Sunday, 2 January 2011

Show me the manna

I'm still feeling very tired, more tired than I think I ought to be.

I had a conversation with a few different people this afternoon about churchy stuff -- feasts getting moved to Sunday so people will attend, multiple service times on weekdays, how to get people involved, why there is no secretarial support in a huge number of parishes, what to do about it all. It was a good conversation in lots of ways, but mostly I just feel tired.

My own experiences of church as a child and teenager were not exactly positive and it was the sense of unconditional acceptance, care and welcome that I found in some people (in person and online) and in some very special C of E parishes that really got me back to church. And as a result of this I tend to want to err on the side of making everyone welcome.

I'd like people to meet for the Office, or at least Morning Prayer, at Nearest Church -- partly because it would be easier for me to keep up that discipline if I were with others, but partly because of my experiences of being in different bits of London and not able to find any church where I knew this was happening, not being able to find people to pray with. My prayers alone aren't worth any less but there is something forlorn about trying the nearest two or three churches and finding that no, there is no official time for prayer on a weekday. I'm glad that where I live now there is Long Walk church to attend; I'm thinking about starting to cycle there four mornings a week, rather than just Fridays, because it would really be that much easier.

I'd like to keep the church building open if we possibly can. In London this means we need people to sit there; it isn't just the risk of things getting stolen that makes an unattended church problematic but of fairly wanton vandalism.

I'd like to see better service booklets, better pew slips, some way of combining all the paperwork so that juggling pew slip, service booklet and hymnal isn't so difficult. Yes, it would make my life as an organist easier (though I'd still need a hymnal separate from the other stuff), but the reason I feel strongly about it is that so many different printed bits of paper are a bit of a nightmare for dyslexics.

I'd like to see services at some other time, not just Sunday morning, for those who are working or have young families or whatever and just find Sunday mornings very hard.

We're a small parish with a small congregation. We might, if we're lucky, manage the "keep the church open" thing one afternoon per week -- in the summer. But the pew slips, the Office, the multiple services... none of this is going to happen, because we don't have the resources to justify it. We don't even have the good sense to work together with neighbouring parishes on most of it.

The question is, how far must one go to make people feel comfortable and welcome? It starts to get difficult, because not all welcoming measures actually work. Announcing all hymn numbers is something I very much favour, but we don't do that at Nearest Church because there is a concern people would find it patronising or that it interrupts the flow of the liturgy. Surely the flow of the liturgy should be secondary to making it more possible for everyone to participate, but not everyone sees things that way. And even if we had the budget to do the extra photocopying that would let people use one booklet instead of a bit of paper, a booklet and a hymnal, who would do the formatting each week when we already don't have any secretarial support?

I could do that, I think to myself. Except that I know I hate office work and admin of any kind, I barely stay on top of my own; I have little enough time as it is and any additional bits and pieces will eat into my earning ability; I am already doing a lot there. And Lord, I'm so tired...

And I also know that unconditional welcome is not enough. There is only one thing the church can do that will bother me more than being bossy and high-handed, and that's telling me that whatever I want will be fine! I need to be challenged. I need to be asked hard questions. I'm unusual in the degree to which I will seek these things out myself, but if church is always comfortable then we are doing it wrong. There should be discomfort, and if that means those who plan and lead worship have to put up with a bit of whingeing from those who are a little less comfortable with discomfort but need it all the same, then so be it. But I'm so tired...

Part of that discomfort for me might be in accepting that I can't just fix things by working harder. Part of it for someone else might be realising that if they don't get involved, the parish can't do the work we are called to do as part of the church. The difficulty is in discerning which is which.

My instinct always is to work harder, you see. What I can't tell is this: when I hold back, when I am cautious in getting involved, is that sensible conservation of my (already limited) time and energy? I'm so tired... Or is that scarcity thinking, a rejection of the abundance God promises?

I always want it not to be about the numbers. "Wherever two or three are gathered," I remind myself, it will be okay, this will continue, or something will continue, and I go back to bloodyminded counting of blessings, ignoring the grimness of churches that turn people away, people who hurt each other, starvation, disease, war. Two or three people gathered for Mass in a cold church redeem all that, I tell myself. And yet it is surely true that different things are possible with twenty than with two, it is surely true that three hundred could do more than thirty, it is surely true that five thousand were fed. (I'm so tired...) And so I offer up my five loaves and two fishes, and manage to feed maybe ten people, and I wonder what is not working. I'm so tired.

I'm thinking the brief vacation with Sweetie, starting tomorrow, is not coming a day too soon.


Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

You know, there is a school of thought that says that, no matter what the size of the church, 20 people do all the work! I have certainly found this to be true in my experience, which is one reason I prefer a very small church - everybody is involved - than a large one where most people are bums on seats.

UKViewer said...

Song, it seems to me that most churches as Annabel has said have the few, working for the many.

In our Benefice of 5 churches, we have 7 people active in ministry, including the Vicar and Curate. Another 10 are involved as Church Wardens and 3 have three PCCCs as 4 or the churches are twinned together.

We are incredibly busy, but the diocese has chosen to give us a further three churches bringing us to 8, with a house for duty priest and one reader.

The Vicar will continue to be stretched and the few will continue to do most of the ministry tasks, pastoral care and visiting. We luckily can afford secretarial support for 6 hours a week, which equals 3 hours on two separate mornings. It is insufficient, but somehow we manage to make ends meet, pay our quota and provide services in each church either weekly or bi-weekly ranging from BCP HC, CW, Family Services, Morning and Evening Prayer (1 church 4 days a week), Evensong, one church in rotation once per week. We minister to two schools, 4 care homes and 8 villages are our Parish Area.

If we did not have the support of retired priests we would be unable to provide the level of community support and services that we do. Overstretch is obvious.

We have 25 people being confirmed in our Central church in just over a weeks time. So, the church is growing - although we are losing elderly members possibly at the same rate as new members. Funerals are weekly, if not every few days at the moment.

Yet, I remain hopeful and full of joy, despite the difficulties, God has seen fit to call me to serve in the ministry team, to act as treasurer twice over and to continue to see whether future ordained ministry is a possibility. At age 61, I have been blessed with the ability to use those few skills I might possess to serve others.

Yes it can be tiring, yes it can be frustrating, yes I dislike chasing individual treasurers to keep their parish share upto date, knowing how they struggle day to day. We have major repairs needed to one church costing into the 100 or thousands of pounds - fund raising for this while not my responsibility, takes enormous effort, again it is the few who are doing this.

But, at Christmas services we were blessed with attendances in the 150+ in two churches and no less than 70 in the others. Suddenly the call comes into perspective and new possibilities open for God to work through us and others to shine his light into their lives.

Which is why I persist - this I feel called to be and to do. The Vicar says that I am evangelical, I wonder at that as I dislike labels - I prefer to believe that finally I am realising the potential that God has given me for the benefit of others after a lifetime of selfishness and self-centredness.

Life is not easy, but today I was blessed that my spouse came to church with me, we had lunch with a retired priest and friend and she is coming to see more of what I am doing, rather then being a spectator on the sidelines, while I disappear off to do something else for the church.

Life is good, I too am tired, but really fulfilled - what more can I ask from God then that he gives me the gift of life in all of its abundance.

Song in my Heart said...

Mrs Redboots,

I think there's a grain of truth in that, but I do find it tiring.


I don't mind being one of the few, but I am very bad at calibrating when I need to work harder and when I need to rest.

I am glad you find the energy to persist in your work.