Tuesday, 24 July 2012

...what *is* happening?

Someone asked me today, 'What is going on in your church at the moment?'

The question rather stopped me in my tracks.  It is frantically busy right now, with lots and lots of stuff to get done.  Some of it might even be important, just possibly.  But it's useful to be stopped in our tracks every once in a while to ask the question.  In the good old 'Seven Habits' terms, it's taking time to sharpen the saw.

So what is happening?

There is stuff to do with buildings, there is stuff to do with events, there is stuff to do with planning activities and worship in the future, there is stuff to do with people and what they are doing, what they want to do and what they will actually do.  There is stuff from well away that is good and stuff from well away that is toxic.  There are demands, there are gifts, there are plans, successes, failures. People, ideas, animals, time to be consumed.

Lots of stuff.  Plenty to keep everybody busy.

But I read a salutory lesson in an old friend's blog last week: Vicars that don't pray.  There is a real danger in all this busyness that the one thing that actually matters gets squeezed out.  And all those things that are going on only really matter if God is being paid attention to somewhere in the middle of it.  We are not a heritage preservation society, we are not a minor IT firm, we are not an entertainment provider, we are not a social club, we are not a counselling organisation, we are not a slightly posh group of cross-dressing men.

We are a church.

A church might end up looking a bit like all those things, which is fine - absolutely perfect.  But a church is Christ's body on earth, and a place for encounter with God.  It is a living community, in our case managing to be busy, but with God at its heart.

What is going in the church at the moment?

Lots of stuff.

What should be going on?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Female bishops - a view from Scotland

Have just signed the Church of England WATCH petition to lobby the house of (English) bishops to withdraw clause 5.1c of the amendment to the female bishop legislation.

Why, as a Scottish Episcopalian, did I do this?  I asked the same question of myself, and have hesitated to do so for some time because of this.  The Scottish Episcopal Church allows women bishops - we have just never had one (yet).

I was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England, and did not expect or intend at that time to move north of the border.  I served my title in an English parish.  It was a rich, full and rewarding time of ministry.

I am now in a church that has maybe a little as 1-2% of the full-time clergy that serve in the C of E (I think there are 16,000 C of E clergy, and maybe 170 or so SEC clergy who are paid - this is a bit of a hazy guess...).

But there is an issue of justice here.

I am an Anglican priest - part of something much bigger than the charges I serve, the diocese in which I work and the province that I find myself within.  The rules in all the many Anglican provinces on gender and ministry vary, as do they on, doctrine, inclusion etc. etc.  There are plenty of justice issues in this world, but to perpetuate, even implicitly, division and historical reaction WITHIN our church structures.  I feel the theology of this issue is tainted...  We need bishops who are humans - that is what the incarnation teaches...

Show me a petition about a human justice issue lying within our Anglican Communion, and I will, as an Anglican priest, sign that petition...

*shouts* "Timbe-e-e-e-e-er!"

The forestry up above the reservoir near where we live is being harvested.  I guess it must be 25 or 30 years since the trees were planted, by the size of the trunks, so this very slow-growing cash crop has taken a generation to be ready to be felled.  I was walking the dog there the other day when I saw one of the logging machines (not quite what's in the photo above) and just stopped and watched.  The machine has an amazing head on its arm, which cuts the tree where it stands.  The jaws hold the trunk while it's stripped of bark and branches and cut into 10-ish foot long sections.  All in a few seconds, leaving a post-apocalyptic wasteland on the hillside.  The operation and the machine has a menacing, primeval sensation to it.  It was mesmerising and slightly scary  to watch this machine at work, picking 18 inch diameter trees as if they were blades of grass and processing them into cut logs in a few well-designed hydraulic strokes. It would have taken individual men, even with chainsaws, days to do what this machine can do in a just a few hours, driven by a man using his fingertips to drive the hydraulic devices.  

Reflecting on this, as I tore myself away to finish Molly's walk, humanity is unique in the way that we, with technology, control our environment.  This first hit me many years ago when I was becoming a ship designer, and I learned that the design of a vessel is dominated by the waves that hit it.  The waves, millions of them, will destroy the ship, eventually, as the steel cracks like an enormous paperclip.  The trick is to correctly design the life of the steel and scrap the ship before this happens - humanity wins by designing the technology correctly.  The same feels true of the logging machine: the trees grow and are harvested impressively by the somewhat menacing machine - humanity wins!  Trees and other plants will grow up in the harvested wasteland, but humans, by controlling the environment, have taken over this environment.

I guess there's a post about ABUSE of the environment here, but today I'm more interested in human creativity and determination.  No other species controls the environment to the extent that humanity does.  As a person of faith, looking at the divinity in this, humanity has been given this creativity and ability to adapt and control and go beyond natural limitations. We live in hostile parts of the world, and even in space. Is this the human echo of the divine creativity that Genesis attempts to describe?  Created in God's own image: is God the ultimate environmental engineer, devising schemes and systems that allow life to flourish and grow? Devising the life itself (and the Higgs-Boson particle that lets it all exist...)?  A post on intelligent design doesn't really interest me: proof of God is not something I seek.

But a sense of awe at a God who has equipped humanity with creativity, drive and the ability to harness, control and exist in the universe.  That sounds like something worth exploring...