18.6.09

Thinking about the nature of ordained ministry

A letter came through the post this morning - Private, confidential from the Ministry Division etc and my stomach literally leapt, which made me laugh...

It tells me the names of the people at my panel. Reading about them and their backgrounds has been very interesting. As I think about the sorts of things that they might be asking me, I am doing a bit of reading to help shape my thoughts. So reason one million, four hundred and thirty four thousand for why I blog, I will record some of the snappy sentences here so that this might be a resource for my mulling a few things over...

Looking at back issues of The Church Times (Gee, I'm sad!), I've also discovered that in Bradford there used to be a counseling program for those who had been turned down by Bap so that they could talk it through and rebuild their confidence. But rather than going all the way to Bradford, in the event that this happens to me, I'm afraid it's you lot who I will turn to - I'll talk you to deathmyself to recovery...

I figure my pastoral advisor will probably be wanting to know what coping mechanisms I employ to cope with stress. I think I might feel a bit embarrassed explaining how my husband and I work our stress out....no it's not what you're thinking! We role-play ... I said it's not what you're thinking!! No, what I mean is, we act out the roles of the people in a difficult exchange that we might have had and we make each other laugh. We change the endings so that we say what we really wanted to say or we end up just saying really surreal things. You should try it. It works.

The other thing we do is make up newspaper headlines.

So for example, the other day, we thought we would make Chinese stir-fry for tea so we bought that 'seaweed stuff' which is really only cabbage with Chinese spice and brown sugar on top, and by accident I left it in the bottom of the trolley and forgot to add it to the conveyor belt. Thankfully my husband noticed just in time so we didn't get caught for shop-lifting.

As you can imagine, we punctuated the rest of our working day together (upstairs in the study, numerous laptops, one big table) with headlines from my husband particularly (I wouldn't be so presumptuous), like "Would-be first Female Bishop caught in Sainsbury's seaweed scandal" or "Christians caught up in seaweed saga", or "Christians catching disciples for Jesus steal seaweed as bait". So we laugh and we laugh a lot and I am hoping that this is how I will be able to explain my coping mechanisms and I am also hoping that this mechanism continues to work.

Anyway, back to the reason for the entry:
Collecting ideas about Church and what it is:


Christian Priest Today': lecture on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Ripon College, Cuddesdon
The view that the Church is essentially a lot of people who have something in common called Christian faith and get together to share it with each other and communicate it to other people 'outside'...looks a harmless enough view at first, but it is a good way from what the New Testament encourages us to think about the Church – which is that the Church is first of all a kind of space cleared by God through Jesus in which people may become what God made them to be (God's sons and daughters)(I love that bit), and that what we have to do about the Church is not first to organise it as a society but to inhabit it as a climate or a landscape.

(+A B of C)

The apostle is the one to whom responsibility is given for connecting this or that context, this or that community, with the fact of Jesus – and so of connecting communities with each other also.

The priest is therefore in the business of – as we could put it – immersing in Christ's action the gifts and prayers and love of human beings. These things, of themselves, are too weak and compromised to make peace, to sustain the loving relation of God with creation; so they are borne along by the one action that truly and eternally makes peace, the self-giving of the Word.

'The Church is declining', say some people, 'because of too much accommodation to the modern world'; 'no', say others, 'the Church is declining because of too little accommodation to the modern world'. The good priest will want to say no to both these bromides and turn to other kinds of reasoning.

There has to be in every priest just a bit of the poet and artist – enough to keep alive a distaste for nonsense, cheapness of words and ideas, stale and predictable reactions.

Along with whatever training to lead and manage that may be given in preparation for priestly ministry, along with instruction in theology and ethics, there must be active encouragement to nourish this seeing and listening, the novel and the newspaper and the soap opera and the casual conversation– even (especially?) when it looks like wasting time from some points of view. Otherwise, what threatens is what Christianity's greatest critics (Nietzsche above all) have homed in upon – a Christian discourse that is essentially about unreal persons with unreal desires and fears.

... it is about helping believers to see Christ in one another.

It is this familiarity with the face of humanity and this fidelity in prayer that equips us for the most demanding aspect of the interpreter's task. We can't uncover the face of Christ in people unless we have the habit of real attention to human faces in all their diversity – but also the habit of familiarity with the face of Christ. How do we recognise him, let alone help others to do so, if we are not spending time with that face, in the study of Scripture and in adoration and silence? Faithful and persistent looking into the face of Jesus is the essential condition for connecting people with each other; without that, all we can offer is human goodwill, human shrinking from the cost of conflict, our own limited skills of sympathy and listening. But if we try to remain familiar with Jesus, we believe that our listening and mediating has a sacramental dimension, mostly imperceptible to us, but real and energising. We are allowing some fuller reality in to the situation, the reality in whose climate we live: the priestly mediation of Christ.

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