Friday, 29 August 2014

Maintenance of true religion

Many years back, in a lecture on what it was to be 'Church', those of us who were assembled were told how we were training to, "Become a modern day shaman for those in the community in which we were to serve."

The lecturer told us how we were to discharge our duties by baptising all, and any, babies brought to us, bury their dead, marriage their love struck and be, "Guardians of the faith of the community."

What we weren't told was that it was also, by our believing, we would ensure that others could comfortably disbelieve. It is an 'odd but true' situation that when the pastor/priest/leader comes to a place of disbelief or uncertainty the whole structure and stability of the community becomes oddly unstable. It is as if by introducing an element of disbelief that the disbelief felt by others is made less real - and that's a real odd un, innit?

That we might suspect something does not exist or function as we thought is something that we all, at times, have in our own realities. But tell us that we might be right and rather than celebrate and engage in this unbelief the result is rather a confusion with parallels in the unresolved grief such as we saw with Princess Diana. It's great for us to have doubts but when those who are supposed to not have doubts on our behalf do so, then we don't have the wherewithal to withstand it! Worse still, we have to believe what is being unbelieved to compensate for the unbelief of the professional believer.

To compound the situation the belief of others brings the freedom to disbelieve or doubt and as long at they (the priest/pastor/leader) keep up the role then we are free to harbour disbelief. When meaningless is delivered to our door we have to 'man up' and make sense of the emptiness that is a reality for some who profess a Christian faith.

This poses a real challenge for us in ministry because merely 'doing our job' and faithfully believing in a community means that we are there for the delivery and maintenance of folk religion - baptise my baby so it will be lucky (a real quote) - and by maintaining a place of faith endorse a people of no faith! This means, if we are to make faith real, that we must be taking the faith out and be engaging with the people around us.

I engage with many people who speak fondly of the central church building in our town, referring to it as 'their church' and recalling weddings and other occasional offices that confirm this as a reality. If we were to say it was going to close there would be uproar and yet try to get the people to come in to a service and you'd think they'd been asked to run naked through the town. Oddly, some would be more keen to do that than attend a service! All of which means that we need people to be educated as to what Church is all about.

We need to meet with and engage with people to help them see the difference, and the similarity, found in people when they take upon themselves the label 'Christian'.

We need to have a church populated by people who understand their faith and have the ability to share it - which means sound teaching and intelligent leadership - inside the building, outside in the parish and when (and wherever) they are asked to give an answer for the hope that they have in Jesus.

We need those in leadership to be continually engaged in developing their own faith and to dialogue and grow in it so that their personal Christian walk is vibrant and lively; the steadfast and engaged faith, coupled with a desire (and ability) to share is the key to growth and a mature (and lively) congregation.

Or we can remain faithful and within our own walls waiting for 'them to come in' and maintain the folk religion of the masses around us.

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