Thursday, 7 November 2013

Church as a place: of Safety

It seems to me that one of the most important things that being Church brings is safety and this comes about in a number of forms:

Safety to be honest about our problems because we know:

  • We will be listened to
  • We will be given time
  • We will be helped to further identify and resolve those problems
  • We will find respect, and
  • We will not be condemned or ridiculed
Now whilst I'm sure many will read this and say, "Yeah, we all know that already,' I am certain that a good many others will find at least one of the points above has been missing from their experience of church somewhere and at sometime: And of course we all have, because Church (and church in the local sense) is made up of flawed and imperfect individuals.

Of late I have encountered a number of people, near and far, who have engaged me in conversation and during it has voiced their sadness at the way they have been treated by others in the club we know as Church. I wish I could say that it was limited to leaders or people with some degree of authority but in fact it seems to me that perhaps we are all, across the board, becoming just a little less tolerant and a lot more impatient.

I made this comment to a church leader (they weren't CofE so for once I can breath a limited sigh of relief) and their response was, 'Well, they're just so demanding. They want your time and want you to listen to them and then want you to make their problems go away and I don't have the time for all that!' Sadly they weren't that impressed by my response to their response, because I merely pointed out that if they weren't there do do that then what did they think their role was?

What followed was a litany of 'I have to ...' and you know what, they didn't have to at all, the problem came from the fact that they were not only a blinking control freak but they also functioned as the lord of all they surveyed - running their little club as a fiefdom when some were granted rights and privileges whilst others were merely pew-fodder and their to be commanded and controlled. But I must be getting better for I merely smiled and left them to all that work they have to do - but sadly, one of their members I met have decided that they should do that too and have joined another (still not CofE) club elsewhere.

Now I know that we all have people around us who want time and a listening ear but never respond to advice.

I know that there are always people who have opinions and want things to be done differently - and perhaps if they wanted to 'do' the things done differently in the different way they wanted them to be done rather than merely criticise and make their demands they'd find life was a different reality for them too!

I am also all too aware that there are those who continue to do really silly things (and claim it was satan what made them do it perhaps?) and continue to repeat their mistakes at an alarming rate and sometimes increasing intensity - BUT - we have to make our churches safe and this means getting priorities right:

People are the most important thing we have in church and even if this means that we invest hours in them only to see them leave - it is right that we did it, and right that we do it again for the next person.

I'd rather have  a 'worship band' that sounds like Des O'Connor and a church (for Church = people) that purred like a Rolls Royce than the other way round - for I know which of the two blesses God.

Rather than keep looking for church growth and seeking the lost (and attractive to those in other churches) we need to concentration on shepherding our flock for this is where real Church is to be found and it also results in retention. Bringing them in is relatively simple - it's the keeping them that takes the work and if you aren't prepared to do that work - then you need to be prepared to lose them: And send them with a blessing!

A friend recently said of my blog that it was a place where I often appeared 'to have a cob on' and they wondered how people read what I wrote without 'chucking a brick through my window' (verbally rather than physically). Now I have to admit that I'm rarely angry when I write this stuff - it's merely a five/ten minute dialogue internally - the physical evidence of an inner struggle, consideration or 'trying to make sense of' moment.

I don't write to lecture - but as a 'memo to self' which I invite others to read and consider and offer correction, advice, pity or prayer - but if it touches a nerve, inflames a passion or gets you going too, them I am doubly-blessed.

Church is a great place - it's only some of the people in it that make it a pain,
Church is a bigger pain when the people who make it so are those who lead.

So if you're a leader - how are you doing?

Ask your members ;-)

phew - nine minutes - keyboard's smoking and I'm off to early communion, funerals, school assemblies and a couple of meetings and whatever else the day brings - please pray for those who lead, we're not always sitting indoors with our feet up :-)


Lorenzo said...

What about a gay kid who'd walk into your church, Vic, considering that you consider yourself to "have the duty to form relationships with him and lead him away from their sin?" Would that feel like a safe place for him? Would you truly listen? Or what about a couple of my older parishioners who have known the delights of corrective therapy?

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Since you don't have a scooby about how, who or what where I am I'll merely assume your comment is trying to be provocative, clever or face value. So - taking it as the latter I'd have to say that church has to be a safe place for everyone regardless - that's my policy anyway.

Having worked with homosexuals, trans and bi's (and others) I have always help provide places of acceptance and dialogue. Wearing my counselling hat I would have been comfortable at working with (and uncomfortable at their experiences I'm sure) of those who have engaged with corrective therapy - it's as abhorrent as those who presume to make the assumptions I fear you probably are)

Still fascists exist both sides of the line don't they?

Thanks for the comments

Trust you're happy but wonder if you might be disappointed (as is my experience these days)


Lorenzo said...

I did not mean to be harsh, but you did write, a couple of years ago that you felt yourself, quote, 'to have a duty to form relationships with them and lead them away from their sin.' That, to me, is neither neutral, nor accepting and sure does not feel safe. It's not an assumption, it's what you wrote. And thanks, we're all fascists these days

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Well then - I'll let you off (but I do tire of those 'orthodox' and 'liberal' who continually want to throw bricks at me because I'm not what they are :-))

I haven't changed my opinion that we all engage with people in many settings and scenarios and when we do, we need to help them come to a place where what they do is in concord with whatever it is that they need to be doing.

I don't think we develop relationships to gain access so that we can issue correctives and opinions but when we are in a relationship where respect and love enables us to dialogue, offer opinions and even suggest correctives then we do.

The interesting thing is that the only person who has associated 'sin' with 'gay' is you (which is a reason to smile methinks).

If you read me a bit you'll find that I have become a bit of a pariah with some because I cannot advocate using the Eucharist as a weapon and then treated equally in the same manner by those who annoyed that I cannot say I approve of lifestyle choices (and they deny that there is ever a choice involved which only makes my position even more untenable to them).

I try to minister God's love and grace and live as best I can whilst fulfilling he call I have before me - not sure I need any more difficulty than that most days.

Thanks for coming back - V

Lorenzo said...

I am gay. Frankly, I have no idea what you are trying to argue. God bless anyway.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Perhaps that's because I'm not trying to 'argue' anything ;-)

Seems that much of the problem that troubles and weakens Church is the fact that everyone feels they have to argue - perhaps we need to look for the things that unite rather than fight to make them approve and more besides.

If we expend all our energies on conflict Church will never be a safe place. Dialogue is not coercion, ridicule or ad hominem - it's the affording of respect (both ways) and the exercise of tolerance (so choice, even when it's not ours doesn't deserve that which so many respond with).

And 'Yes' I realised you were :-). God bless you too.