This is the blog post that I set out to write yesterday – but I ended up following a different path!
Brian McLaren has written a book, Naked Spirituality, which summarises/simplifies a lot of the work on Stages of Faith. Summaries of McLaren’s work can be found here and here (be patient – the first few slides are pictures, but the words come).
Richard Rohr has written and blogged about the two halves of life.
I would roughly map these to Simplicity/Complexity and Harmony in the McLaren model. Rohr thinks that there needs to be some kind of crisis to move between the two, and I would map that to Perplexity.
So, which stage do we wish our clergy to be in? The first of the McLaren links above suggests that if we wish to grow in our faith we require leaders who are further along the path, but also that we can find that threatening.
Both models suggest that people are at their most “productive” in Complexity/First half of life.
There appears to be a dilemma here. If we wish our clergy to “make things happen”, which seems to be the current vogue, then we need them to be in the first half of life. If we wish them to lead us through the stages of faith then we need them to be in Harmony (it is really difficult leading a church if you are in Perplexity!).
So, what kind of clergy do we want?
In case you haven’t noticed, clergy come in all shapes and sizes! And that is as it should be:
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:28 – Whole Chapter
God calls all sorts of people to be clergy – and why not? No two clergy roles are exactly the same, why should we expect the same kind of people to be capable of so many different roles?
The nature of the role has changed too over the years; I think it is fair to say that Britain can no longer be considered a “Christian Country”; yes, there is a christian heritage which has set the ethos of the country, but this is changing. While there used to be an assumption that everyone in the parish was christian, for example anyone who lives in the parish can be married in the parish church* and buried in the churchyard, this is no longer the case. The role has also changed as society has changed, since 2000 the following are legal requirements that parishes have to comply with, some with onerous administration requirements eg: CRB, DBS, GDPR, Data Protection, Charity Law, Safeguarding and Inclusion, Risk Assessments. Some parishes are lucky and have lay people who can manage these, while in others the clergy have to get more involved.
So, what kind of people do you want to be clergy?
* – terms and conditions apply, unfortunately
It is a truism that the only thing you can control is yourself, and yet how often are our prayers for God to control someone else? Reading this again today, it points out that it is through the pains and disappointments of life that we grow, rather than the joys. At those times we see (if we allow ourselves to) the impact of our character on us, and have the opportunity to change it.
This is not self control in the sense of not eating the extra piece of chocolate, but instead in the sense of recognising our hang ups and finding ways to deal with them.
Far more difficult than not eating a piece of chocolate, but more in keeping with the spirit of Lent. However, far harder to do as it requires us to experience pain or disappointment, something that most of us try to steer clear of, and something that we can’t always find to order. However for many of us there may be past pains/disappointments that we haven’t yet processed, and which would form a good topic for Lenten reflection.
Yesterday I posted my thoughts on makeovers. Whilst I still stand by what I wrote then, today I want to add to it, because I think there is something about motivation that is worth exploring.
The Bishop of Gloucester started a campaign in 2016 called Liedentity which was looking at the impact pressures on body image were having on young people.
As a society we seem to becoming more concerned with image. Not helped by the use of Photoshop. If the purpose of a makeover is to “compete” with this then at one level I would want to say that it is unhealthy. If we recognise that our identity comes from God, like Justin Welby, then striving to make ourselves something else isn’t helpful. However, it is a tough ask to require people not to do things which will make it easier to find employment, or get paid more, or make them feel more confident.
The danger, perhaps, is if after all the effort it fails to have the desired impact.
Strange things happen to vicars! Today I got a call from a TV production company asking whether I would publicise their search for people to take part in a makeover TV programme (flyer above). There have also been other times I have had similar requests from TV companies. I agreed to do so, and don’t regret it, but it did set me wondering about the current desire for makeovers.
With most questions of ethics there is a line somewhere that should not be crossed, but where does this lie when it comes to self presentation? Or is there no line?
Might it be a question of taste, or might it be about intent?
When I started writing this blog I thought that there was a line, but as I write it I am finding it very difficult to draw it.
Take plastic surgery; my initial reaction was that there is a difference between someone who needs it because they have been badly burnt, and someone who wants to look prettier. But now that seems like prejudice; why shouldn’t someone choose to look prettier? I am finding it difficult to find a rule which differentiates one case from the other. This is possibly because the only difference I can see between them is one of degree.
There are perhaps other arguments concerning the use of resources, but I suspect that most people would agree that there are some people who should receive this – so where is that line?
As part of my Lent discipline I am reading The Way to Love, and the passage I read today challenged me to see people, because only if I see the real person can I love them; if I do not see the real person then what I am loving is what I get from them, and when I stop getting whatever it is I will stop loving them.
Perhaps our attitude to makeovers is also about how well we see the person.
I have written about this before, and will no doubt write about it again, but it is a subject that keeps returning in my reflections.
I believe that whatever questions we are asked, once we can no longer answer the mythical 2 year old’s “why”, we will each eventually come to a common answer for ourselves. This works for people who have a faith, and for those who have none.
Not only do I think that we will reach that common answer for us, but that once we have discovered what that common answer is we can then predict our answer to many different issues of the day.
I also believe that it is this which causes so many of the differences between Christians. For example, if at the heart we believe that “God loves everybody” that will lead to one set of conclusions, whereas if we start from “the Bible is the inspired word of God” it will lead to another. I am not here saying that people who start from different places do not believe the words of the other place, just that which takes priority determines a number of outcomes.
So – what is at the heart of your faith? If I were to keep asking why after every answer you give, what do you get when you no longer have an answer?
I remember over 35 years ago challenging the Provost of Chelmsford Cathedral about the proposed re-ordering, renovation of the organ, and creation of a choir endowment. This was a substantial amount of money (I can’t remember how much) and I questioned whether it would be better spent on the poor. His response was that for some people it is the architecture or the music that first draw them to church; at the time I think I was content to let this past.
However, this leads to the question of whether the relief of physical poverty should take precedence over spiritual poverty or vice versa. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs clearly suggests that for an individual physical poverty has to be dealt with before spiritual poverty, but is this true for society?
The more I think about this the less sure I am. I can see a case for saying that everybody should be raised up at the same rate, but I can also see a case for wondering whether, if some are raised further up the pyramid, it might speed up the rate at which others climb it.
Now, I accept that this is slightly different from the question about whether church money is better spent on churches or people, but not perhaps that much.
The other issue is where the money comes from; whether we like it or not there are large sums of money available for buildings which aren’t available for poor people (eg the Heritage Lottery Fund – whatever else you may think of that).
Different people respond to different issues in different ways. I know of churches where people will give to the fabric fund rather than the general fund; and if any parish priest were to suggest closing a church…
For me the question boils down to whether it is effective (pragmatist that I am). And I don’t know the answer to that. Where do you stand?
Last night I watched the latest episode of Fleabag, where the title character goes to church because she fancies the priest, whilst not believing.
I wonder what your take on this is? I am quite used to the fact that people initially come to church for all sorts of reasons and I don’t have a problem with it at all.
In fact I know a bishop and a priest who both started going to church for two reasons:
- To prove that it was all wrong
- Because they fancied other people who went
Having got there they discovered there was more to it and stayed.
Church is not a holy huddle for the perfect (OK, so I’m not a Calvinist), indeed my training incumbent used to say that every church should have a big notice over the door saying “sinners only”. People come to church for all sorts of reasons and that is good.
Recently General Synod spent a good deal of time debating Evangelism – and what is not to like? Well, a number of people were concerned that what was meant was too focused on getting the initial sale and not enough on repeat business (my words). So here and here.
In any sales process there is a funnel – lots of people get fed in at the top but only a few become customers.
I used to work in a business which was looking for repeat customers. It wasn’t a supermarket, but that is a good example. The reason that supermarkets, and online ones in particular, are so keen to get you to buy from them is the potential for repeat business. There are all sorts of incentives to buy from them again, from the explicit (money off vouchers on future purchases) to the implicit (you know your way round the physical or online store).
1.2 million people have done an Alpha course in the UK, but average Sunday attendance is about 722,000. This isn’t knocking Alpha courses; we have the same problem in this parish – people come to a seekers course but drop off at varying stages through the process.
Most of the emphasis on Evangelism appears to be on getting people in the first place. I would want to suggest that increasing the retention rate would be a better area of focus. Something is drawing people in and they become enthusiastic, but they do not stay that way.
What is needed is a successful Beta course (there have been a number of attempts, some even called Beta Course!), but this appears to be a difficult nut to crack as they have existed for 15 years or more, but haven’t had the traction of Alpha.
What seems to me to be successful are the relationships built, but if you are running lots of the courses you need lots of people to build relationships – almost in an apprenticeship style. Recruiting lots of apprentices when you don’t have the master craftsworkers to train them is surely a waste of time?
worship is a unique one-off never to be repeated beautiful offering, and so needs to be the best it possibly can be
I recently saw this quote and initially found myself wanting to challenge it. Having revisited it I find myself almost letting it off the hook because of the “possibly”.
My challenge to it is around the definition of “best it can possibly be”. We used to have a diocesan advisor who used to say “if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly”! But of course the question is “whose definition of badly”? Is it the accurate reading, the “proper” pronunciation and the audibility that make a reading the best it possibly can be? Or is it someone prepared to step out in faith and offer the reading as best they can?
Is worship something performed “perfectly” by the few for the many or is it something that all of God’s people do for God?
There is probably no definitive answer to this (as with most things Anglican).
So, a couple of stories…
Many years ago I used to attend Chelmsford Cathedral, usually the 9:30 Parish Eucharist. One Sunday I didn’t get up in time, so instead went to the 11:00 Cathedral Eucharist, during which I said or sung very little. Afterwards I asked the Provost about this and he said that the aim of that service was for the choir and clergy to do the worship giving us space to have our own meeting with God (I paraphrase somewhat, and as with all preachers it may not be what he said, but what I heard).
At one of our churches we have no rotas (not quite true, but almost) and as people come in they pick up a card on which is written a role in the service. The president doesn’t know who has which card, and sometimes the person with the card isn’t quite sure when their bit comes. A culture of collaboration has developed and at various points in the service a member of the congregation might join in – particularly during the sermon.
It strikes me that perhaps the first service suits introverts more, and the second extroverts. What worried me about the quote was that it was privileging the first kind of worship over the second, but perhaps the second is “the best it possibly can be”.