The Bishop of Grantham thinks we are addicts. Our lives are controlled by our need to have some things which once seemed to feed and enhance the life of the church but which now simply consume all our attention, time and money. He floated the image at a Diocesan Synod in the summer, and he works it up in the papers we’ve now had for the annual Rural Deans’ gathering in early November. He names built heritage, hierarchical authority, and the incumbency model of stipendiary priesthood as the things to which we are addicted in particular.
I know what he means. I see that I was blogging exactly a year ago (20 and 22 October 2008) about the models of ministry we should develop and why this ‘good that I would I do not do’. I see that what I’ve blogged since (such as 29 March 2009 and 9 May 2009) shows I’m aware both of a more healthy approach and the difficulties involved in adopting it. The language of addiction does indeed help illustrate or explain what is going on.
But, if we take this language seriously, we are no longer using the language of free choice and will. In normal circumstances it is reasonable to say to a newly convicted drink driver that he or she should make a firm resolution never to make that mistake again. But where the person is an alcoholic it would be irresponsible to do so without providing at the very least access to treatment.
If we (incumbent, Churchwardens and parishioner) were to step away tomorrow from our responsibilities for the three Grade 1 listed buildings in this parish, in due course we’d face prosecution certainly from English Heritage and possibly from a whole range of others perhaps right through to those involved in bat protection. If I was to step away tomorrow from the responsibilities tied up in being an incumbent, in due course I’d face discipline under new clergy competence or discipline procedures for an astonishing range of legal responsibilities I would by then have neglected.
When the language was simply one of embracing a different shape of priestly ministry, the responsibility for change was chiefly mine. If the language is now that of addiction, there is little that I can do if left on my own to make the necessary changes.
The picture is another of the lone elm in the fields towards Laceby.