May 072012

Those who’ve heard me rant about dualism in contemporary theological understanding need not worry. This post is nothing to do with my usual witterings on the subject. Rather, it’s a reflection on how I am finding my ministry developing.

My charge is a linkage and I’m perfectly happy with that. I very much enjoy the variety and differences a linkage brings to ministry. But perhaps in my naive and unprepared way, I wasn’t expecting to deal with two such quite distinct ministries. A union, even one with two centres of worship, has the ‘advantage’ (and I use that word very advisedly) that the office bearers are generally heading in the same direction for the ‘whole’ charge. Perfectly understandable when it’s the same body of people. Linkages, I am discovering, don’t work that way.

I suppose I should have realised. After all, why shouldn’t each congregation be quite distinctive? Each serves a different community. Each has an entirely different make-up of congregation. And each has an entirely different group of people determining the direction they are headed.

Like I said, that’s great in terms of offering a broader scope of activity and challenge to any minister than they might find in a single congregation, or even a multi-site union. But it leaves me feeling ever so slightly schizophrenic. I am the same minister in both places. Indeed they get the same service in both places. And yet I feel like I’m two entirely different people at times.

In part that is due, I think, to the different focus I think each congregation has. That difference is, I’d say, down to the quite different demographic of each congregation; and so it’s natural that each would wish to do things that meet the needs of the particular congregation, and are supportable by the abilities of each.

That then means a mental shifting of gears when making suggestions or offering direction to whichever congregation I’m engaged with at the time. That welcome variety though also means an increase in workload. And maybe that’s the root of the feeling. In trying to optimise my time for both congregations, I’ve started off on the wrong basis. Perhaps if I had acknowledged the different starting points from the beginning then I would be feeling this ministry dualism now.

But, better late than never, and it is, to be fair, early days. Maybe over time the split personality feeling will disappear and it will simply be ‘natural’ to be doing different things with different groups.

One place that will begin to tell, I think, is in the preaching. In the past, as I’ve built relationships, my preaching has become more ‘pastorally sensitive’. (Although, in the past that’s also often been because of the slow come-down from academic mode into placement mode.) That, I think, is beginning to happen again, so it’ll be interesting to see whether I can sustain the same sermon in each place.

That all said, there is a good lesson to be drawn from the local team ministry (WAAM – West Angus Area Ministry): do together the things that make sense to do together, do separately the things that make sense to do separately.

Over time, as I get to know both congregations then it will, I believe, start to become a ‘whole’. Not in the sense of everyone doing the same thing, but in the sense that it all fits together. I’m reminded of a phrase oft-used in a slightly different context: unity doesn’t mean uniformity; diversity doesn’t mean division.