Sunday, 22 January 2017

The mystery of change

I was on duty in Catherine's again this chilly morning celebrating the eight o'clock Eucharist with five others, and then after breakfast made my way to St German's via Lidl's in East Tyndal Street, so that I didn't have to call in there later on my way home. Thirty of us celebrated St Agnes Day in style, and it gave me an opportunity to recall the work of the parish mission outreach centres set up right across the southern arc of Cardiff Bay during its period of rapid population growth and industrial expansion in the nineteenth century. 

Contemporary parishes have far fewer resources or wealthy patrons nowadays, to undertake so many ambitious community projects, more than a dozen in new areas of artisan dwellings. Today churches may still take the right kind of initiative, focusing on current areas of need and social vulnerability, but in partnership with local government and big voluntary agencies more often than not. It's a much more difficult task to bring to fruit. It's a great achievement that St German's parish hall can function as an elderly persons' day centre during the week, offering different services to people in the locality and further afield. This represents decades of imaginative hard work.

After the Mass there was a delicious three course festive lunch attended by thirty people in the parish hall, which I stayed for, a real church family affair. I was delighted Father Roy came along and joined us, as it gave us an opportunity to catch up on the news. He's still very much part of the church family here despite being retired nearly five years.

Someone asked me over lunch if I'd been at the Cathedral yesterday for Jo Penberthy's consecration as Bishop for St David's diocese. I had to admit that I knew it was going to happen, but didn't know when, until I saw photos on Facebook yesterday afternoon. All too often these days, momentous events in the life of the church flow past without me noticing. There's not much a retired cleric can contribute, without any voting franchise, power or responsibility, apart from blessing and approving good things when they happen. 

I suppose I might notice if anything seriously retrograde happened in the affairs of the church. There are always going to be minor set-backs. I remain stubbornly convinced that the evolution of the church in faithful response to the changing environment in each succeeding era will continue at its own pace, the pace the Holy Spirit sets. In my lifetime, a paradigm shift took place in relation to the participation of women in ordained ministry. I wonder if we're in the throes of turmoil leading up to another paradigm shift and change of consensus about the nature of the church, ministry and authority? One which can take us in new directions in seeking to realise the reign of God over humankind.  

There'll always be some believers who sincerely believe they have the whole truth and nothing but the truth before God. They'll cling to it and fight for it naturally, and risk becoming prisoners to their own sense of truth. I believe in the possibility of absolute truth, that all may get glimpses of it from time to time. I also believe the totality of truth is veiled from us, utterly mysterious, only as knowable as God permits us to be conscious of it. I believe we're explorers on a journey in which reality and truth keep on being revealed only as much as we're capable of receiving and using to grow in relation to God. 

All this, I believe, because of what God did for us through Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. We question what we know and trust of divine revelation, we question ourselves as the questioners too. It's how we get ourselves beyond illusion to the place of unknowing where the mystery of being and God awaits us.

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