Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back to College

It was Deacon's Day at the Yorkshire Ministry Course and the graduates were back. The invitation included me which was kind what with me not being a Deacon.

Driving to Mirfield on a sunny Saturday morning with a real sense of anticipation was a nostalgic journey in many ways and, true to form, I arrived unfeasibly early, only beating Daphne by a couple of minutes. We decided we would have a pre coffee-and-welcome coffee and headed for the refectory. This involved us passing the classroom where the remnants of our year group were being taught and I could see them out of the corner of my eye popping up like meercats to see who was arriving.

Stuart and Dr. Bob weren't far behind and we began our own reunion. The refectory soon filled up as the clan began to gather and there was a real buzz of excitement and conversation, added to as the current students broke for coffee and joined us. It was as if we'd never been away. The British Olympic hugging team picked off where we had left off nearly a year before. "We saw you all pass by. It's great." I lost track of the people who asked "Have you been done yet?"

Several cups of coffee, a few biscuits and some fresh fruit later we were ushered into the classroom. Part of the day was designed for us to share our post-ordination experiences with the current finalists and listening to the stories of the others was a fascinating glimpse into the life of the C of E curate - almost overwhelmingly positive.

We were given an excellent presentation by the Wakefield Diocese on collaborative worship: T. E. A. M. Together Everyone Achieves More. There is no "I" in team. But there is a "ME" that has lost his way. My heart sank and I groaned inwardly. Is it going to be like this all day? No, fortunately, it wasn't.

We talked about the strong tendency of the churches to deploy non stipendiary ministers as a pragmatic response to financial constraints. Very few of my contemporaries are in full time paid ministry. The issue here, particularly if we consider the traditional pattern of the three part day, (as in work two parts and keep the third for family, home, hobbies and for the sake of your mental health) is that there is an obvious problem: church for the N.S.M. becomes an extra for those who have already worked a two part day and the church can be emotionally and physically draining. This means that we need to look increasingly to Lay Leadership: other people's personal and professional skills are not only valuable but increasingly necessary to the survival of the church.

The danger here is that if we aren't careful we can look for others who are too much like us. There is a "theology of difference" which is an inherent part of the created order but in general - and it is a generalisation - we aren't good at diversity. It is the P.L.U. effect - People Like Us. Building difference into our structures is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Without wishing to be too self-congratulatory I feel I am good at difference: I love diversity - race, sexuality, gender, age and so on. Affirming different gifts and talents as well as life experience and world-view is exciting.

We also considered the role of ego and were asked to consider what motivates us. The Vicar Of Dibley extract above was both amusing and, for some participants, a little too close for comfort. How many church councils have their David Haughton? Ego runs amok. Power and money seem to be two defining factors and my mind wandered briefly to consider the uppity GAFCON bishops and their agendas.

How much of the following is true for you?

The Church Council is made up of:

* The Treasurer, who's job is to say no.
* The Wardens who have keys to all sorts of places no one else knows about but they won't tell.
* The champion of tangential ideas who adds thirty seven minutes to each meeting.
* The young idealist who wants to change the church council, the church and the world. They usually last about five months and then move on to another church.
* The secretary who writes the minutes which would take anyone else hours but who has a unique and intractable filing system.
* The clock watcher who ensures the meeting stays to time, as in an hour before last orders. He usually fails.
* The cynic who finds something to disagree with about every issue and who asks hard questions at the AGM.

Two gems from the day: Don't assume anything in terms of communication - it makes an ass of you and me. Get it? Hahahaha.

Also in relation to e-mails. Always read e-mails with as much generosity of spirit as you can muster. Don't look for a reason to take umbrage. Good advice.