Thursday 28 February 2019

Location of discipleship

Every fifteen years or so, the Church of England publishes roughly the same report on lay discipleship.  I was newly ordained in 1985 when it was All are called, on the General Synod in 1999 when it was Called to new life, and newly here in 2017 when it was Setting God’s People Free.

It is always a call (as I blogged when Setting God’s People Free was published) to value normal people’s everyday life as the primary place for their discipleship and to focus on equipping them for this rather than to identify and value chiefly their contribution to the life of the church.

It is always subverted (as I blogged two years earlier about All are called) by what I think of as the gravitational pull of the financial and organisational needs of the institutional church and its understandable focus on recruitment and conversion; I was remembering the General Synod meeting which following the one at which All are called was received and commended and the way nobody seemed to see anything odd in then receiving and commending a report on raising money for the ministry and mission of the church actually called First to the Lord.

So, ahead of Lent about to begin, almost exactly fifty members of our three congregations, perhaps a third of the adults who we might expect to see at worship on anything like a regular basis, have provided me with a note about where they spend their time in the community, at leisure, at work or volunteering.

I’ve brought the answers together in a leaflet which asks us all to pray through Lent for each other’s working out of Christian discipleship in those places, with the Bible Study opportunities to which a few will come each Lent this year simply promising to pick up something relevant each week. 

Family life is a particularly prominent theme, with the care of grandchildren mentioned even more often than the care of particularly vulnerable parents, spouses or children.  Being a neighbour – whether fostering social relationships or giving time to particular needs – is the next most common category.  After that are issues in workplaces which range from diversity and inclusion to nurturing future skills and managing debt for businesses.

In less prominent categories, there is much creativity. In the least prominent categories, there are levels of political activism.  Charitable involvement, exercise, reading, being trustees of organisations elsewhere, helping run village organisations, and volunteering with the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway each have quite a significant number of individual mentions.   

Then, having finally got the leaflet ready for printing, I went off to Bradford Cathedral on Tuesday, responding to the occasional three-line whip for a Bishop’s Study Day, this one designed to help us think through our own attitudes to money and how we lead our churches in this area. 

The quotation from Setting God’s People Free I’ve used most is How are Christians ... equipped to integrate their... practices of faith with the demands of... finances... and consumerism?  I had preached the previous Sunday in a church celebrating being newly designated a ‘Fair Trade Church’ and explored what lay behind the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call a while ago to put Wonga out of business and the painful lessons we learnt about the ambiguities of ethical living when central church investments in Wonga were then quickly uncovered.  The person preparing to come as Curate here this summer is at present working on projects with Christians Against Poverty around debt support and life skills training.

I knew it wasn’t going quite the way I might have hoped when the diagram we were provided with on areas of ‘intentional discipleship’ (said to be a summary of a recent Anglican Consultative Council report on ‘every aspect of daily life’) had nine boxes, eight of which were about personal faith and church life (Baptism, Bible reading, catechesis, Eucharist, fellowship, giving, prayer, worship) and just one about looking outwards (service of the community).

I should simply have known that thinking through attitudes to money and how we lead our churches in this area was going to focus down on the ‘giving to the church’ box – at one point submission to God was equated to giving to the church without just being concerned with the church’s presenting needs, and I’m not sure austerity, consumerism, ethical investment or fair trade were alluded to at any point in the day.

We will have to see how Lent goes – and whether the focus on our parish on all the places in which discipleship is lived out helps us resist the gravitational pull just a little bit.

The pictures were taken on a Half Term trip to Dublin.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Modern art and drama

We went last week to Bradford to see a gritty modern production of a play about the build up to a teenage suicide.

It began in the context of gang warfare and quickly portrayed the first of several knife crimes.  The girl’s infatuation with and seduction by an older man followed, leading to the portrayal of underage sex.  She actually appeared to come from quite a privileged background, albeit one in which most of the responsibility for child rearing had been left to a nanny who had personality issues of her own.  Her boyfriend was quickly sentenced for a violent offence so was removed from the picture just as her father began to pressurise her into a forced marriage.  The lifestyle guru who had encouraged her to lose her virginity to her boyfriend then pushed drugs on her, which she took saying how unsure she is of what they really contained.  It was her befuddled emergence from this drug fuelled stupor, and the images of suicide she saw as she emerged, that led her to takes her own life in a copycat manner using one of the ubiquitous knives close by.  There were some touching scenes and some beautiful dialogue - but the move from being surrounded by rival gangs to her death was inexorable.

The play was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of Romeo and Juliet.

The top picture is a version of St James’ East Window with Jesus centrally preaching the Sermon on the Mount to a crowd.  It was produced during the first attempt at an All Age Worship Sunday there two Sundays ago.

The bottom picture is a Fairtrain at St Michael’s, a version of one which appears on the village mural in the Bronte Parsonage Car Park.  It was produced there at All Age Worship last Sunday when we celebrated becoming a Fair Trade Church and anticipates the ‘special’ which will run on the Keighley & Worth Valley railway in Fair Trade Fortnight.

Friday 15 February 2019

Together burdened

We are not skilled at interdependence.

We seem to be comfortable with both independence (‘I can do what I like’) contrasted with dependence (‘I have to do what I am told’) but uncomfortable finding a way in between (‘we do this because it works best for all of us’).

Because some people seem willing to park wherever they want however much inconvenience or danger this might cause others (a form of total independence), we find other people have developed rules for everything from disabled parking spaces to double yellow lines to keep them in line (a form of total dependence) knowing we cannot rely on individuals making a balanced judgement for the well being of all (a form of interdependence).

I thought of all this in part when reading about the damage done in Joshua Tree National Park in Californian which was left open but unsupervised during the recent American Government shutdown.  Human beings given total freedom destroyed and polluted, ignored the regulations which would have kept them in check, and simply failed to be adept at balancing their own will with wider good.

We seem to see the attractions of degrees of political independence (reclaiming our sovereignty, making our particular nation great).  We might see the attractions of degrees of political dependence (an external jurisdiction on matters of dispute, operation within established agreements).  But we are discouraged from even contemplating what political interdependent would look like (despite people crying out for this perspective all the time in everything from fair trade to climate justice).

There is a poetic  sense (rather than a literal translation) in which the New Testament Greek word sometimes rendered ‘better’ and sometimes ‘more profitable’ is sum-phero which is almost with-carry or together-burdened.  It was 1 Corinthians 6.12 as much as the Joshua Tree National Park which prompted my thinking.  We know Paul wrestles with the contrast between freedom from law subjection to the law.  Here he says that we are free - but not all freedom is ‘helpful’ (sum-phero).

We need a critical mass, sufficient shared-fetching, an instinct for inter-dependence.  We seem programmed as human beings to settle instead for a stale opposition between whether I get my way or get told what to do instead.

Meanwhile, I’ve only just noticed the little hands holding the bottoms of every scroll of foliage around the sanctuary in St Michael’s, Haworth.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

In open waggons

We'd noticed many years ago that coaches in Skegness are more likley to come from the East Midland while those in Cleethorpes are smore likley to come from South Yorkshire  - as foreshadowed by the Victorian west-east railway connections.  So, now we notice as well that, while the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway went south of the Humber (taking Sheffield day trippers to Cleethorpes), the Manchester, Leeds and Hull Railway went north of the Humber (taking Leeds day trippers to Hull), and, we guess, coaches on the Yorkshire coast today are more likely to come from West Yorkshire.  One fifth of an average mill worker's wage today would be about £60.