Sunday, 11 December 2016

Thoughts on MInistry Sunday

Another early start this morning, as I was asked to cover the 8.00am Eucharist at St Catherine's, another traditional Book of Common Prayer start to the day, only this time the 1984 Church in Wales revision, another liturgy I know off by heart. Clare came too, so we there walked together in the pre-dawn twilight. By the time I reached the altar for the Offertory, the sun had risen enough to shine in through the churchyard trees, and light up the brickwork in the north west corner of the church. Lovely. There were seven of us for the service. I read Archbishop Barry's Ministry Sunday letter, his last before he retires in February, commending the new Ministry Area strategy for the Church in Wales and all this will mean for the vocations of both lay and ordained people as it develops. 

With fewer than ever clergy doing more of the same, in a world where more and more technical management skills and experience are required on top of pastoral and spiritual gifts, it's difficult to see at this stage exactly how responsibility for the whole life and mission of the church is going to be shared between laity and clergy in ways that are not already happening. Maybe at this stage it's a matter of muddling through, adjusting, making better efforts to communicate better and build effective personal relationships, not just trusting that every stakeholder lay person or cleric is happy to be organised and work in a way that's different from that is habitual to them. 

In my experience a community will rally around and grow through tackling a cause or project which everyone recognises as a key issue around which to rally and muster resources. Adapting buildings to cater for changing need is one thing, restoring beloved places of worship in crisis is another, reaching out to identifiable needy groups of people is another, social and natural environmental concern is yet another. What's more difficult, when it comes to working together in genuine missionary enterprise, isn't practical responses to material need, but the spiritual dimensions of life.

Without a vision the people perish (Prov 29:18), immediately comes to mind. Every changing scene of life, every new experience, Christians are challenged yet again to return to Scripture and Tradition, and seek new understanding about how the life of faith engages afresh with reality, not just as individuals but as a community sharing thoughts and insights about the meaning of life and our relationship with God as a fresh stimulus to creative imagination.

The appeal of Christian faith to heart, mind and will has been profoundly weakened by ideologies emerging from secular materialistic thought, so that now Christian faith is dismissed as unworthy of consideration by perhaps a majority of people, who, if they have any religious or spiritual inclinations at all, prefer the DIY approach and make it up as they go along, their individualism unchallenged. Populism, be it religious, social or political may be a kind of reaction against that, but a disciplined challenge to the truth and validity of either from Christian thinking has very limited impact. Believers have a great deal to learn from the failure of the church to commend its faith to a greater audience, and a need to re-engage differently in persuasive argument for the adoption of Christian life and faith.  

Those who take the lead in matters of ministry teach and remind the church of its calling and purpose, but they are also learners, who need enable others to think for themselves, imagine and share their ideas and insights. That means taking time to listen, for them, for the whole community. Whatever practical preparation we make for anything we do is only as good as the quality of preparation we put into it, together. And that's so hard when we're so busy with so much to be done. In retirement I now look back and think about things I could have spent more time on and done better. Now I have spare time, wondering what to do with it is what exercises me most, for now.

Thankfully, after several hours of battery charging, the car started without difficulty. Why it discharged when it's not that old, is another issue to keep an eye on. Anyway, I got to St German's nice and early and enjoyed chatting with people arriving for the service. Churchwarden Peter read out Archbishop Barry's Ministry letter, and I preached about it. To my mind, St German's is a church community that is ready to face a changing future in a ministry area, as they have learned to work hard together to sustain its community facing activities, as well as buildings and worship for several years, this has continued throughout its extended period of life without a regular parish priest. I hope a new priest will be able to recognise this and build upon it, whenever one is appointed, and hopefully sooner, if a new ministry area in the 'southern arc' of Cardiff's parishes is to be realised.

After lunch, Clare went off to her final concert rehearsal, and I followed her to the Fountain Steiner School in Llandaff North a couple of hours later for the later afternoon performance. The school hall was full of families, and the choir was drawn from teachers, parents nd friends of the school. They'd spent the term rehearsing a selection of pieces from Benjamin Britten's 'Ceremony of Carols', quite a tough challenging work to develop from scratch in over three months, but I know how much Clare has enjoyed it, and is now enjoying singing lessons, taken to improve her vocal technique. I wouldn't mind joining the choir, except that it means on Tuesdays, clashing with Chi Gung, and I'm looking forward to re-starting that in the New Year.

I took my Sony HX50 with me, perched on a high window sill, pressed the video record button and left it to its own devices during the Britten, reckoning this might produce a helpful piece of feedback for the conductor to consider later. I was delighted with the result, as the sound is really quite good as well as the video footage. There was a man sitting in front of me who also had a camera and took a few stills. It turned out that inside his smart leather camera case was an identical HX50!

After supper we relaxed together, watching the movie 'Paddington', for the first time, laughing aloud at its mild satirization of British bourgeois life, while at the same time it packs a hard hitting message about the inclusiveness, diversity and welcoming foreign migrants deemed by the author and producer of the film to be characteristic of the British way of life. Nothing could be more timely. It could do with being shown on one channel or another every night at the moment, just to spite the tabloid media. 

This was followed by the penultimate episode of 'Gwyll', which rather shifted gear half way through, going from being slowly paced with a hint of menace, to chain of incidents in which our heroes start to join the dots and make an intelligible picture of the toxic affair of the children's home which has been the cause of so many tragic lives lost, throughout all three sets of episodes of this memorable Celtic noir movie series. I'm left wondering if the producers planned them all in advance, given the difficulties in funding attached to projects of this nature, or whether it evolved following the big international success of the first series. It's been a great credit to the Welsh language creative industry, and S4C. One can only hope we'll see new ventures in future.

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