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.