Christian ministry is a tricky thing, wherever you're doing it. In my own contexts, in charges in small Scottish towns, and also as a senior leader in the diocese, it can feel almost impossible to be able to do all that needs to be done, to be able to meet the demands and expectations of all the people I serve.
At one level, I know all too well that I am supposed to be meeting God's expectations, praying, studying, discerning the spirit and image of God in the world and people around me. I've been trained, I've read, 'If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill him', all that's very clear after over a decade in ordained ministry.
But it then meets people. And it meets those people where they are, with THEIR expectations, and hopes and fears and baggage and experiences of rectors and deans from the past. And those people treat you in a strange way. I am very, very privileged in ministry, as I am a) male, b) white, c) straight, d) university educated, e) married, f) with children, g) fairly tall, h) clean shaven (ok, that's my choice). But I am a rector/dean that doesn't press many of the prejudice buttons that congregations might have. That is an immense privilege, and it would be all too comfortable to minister, maybe for a whole career, from within that privileged and comfortable position.
But I would still fail to meet all the expectations of the charges and people that I have been called to serve, in the Church of God. I might be male, but I wouldn't visit enough. I might be white but I wouldn't respond quickly enough when someone was in a place of emotional crisis. I might be straight but I would be a firm advocate and supporter of equal marriage, which disappoints some. You get the idea. Feet of clay.
I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like if one isn't a) to h) above (well, maybe a) to f)). You are starting, with some people, not with feet of clay but with a whole body and nature of clay. That must be so, so hard. How can you feel called by God, discern the spirit and nature of God in people's lives, when your whole person is judged and rejected by some that you are called to serve.
But Christian ministers are called to serve God. To do what is right, even if it might feel uncomfortable from a human perspective. When I was licensed as the priest to these charges, just over seven years ago, the bishop who licensed me, now the Primus of the SEC, gave slightly different sermons in the two churches. On the island, among other things, he said that the charges had to support and nurture me, even when what I preached or led or did was not what an individual might want to hear or see. That is a hard thing to hear, when church can be desired as a comfort zone, a place where people want to hear their own opinions given from the pulpit like reading an editorial in their favourite newspaper.
But Christian ministers are called to serve God. To challenge and to be prophetic, even if that might be an uncomfortable place to be. Even if you can hear that others regard your mere feet of clay to be spreading up your legs and into your very person.
Where does all this go? Is it about same-sex marriage and its application in our churches? Of course. Is it about pastoral care and meeting the expectations that one should be a pastorally adept mind reader? Of course. Is it about the ghosts of former rectors and their feet of clay being put firmly into the backsides of bruised people? Of course.
But mainly, it is about reminding myself about those feet of clay. Accepting them and working within them, in my own fragile, flawed humanity. Whilst working out a call from God to be a leader of God's people in this place, at this time. God have mercy on us all. And God's blessing upon us all.
Saturday, 8 July 2017
At the wake, the following episode was told to me by the father in question...
Small boy, maybe 5 or 6, I would guess, had spoken to his father.
"What's the deal with THAT guy?"
"The guy in the funny clothes, doing all the talking."
"What about him?"
"Well, he said, 'Jesus Christ' at least two times, and nobody told him off for it..."