Aug 302009

There is a time for everything…
… a time to weep and a time to laugh.

It would seem that the task of training for ministry is a serious one – and none would deny it. But it seems that some candidates just don’t take their spiritual formation seriously enough. After all, every task must be an occasion for sombre reflection, for appraising weighty matters and for pondering the very essence of ministry itself. So, when some tasks become the time for laughter then that is surely entirely inappropriate is it not? Surely when there is laughter the task is not being taken seriously; it trivialises the issues; it is disrespectful.

Yesterday evening’s workshop session ended up being a bit ‘manic’. The subject – our prejudices – was serious enough. But the task – populate a church plant of 12 people from a list of 20 volunteers – ended up as a source of considerable amusement. The justifications for selecting the old lady with the walking stick over the former beauty queen or the 19-year-old shop assistant over the trade union shop steward became increasingly outrageous. And why not select the pregnant school teacher on the grounds that you’ll get a flying start on a Sunday school class?

The very contrived list was intended to throw a light on our potential prejudices as we selected one over another. The question is, did creating humorous scenarios from an already very contrived scenario diminish the teaching points intended to be made? Some would say yes and the task should have been treated with due solemnity for what is a potentially serious issue – prejudice. Yet, through the increasingly exaggerated caricatures, it was clear that we read so much into a very minimalist description. And I would hope that a group of mature and reflective people would be able to see the point in that and to recognise that, if anything, our ‘prejudices’ are even more exposed when they are caricatured. And I would further hope that rather than trivialising the issue, the humour is a way to open up the seriousness of the issue.

The caricatures will stick in the mind far more effectively than dry, serious analysis. They will act, I hope, as reminders of how rapidly we put together a fabricated image of someone from the smallest piece of information and how outrageous these fabrications can become. That’s not to say that humour is always the appropriate vehicle for learning. But nor is it to say that those who approach a task ‘seriously’ have a right to suggest that the humourists are trivialising a task. Questions may be asked, but openness to the possibility that humour also works must be allowed.

This, I confess, is a thinly-veiled rant about the reaction to a particular session. But I do object to the suggestion that I don’t take my faith and my ministry development seriously enough. In every caricature I questioned my reaction and reflected on whether any innate prejudice was driving my keep/leave decision. I believe that I can do that with maturity and balance, regardless of whether I laugh or remain ‘serious’. If I must remain po-faced in my ministry development then I fear that it will be a time to weep.