I was privileged to be “out of diocese” on Saturday at the Ordination to the Priesthood of a collegue of my husbands’ at Guildford Cathedral. The sermon was given by the Revd Canon David Eaton, formerly Vicar of Leatherhead and Mickleham and was of note (literally, scribbled on the service sheet) for two reasons:
The first was references to L’Arche communities which are specifically inclusive of those with learning difficulties. This has direct relevance to the things I’ve been faced with during the current Reader Training module, and may have some use when I start my write-up (sorry, ‘theological reflection’) next week. Revd Eaton also quoted (I think) Jung, in reference to the Biblical imperative to “welcome the stranger”, who wrote something along the lines of ‘welcome someone who is strange, not just others, but welcome the strange inside you’ (or words to that effect – remember I was taking sporadic notes!) I liked this, and could do with trying to find it.
Revd Eaton was talking I think, about inclusivity of our churches, though from what he said later in the widest possible sense, not just of those with learning difficulties. Because… he also talked about the “how many” parrot that seems to sit on the shoulders of many parish priests these day. His point I think was that clergy are getting too hung up on the numbers game, of worrying about how many people are attending their church. Specifically he said, “it is time to tell the parrot to get stuffed!”
I would love to have the full text of the sermon.
Then on reading Bishop Alan’s blog “Why ordination? Why today?” I detected that this wasn’t the only ordination in which this theme was taken. He quotes Eugene Peterson:
The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners…The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. (Please read the whole post, link above.)
This has real resonances of contrast for me with stuff that is being discussed here in St. Peter’s… and also in the pressures exerted by diocese, to which church leaders are all too alert. Yet numbers (like giving per head of electoral roll) do have something to tells us, or danger signals that need to be read for the future of the church, and surely we are (all – not just priests) called to increase the numbers of those who believe in and worship our living God?
Increasingly I feel and see the spiritual tugs between the evangelical outlook (note small ‘e’) demanding hearts won for God, and the more catholic (also note small ‘c’) pastoral needs of our ‘communities of sinners’. And yes, I know that is probably a sweeping generalisation.
There is a middle way of doing both, and I am sure it is that which Jesus’ would wish us to take, but I fear that the CofE at least, is fast losing sight of it, and I’d love to see it presented. For those of us starting out in authorised ministry (lay in my case, but does it matter) I believe life is being made very difficult, and I’m sure it is achieving neither of those goals!