Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Joyful living

A few years ago the musician Frank Zappa asked the question ‘does humour belong in music?’ – actually it was the title of one of his albums. The only reason I mention this is because one could equally ask the question ‘does humour belong in faith?’. I hope that most people would answer ‘yes’ without having to think about it – but unfortunately a lot of people I meet seem to think that the Christian Church is a pretty humourless organisation. Sadly, Christians have a reputation for being serious and sombre most, if not all, of the time. I remember as a teenager someone saying that Christians were people with ‘black suits, black books and black looks’ – not really a very good advert for the Church at all.

But Christian Faith certainly isn’t one that is meant to be overly-serious. We do take very seriously the problems and difficulties of the world. Most Christians have a concern for justice and a hope for peace which occupies a lot of our time and energy. We recognize the very real effect of evil in the world and the pain and sadness that sin and death bring about in our creation.

Yet amongst all of those very real, very important situations we also have a faith that is filled with ‘joy and peace in believing’ as Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 15. Jesus himself said in John’s Gospel ‘I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly’ (John Chapter 10 v 10). We continue to worship God in our Churches, our homes and our lives because of the great joy that fills our life as a result of God’s love for each one of us.

The Christian Faith is not about rules and regulations, about being serious and sonorous, it is (as I wrote last month) a celebration of God’s love and new life. It’s not about pretending that everything is wonderful in the world, but about saying that amongst all of the worst that life can throw at us the one thing that we can depend on is God’s grace, love and mercy. Nor is being a Christian about saying everything will be alright in the end when we die and go to heaven, but about trying to bring God’s life into what is a broken and fallen world.

If we look at the stories of Jesus in the Bible we see a man who shows us what God is like. This Jesus is full of all the feelings that we have – passion, sadness, hope, faith, weakness and joy. He tells stories and says things which are meant to make us smile as well as make us think – we have no pictures of Jesus in the Bible or descriptions of what he looked like, but it does seem to me that he must have spent a fair amount of time smiling when he was speaking to people. He was someone who took God’s demands on his life seriously, but he speaks about faith in a joyful and passionate way. May we all feel that too! To quote St Paul in full
‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘ Romans 15 verse 13

Monday, May 16, 2005

Veni Sancte Spiritus

Pentecost was a great celebration in the Parishes i went to yesterday, a bit of a glimpse of what we can be as the Church when we let ourselves be open to the life of the Spirit! I only had four people in the tiny village Church i went to at 8.30am, but it was a great service of Holy Communion and i can honestly say that God was very much a part of our prayers and worship as the four of us gathered in a Church full of the prayers of the saints over many centuries. We may have been few, but the Angels and Archangels were having a party nearby and we got to join in...

Then to a larger celebration (remembering that larger equals about 50 in these parishes) in another Church. In lots of ways it was a traditional, unexceptional Eucharist - but at the same time it was full of joy and life and touched by the Holy Spirit in such a way that made our liturgy and all of our worship come alive. No, there were no noticable tongues of fire, miraculous healings, speaking in tongues - but the life of Christ was there and I hope God was blessed as much as he blessed us!

Every now and then heaven breaks through and we all get to share in it.

Hallelujah (twice in two posts, must be good!)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Reflection, Royalty and Rejuvination

Had a great time this week staying at Windsor Castle, or rather at St George's House in Windsor Castle. Yes, that Windsor Castle, where the Queen lives when she isn't at Buckingham Palace or Balmoral or Sandringham or wherever.

Didn't get to see the Queen, but did get a few days of serious thinking about what this Church business is all about. A bit of time out of the Parishes to think about Parishes is quite a good thing from time to time.

This time together was called a 'Parishes Consultation' and whilst ostensibly concerned with reflecting on 'Clergy Spirituality, Lay Spirituality, is there a difference?' actually offered the chance to reflect in some depth on many aspects of the church and her mission and ministry in our present day.

We had some very nice, very traditional services, good food, comfy beds and some excellent talks by various Canons of St George's chapel, as well as the obligatory and enjoyable tours of the Chapel (which is the home of the Knights of the Garter, the Order of St Geoge) and the State Apartments of Her Majesty. More than anything else, though, we had time to talk, to think, to be together and consider the reality of some of what is happening in the life of the church today.

One of the strengths of the consultation was that it wasn't a 'Vicar-fest' but a group of lay people and Clergy talking together, laughing together and tackling issues which are real to us in our everyday lives as church.

Topics were wide ranging and diverse - lay and clergy roles, changing times for society, struggles of churches in small parishes, worship, engaging with the historical demands (ie mainly buildings) of being the Church of England etc etc

What came out of the all the discussions, though - both individual and corporate - was a feeling of excitement about our faith and a desire to be bold and vital in our expression of Christianity. There was a lack of embarrassment when talking about the Good News of our faith - a desire not to 'buy in to' the 'seige mentality' that the church so easily adopts - a heartfelt cry to put joy and faith and love in the centre of our expression of faith.

In my recent deliberations about ministry I have failed to express, perhaps, something of what all this ministry business is all about, in fact what all of this Christian Faith is all about. It is about Jesus Christ, and the great things that come from our relationship with God and with each other because of him.

I am excited about my faith, I am excited about this calling to ministry, I am excited about the calling of the Church to proclaiming Jesus Christ, and I am excited about the love of God which is so great and so awe-inspiring - and well worth shouting about.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost, that wonderful festival of the joy giving Spirit who lives in our hearts through faith and fills us with God's love - a good opportunity to remember the gifts of a gracious God, and to resolve to live in that joy and hope in all of our lives. Amen! Hallelujah!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

just tired and over-emotional ;-)

As i have carried on in ministry i have learned that i have limitations

'no, really?' i hear you cry!

Well, obviously i've always been aware of my many shortcomings, what with having a natural tendency to low self-esteem and all that, but it is amazing how the training that many ministers receive and the attitude of those we minister to and with gives the impression that the ordained leadership of the church can and must be omnicompetent - as if we meet every job with a cry of 'this is a job for Clergy-man' (or -woman, -person, - squirrel or whatever) and rip off our normal clothing to reveal a shiny dogcollar that magically equips us for every situation, and our super shiny halo that lifts us above all we survey....

Of course it isn't like that. As a minister of the Church i hold tight, or rather i cling, to that wonderful phrase 'the Grace of Orders' (ie Holy Orders, what we who are ordained are called and subject to). It is this wonderful, sustaining, life-enhancing grace that seems to emerge just when we need it and stops us from going under. Really it is just a shorthand way of saying that whatever we are called to God is sufficient for our needs - whether it be ordained ministry, teaching, law enforcement, medicine, business or commerce or whatever our vocation is.

On the whole, my theology of priesthood and ministry stems from an understanding that together in Christ we are part of the 'priesthood of all believers' and that from within these ranks some of us are freed up to minister to and on behalf of the Church as our full time work. Yes i believe it is a vocation, yes i know it is more than a job, but ultimately any calling to ministry only finds its fullness in partnership with all who are working within the Missio Dei, the mission of God, which is the work of all Christian people.

So when we as ministers find ourselves overwhelmed, it is often because we have neglected that partnership, or have been unable to truly enter in to that partnership - for whatever reason (lack of people, resources, time etc etc)

With all that has happened in my life in the past few months i have reached a point where i seem to feel tired all of the time - partly because i am busy, partly because i am not sleeping enough, but mainly because i have invested much of myself in what i do, and i give a lot to it. I do this because i love it, and know (as i have said just a couple of weeks ago) the huge privilege that it is to do what i do - but i have to a certain degree filled up my days with doing and not enough being, i have neglected disciplines of prayer and stillness, i have not cultivated the shared ministry that i perhaps should have.

I have learned to distinguish between simply being tired due to busyness, and that emotional tiredness that comes from any part of life in which we give of ourselves. I have the opportunity to reflect a little more upon that this week as i go away to a 'parish consultation' at which i am sure such issues will be brought up.

Until then i keep on believing and remembering - just to get Biblical for a moment - 'I can do all things through the one who strengthens me' Phil 4.13