly interested in my face before now, I've only put make-up on once or twice in my entire life, and as for my hair, well I've been as happy to cut it myself to get it out of my eyes as I have been to pay someone else to do it for me. So I think I can truthfully say, my problem is not based on vanity or or any need to look a million dollars (who wants to look that green and grubby!)
I'm not concerned about looking 'pretty', I just want to look like me, to me, again.

Please don't misunderstand. I am truly grateful for the miracle of life. I do know how amazing it is to still be here after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I am well aware of how petty this must sound to some people! I am alive, so what if it means that I don't look like I used to, surely that's a small price to pay isn't it?

and no.

There is something about the image of ourselves that we carry around inside our heads which is intensely personal and definitive: It doesn't just shape how we see ourselves, it affects how we relate to others on a very deep and spiritual level. It took courage to wear a wig when I lost my hair through chemotherapy, but it actually takes more grit and determination to simply face the world each day looking like a stranger to myself. The insecurity it generates is quite astonishing.

The bottom line is that I can't rely on this face to communicate all the love and compassion I have for the people I meet: I don't know how well, if at all, this face is able to reflect the light of your love, the gift of your grace, and the joy of your presence.  I don't know how to lift up this face..

Did you?

I mean, did you, when you took human flesh, know how to look out at the world through a face that was not able to express all that you wanted it too, all that you needed to say, all that you truly felt inside? Did your face as Jesus, feel strange to you, alien to you, less than who you really were? Did you feel you were able to sustain relationships, form new ones, communicate love, grace, hope and joy just as you wanted to?

or was this why graven images are forbidden, is that why they can seem so empty, so undesirable?

I am grateful for the fact that deep inside, I know who I am.
That for most of each day, I am able to forget that I do not look like me to me, and so am able to simply be me..
I am grateful too for that amazing prayer, and for the promise it offers to people like myself who may, or may not, recover the outward image of themselves in this lifetime and so have to trust that they reflect your face instead:

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

Thanks for the rant

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wife Hunting

Good morning God,
One of the joys of being able to keep a church open every day during the day, is the opportunity it provides for prayer and pastoral ministry to the whole community.

Given its size and location, New Malden is a surprisingly diverse community. It is currently dominated by three specific groups;
White Europeans (including a growing number of Eastern Europeans),
Koreans (New Malden has the largest community of Koreans in Europe) and
Sri Lankans (mainly Tamil).

In our cafe we also have a regular table set aside for a group of Syrian Orthodox, Iraqi refugees.

On some days, it can sometimes seem as though the whole world has come to us to share in the warmth and hospitality that the Church is able to offer by its presence on the High Street.
It does, however, also pose some interesting pastoral conundrums - when cultures clash and faith is challenged to think differently about prayer and action, morals and ethics.

This week, for example, I was asked to pray with a Christian Tamil gentleman who had traveled to New Malden  from Denmark in search of a wife for his 25 year old Son.  "Only God can help me in my search",  he explained, "so it makes sense to start here - would you please pray that I will be successful and find for him a wife who will travel back with me to Denmark?"

Although I know that many Christian cultures still practice arranged marriages,  it is not something that we encounter very often in the Churches here. Throughout most of the Western world, people presume that marriage is the union of two people who are already in love. The idea of someone else choosing our life-partner for us challenges our presumptions of freedom, individuality, autonomy..

Isn't marriage all about the renunciation of those things? The loss of I in WE, the willing abandonment of personal freedoms in favour of shared responsibilities, the death of self for the sake of something new.

The difference is, of course, that some cultures still consider marriage to be a part of their social and religious duty rather than just a personal privilege. They believe that those who can marry should, for the sake of society; not least, to ensure that children are raised in the best possible environment.
Marriage is not about what 'I' want, or even about what 'we' would like to do, but about what You command and the world needs,

Considered in that light, it is far too important to be left to the whim of an often fleeting emotional or physical response to another individual. If it is to benefit society, and enrich the life of the whole extended family then it needs to be carefully, prayerfully thought through.. and who best to choose the partners than those who know the young people best?
You - and of course, the parents!

Whilst I could never condone a forced marriage or an unwilling marriage - I believe there is much to be said for an arranged marriage based on loving trust and mutual consent.  Following conversation, and a shared service of holy communion, I found that I was genuinely happy to pray with the father in search of a bride for his son. What's more,  I trust that our prayers will be answered and that you will guide him to the family of the young woman who would be willing to commit herself to the new life waiting for her in Denmark.

It is indeed, a great privilege to be able to share in prayer with people from all over the world, not least because the requests that others make of us are such an amazing invitation from You to rethink our own requests.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A five day week..?

Good morning God,

I was reminded this week amidst all the comments about Clergy Burn-Out of my first Superintendent (You never forget your first!) In the first three months of my ministry, he took the trouble to go through my diary with me, and make sure that I took things out as well as put things in. He would point out, for example, that I had a ladies fellowship meeting arranged for Tuesday afternoon, but had set aside no time to prepare for it - were these women not worth the effort - or did I think I would prepare in my sleep? Similarly for Church meetings - when had I set aside time to re-read the minutes of the last meeting, to pray about the work to be done, to seek God's guidance - or was that supposed to happen sometime in between the opening devotions and the apologies for absence?
His gentle but insistent reordering of my diary, helped me to shape not only my time but also my theology of Church order - invaluable!
Later on, as we developed a team ministry in the Circuit, we would meet weekly at 8:00am and the final part of our business was to share our diaries as part of watching over one another in love. This also had the amazing effect of teaching us what work we were each engaged in, how to play to one another's strengths, and how to avoid duplication. There can be no doubt about it - opening the diary to scrutiny reduced the work load.
It's not common practice, most ministers seem determined to hoard their work-load as though it is treasure from heaven (which it certainly isn't!). Very few ministers seem confident enough to celebrate a lighter week as a Godsend, leave alone ask for help with a demanding week.
There can be no doubt in my mind that collegiality is better than legislation when it comes to the provision of appropriate pro-active supervision. We shared diaries because we cared about each others work load, as well as the work of the Circuit. We worked as a team because that was what Circuit ministry was supposed to be all about. We also learned the hard way that it only takes one unwilling person to destroy a team.
Given the increasing sizes of circuits and the demands placed on lay and ministerial staff alike, it becomes harder and harder to realistically watch over one another in love - leave alone create and sustain an effective circuit (ie team) ministry.
So what to do?
I think that Micky Youngston and others are right - now is the time to debunk the myth of ministry being of necessity a 24/7 job and recognise that it is the calling that is 24/7 not the work!
It's time to insist first and foremost on realistic working hours for ministers. If the European time directive is good enough for other vocational professionals like doctors and consultants - then it should be good enough for ministers. No more than 40 hours per week maximum. And - YES - ministers should have two days a week off - if possible to be taken consecutively!
A radical rethink of ministerial working hours would undoubtedly serve to re-engage the laity - or better yet - help us to set realistic priorities. Do we really need yet another meeting for the carpet in the Sanctuary or to set the calendar of social committee meetings for the year?
Above all this however, it would send out the message, loud and clear, to ministers  and laity alike that the work of ministry should not be so demanding that the minister is unable to take the time to grow in grace and holiness, to fulfil their calling which includes their responsibilities to their families and friends.
I know that few ministers would be able to hold to 40 hours, but changing the working hours would make it possible to hold us accountable for 40 hours - and questions could then rightly be asked about any excess!
It might make ministers more willing to share their diaries, if they didn't feel that every hour from 8:00am til 10:00pm had to be spoken for. It might encourage greater honesty about unrealistic work loads, and help to stem the tide of those leaving the ministry for better paid, 5 day a week posts. (It's worth noting that Connexional posts are only 5 days a week rather than the Circuit based 6 days!)
It's time to draft circuit and district resolutions to Conference, to send a message loud and clear - along with personnel files for ministers, we want decent working hours.
But above all this God - what we really want is a means of watching over one another in love.