Some of my colleagues are sighing, one has 'gone shopping', and others are bemoaning and bewailing Justin Welby's BBC Radio Four appearance this morning. Aside from that 'good Vicars' comment, some are pointing their toes and holding their breath (and they can, believe me!) over other things that he (Justin) did, and didn't, say. So let's consider what some have told me represents the end of the honeymoon and makes Justin fair game:
'I think there sometimes is a disconnect, we sometimes give the impression at the national level that we are obsessed with a small number of issues whereas the reality that people experience in the church is of communities that are messy and untidy because society is messy and untidy, but which get on with the job that they're there for. Of course there are churches that are doing better and churches that are struggling more - depending upon area and leadership and that comes back to something Antony Jenkins has been talking about - but the reality is that where you have a good Vicar, you will find growing churches.'
I have to say that I have to applaud the acknowledgement that we, the Church of England, have indeed become so bound up with a few issues that whilst obviously important to some are truly nothing to do with communicating the Gospel. In fact there are some clergy whom I have met, heard of (and avoided) who are so taken up with their cause of choice that they appear to have totally forgotten that we are called into the diaconal, and subsequently the priest ministry, to ensure (in addition to our baptismal calling):
That the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known,
That we exercise a sacrificial, self-giving, ministry, washing the feet of others in humility,
The leadership of God's people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel,
That the people of God are shepherded and sustained by the ministry of word and sacrament,
That they are also taught, disciplined, discipled, equipped and released (by example and teaching),
To preach the Gospel in and out of season, when it is popular and when it is not.
You know what? I think Justin has hit it on the head with his first part of that which is above. He has noted that some do better than others and you know something else that's interesting? Those who are doing well do, generally speaking have good Vicars at the helm (of course there are always the 'comfortable' churches where numbers remain fairly static because it's one of 'those' areas where people are comfortable enough to 'do' church!). Then again, some churches that are fairing less well would look even worse if it wasn't for the fact that they too have good Vicars (so smile - without you it could be even worse!).
I think Justin's words will sting (I know they do for me) and yet I thing the reality is that sometimes it has to sting to let us know the medicine has been applied.
End of the honeymoon? No WAY!
Merely me getting ready to celebrate out first anniversary and to look forward to a year of challenge and growth.
Thank you Justin - timely and essential words!