I was tempted to post this early last week after our presbytery meeting but it’s probably just as well I waited and calmed down a little.
Discussing reshaping the presbytery and dealing with the ‘1000 ministries’ issue was always going to be an emotive subject anyway, but that didn’t stop it being a frustrating discussion. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The discussion was generally impassioned, but gracious. At least once it it was beyond the attempts to delay it all yet again.
And that’s really my bugbear. There is still a small, but vocal, group who seem to think that it will all go away if we keep ignoring it. Actually, what is sometimes said is not for public airing here.
But one person stood up and reminded everyone that there was a need for a ‘reality check’ and if they couldn’t see that, then they really had to take a think to themselves. It’s interesting, having been in industry for so long, that such issues and such ‘reality checks’ are not any surprise and there is the understanding, over many years, that such situations need to be managed and not simply given a knee-jerk reaction. But it’s easy to say that from the benefit of a bit of distance. I was also struck by a comment that ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’ in reference to some of the hard decisions needing to be faced, and yet I had several bosses who, when redundancies were announced, always felt it was their place to put themselves in the firing line. They did it out of a sense of loyalty to those who who worked for them – both as an indication of solidarity and as a way of ‘sacrificing’ themselves in order to possible allow one of the ‘workers’ to retain their job. Sometimes their offer was accepted, often it was declined. And, of course, there were others who would never dream of doing such a thing and looked for ways to ensure their own survival.
Within the church, that whole situation is compounded. The minister is probably involved in, or at least aware of, a greater part of a parishioner’s life than a work boss might be. And so there is a greater sense of care and concern at the thought of a congregation being left without someone in the position of ‘shepherd’. And there is the whole issue of a congregation’s attachment to the building. However much we may say that the church is the people, the deep-rooted reality is that that ‘people’ are deeply attached to the building they worship in. It has a history and a sentimental attachment we cannot easily dismiss.
So what then is to be done? I think the reality check is definitely needed and probably long overdue. But it has to happen at the very grass roots levels. That, of course, is what the presbytery plan is aiming to encourage – dialogue about how to tackle the current issues. And that means both within congregations and between congregations. The problem is that the ‘between congregations’ part is seen as the most threatening and so it will inevitably loom larger in people’s minds. But I hope, and pray, that there is sufficient time and application given to the former. If a congregation is much more confident and aware of what its own (realistic) purpose and calling is, then it can engage far more effectively with others. And that might mean a long hard look at what it does and is able to do and ought to be doing. That, quite frankly, is a far more difficult and challenging task. It requires an honest look at every part of the congregation, asking hard questions of itself. It also needs to be looking outwards, asking how it is (or isn’t) engaging with the community it serves. In many ways, that’s where the reality check really needs to happen.
I can post this with the relative luxury of distance and no strong ties to a congregation. But it’s a situation I may well end up having to pick up the pieces of in due course. A daunting, but not unexciting, prospect.