Monday, January 31, 2011

Vocational Policies...

Good day God,
I'm not quite sure how you will take this - but - well - I'm not quite sure anymore what a Methodist vocation is.
I thought I knew.
I thought it had something to do with the fact that my 'work' didn't feel like 'work' because I knew that I would do it anyway - regardless of pay.  It was something about OUR relationship and the fact that the way that  I felt about you, and the world, and faith and the future, was best expressed through my relationship in service to others, and with your Church.

Now I'm flummoxed (I like that word!)
I know that I still feel compelled to minister, I would still do it whether I was paid or not, in fact, I don't really seem to know how NOT to minister. The way in which that works out with others is uplifting, inspiring, heartwarming, affirming, confirming, challenging and motivating.. (Thank you)

But the 'Church' bit gets harder every year.
I keep saying to myself - ignore the Connexion - just get on with the task of being a minister where you have been stationed.. but it's just not that simple.
What we do at Connexional level SHOULD affect what we do at local level.
I am not a congregationalist, I do not serve a congregationalist Church and the last time I looked, the URC and the Methodists were still separate denominations, (even if we do share the odd consultation.)

The fact is that I am employed as a Methodist minister to work in a Methodist Circuit, within a Methodist District which belongs to the British Methodist Connexion which is part of the World Methodist Council.

So what happens Connexionally should concern me, and the members of the Churches I serve...
Polity and Practice are part of the Church's proclamation.

Most of us listened hard when we were promised that the 'team focus' project was all about creating a Connexional Team which would provide vision and leadership, which would inspire, motivate and equip the Methodist Church to work together for the sake of God's kingdom. We were told that ONE of the tasks of the new way of working was to provide better oversight of the budget - but we were assured time and time again that team focus was NOT about finance, was NOT about cutting jobs,was NOT just about good management - It was supposed to be about our calling.

But to be perfectly honest, from where I work, it seems as though the Governance structures which have emerged out of the Team Focus process have less and less to with our agreed priority:

To proclaim and affirm its conviction of God's love in Christ, for us and for all the world; and renew confidence in God's presence and action in the world and in the Church
And certainly less and less to do with Methodism's way of being Church - of being 'connected'.

So it isn't really a surprise to me that there are fewer and fewer responses to connexional reports.
It is a source of grief, a pointer to the problem, but not a surprise.

The thing that really bugs me, however, is the way in which changes to our theology and practice are so disguised in bureaucratic gobbledegook that its hard for those not trained in both theology and business management to unpack it all and see what's really going on.

The last council paper on team focus (MC118) (available here) for example, states that paragraph 23 addresses an issue that has ecclesiological implications. In actual fact - the entire document has ecclesiological implications, to say nothing of profound theological implications for our understanding of the whole people of God. (This is in spite of the fact that no mention of God or doctrine, occurs in the paper)

As a former managing director I applaud the concerted effort being invested in the well being of those who work for the Connexion at Methodist Church House
I just have a simple question - Since when did circuit ministers stop being a part of the Connexion?

Are we not worthy of consideration when it comes to working conditions?

Are circuit ministers, in keeping with ministers who work as part of the team, going to be asked not to use our God given, Church affirmed, identity as Revds if we have any full time lay employees in our Churches? (Am I alone in thinking that when ministers are denied their Connexionally affirmed title of Revd  when they are called to serve at Connexional Level there is something wrong?)
Will circuit ministers have a staff handbook and policies instead of standing orders to determine our working conditions?
Will circuit ministers and superintendents, who often have a larger staff to oversee, also be given training in leadership and management?
Will circuit ministers ever be given support to cope with all the changes in the Connexion and our workloads?
etc etc etc

And then God..
a big part of me says -
ignore it..
Why run the risk of upsetting people again?
Life's too short - just work in this little corner...
But it really isn't that easy.

I'm daft enough to believe in Connexionalism, which makes me deeply concerned about the implied theology in some of our most recent council papers. In particular I am distressed about the increasing secularisation that they represent and the inexorable shift to congregationalism that they promote.

PLEASE - is it too much to ask for a little more talk of God, a lot less bureaucracy?
PLEASE - is it too much to ask for a little more respect for vocation - lay AND ordained,  and a lot less concern about secular status?
PLEASE - is it too much to ask for a little more concern about the work of the whole Connexion and a lot less about the connexion's governance structures?

And that's before we even begin on the request to changes to standing orders governing the SRC !

Friday, January 21, 2011

Of providential straws and Camels..

Good morning God,
I'm not really sure about providence, it's always been something that has troubled me. Trying to find the balance between your providential care for me, and my free will(?) is a theological conundrum that I periodically return to and nurse, like a decaying tooth that is wobbly but not quite ready to fall out.
The peculiar pain of an unresolved theological dilemma has always begged teasing and testing.. but never more so than now.

Tell me God, was it providential that my father died of an aortic aneurysm when I was just 18? Was it your way of preparing me so that I would know just how much to fear when my husband was found yesterday to have the same thing? Or is that just a coincidence?
Was it providential that someone kindly gave me swine flu to share with my husband, which led to him having the blood test that made them suspect cancer and so do the tests that accidentally discovered this massive aneurysm? Or was that just another string of coincidences..?
And is it providential that all this occurs now, as I begin a new cycle of chemotherapy and on the same day that my aunt dies?

Or is it all a coincidence, the working out of our free will, the result of our chosen life-styles?

How 'active' are you in the details of our everyday and endtimes?
Do you really know the when, the where and the how of each of our lives and deaths, and do you manipulate us, intervene in the cosmos to make sure it all happens according to plan..?

It just doesn't sound like you to me!
You, after all, built the law of cause and effect into the universe, gave us the laws of motion, and the corresponding spiritual laws of grace. There's no real evidence that you reorder the universe to make things 'nice' for your 'favourites'- although we often rewrite our history to show your hand in it. The fact seems to be that it is your constant presence and the love and grace that it communicates which is the primary 'force' you provide to guide our steps and help us to 'determine' our futures. You inspire US to work for what is later deemed providential...
You never promised anyone 'nice' or 'ordinary' or even 'good' lives, just unique lives, each with the potential to make a difference in the world. You ask us if we are prepared to channel the power that drives the changes you seek, to build the society you desire, to foster the community of grace that allows each human being to evolve to live life to the fullest. But you never said you would make sure that meanwhile we would be protected from the sickness, pain and suffering that we are working to cure and prevent. You never promised us immunity from what needs to be addressed.

So along the way, to borrow a well worn phrase..

Shit happens..

But God, if I'm honest, I do wish you would/could intervene right now.
My husband and I really could do with a break from the overly dramatic life threatening stuff that's been hitting us both lately.  A bit of 'normality' would go down just fine at the moment.

Something about straws and camels and all that springs to mind...
Dare I ask,
Can you just nudge the world enough to end some of this madness if only for a moment..
we desperately need a little ordinariness in our lives..

Or would that be too providential...?

Monday, January 17, 2011

I have a Dream

In memory of Martin Luther King Jnr - who dared to protest and name injustice.
A rewrite of his most famous speech - to address the Church.

Two thousand years ago, Christ, in whose symbolic shadow the Church stands, triumphed over bigotry, hatred and fear to rise from the dead. This momentous act of God came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of women and children and slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But two thousand years later, we must face the tragic fact that women and children, the poor and the oppressed are still not free.

Two Thousand years later, the lives of women and homosexuals are still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. Two thousand years later, women are still languishing in the corners of Church ministry and find themselves exiled and outcast in their own faith.
So we have written this today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have written to our Churches to cash a check. When the authors  of our faith wrote down the magnificent words of the New Testament and the creeds they were signing a promissory note to which every man woman and child  was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all people would be guaranteed the gifts of God's grace, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of discipleship. It is obvious today that the Church has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her women and homosexuals are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, the Church has given these children of God a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice or grace is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity for ministry and discipleship of this Church.
So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of God's freedom to serve and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind the Church of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of gender justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our church from the quicksands of gender injustice to the solid rock of equality for all before God.
It would be fatal for the Church to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of women. This desolate winter of women’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating spring of freedom and equality. 2011 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that women simply need to blow off steam and will then be content will have a rude awakening if the Church continues with ‘business as usual’. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in the Church until women are granted their full rights as children of God.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new confidence which has engulfed many women in the Church must not lead to a distrust of all men, for many of our brothers, as evidenced by their presence in the Church today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of doctrine and clerical rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of childbirth, are not free from the dictates of childless men. We can never be satisfied as long as women in the Church are barred from the office to which God calls them. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you reading this have undergone great trials and tribulations. Some of you have left narrow minded churches. Some of you have come from denominations where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of dogmatic bigotry. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go to your churches, go to your Bible Studies, your cell groups and fellowships, go to the darkest and most bigotted of our cathedrals wherever they may be, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in God’s dream.

I have a dream that one day the Church will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people are created equal." I have a dream that one day in the palaces of Rome and Canterbury, the daughters of former women ministers and the sons of former Bishops will be able to sit down together and share equally at the table of Christ. I have a dream that one day even the Church of Rome, shrouded with the darkness of injustice and oppression of women, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that all children may one day be part of a Church where they will not be judged by their sexuality or their genitals but by the content of their character and the depth of their faith. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the Methodist Church, will be transformed into a situation where ordained men and women will be able to join hands with lay men and women and walk together boldly as sisters and brothers in one equal ministry. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith in which I minister. With this faith we will be able to hew our of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our Church into a beautiful symphony of praise and glory to God. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free to serve God fully, to be respected and valued one day.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, male and female, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, women are free at last!"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Prayer for Christian Unity - Don't make me laugh!

Good morning God,
On the very eve of the octave of prayer for Christian Unity three former Anglican Bishops, unhappy with the ordination of women are to be re-ordained(!) as Roman Catholic Priests at Westminster Cathedral. My, how these Christian's love one another
or - more accurately - My how our leaders mock us.
This is the Unity which our Church Leaders would have us emulate?

From the feast of St Peter's Confession to the feast of St Paul's Conversion, hundreds upon thousands of 'ordinary' Christian's worldwide will find ways to worship together, dialogue and fellowship together, but especially pray together in the name of Christian Unity. This movement, supported jointly by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for the promotion of Christian Unity, is part of the search for 'the full unity' which it is claimed is Christ's will.
No doubt, these three newly ordained priests will participate in prayers for Christian Unity - just a few scant days after taking their leave of the Anglican Church (obviously not a denomination they feel a sense of unity with!)
And once again the hypocrisy of the established Churches make a mockery of the Gospel and the devilry of mysogyny once again rules what remains of Christendom.

What to do?
What on earth is a Christian to do when they realize how corrupt and life-denying the body that claims to represent them actually is?
I have to ask myself, do I really want to pray for Christian unity - and by so doing, appear to condone all that I find so damning and offensive in institutional Christianity?
How in conscience can I pray for unity with those who hate women so much that they would rather see them die than allow them the right to protect themselves from HIV infection?
Is it possible for me to pray with integrity for unity with those who hate women so much that they blame the entire sin of the world on one imaginary woman?
Please God, can you tell me how can I pray for unity with those who beleive that as an Ordained woman I should be excommunicated rather than tolerated or prayed for?

And ecuumenically God, tell me, how do I pray for unity with any organisation that actively seeks unity with such corruption?

It is all too easy to say -  but the 'ordinary' Christian isn't concerned with any of this..
or what has Church politics to do with Church practice really?
The hypocrysy that now pedals itself as ecumenisity beggars belief.

There seem to be only two options open to me God
1) Dennounce my Christianity - and hence any potential for personal unity with the outdated barbarism of the Church

2) Bury my head in the sand and hope it all goes to hell..

Meanwhile the least I can do is decry the hypocrysy of the Church Leaders who urge us to pray whilst they play power politics with gender in your name.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I'm back!

Good morning God,
OK, I confess, I'm excited!
I'm back to work after a three month Sabbatical and I'm raring to go..

And I'm so grateful that I start back on a bank holiday as this gives me the whole day to enjoy the knowledge of being back in harness, without having to act on it!

To be honest, I have greatly missed the people I would normally have been ministering to. They have been present in my prayers and as an ache in my arms where the hugs would have been. I have missed the worship we would have shared - especially the grace that flows in communion and the joy of celebration. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again. But I have benefited so much from this gift of time.

Time to heal and rest, yes.. there is no doubt that I am fitter than I was before the Sabbatical started when I could barely breathe: but more importantly I have had time to simply be.

I have been able to enjoy the luxury of 'me time' with you God instead of feeling constantly harassed by the Church's calendar and its mad liturgical race through the seasons. This is the first time in 12 years that my Christmas has not been interrupted by planning meetings for Easter worship.. when I have not been either writing liturgical notes or Bible Notes for Easter or Lent whilst trying to live in Advent!

Of course.. I have all that to come.. but that's next weeks work, and sufficient to the day...
So here I am ready and willing to live in the here and now - and enjoy the fact that it is a bank holiday today!

Tomorrow's another thing entirely - its a Sunday - a day of rest!