The past three weeks have been exciting here at St M’s. Taking the opportunity afforded us by a Community Remembrance Service in the village hall on the 11th we embarked on a long over-due renovation and redecoration of the Church building. For two solid weeks a team of volunteers rallied and enabled by one couple specifically, scrubbed, plastered, scraped and painted their way around the hulk of out 11th century Church. They climbed scaffold towers and ladders, they lifted floorboards and moved ancient sound systems and after putting in nearly 400-man(person)-hours they got the Church back together in time for last Sunday’s services. AND it looks fantastic.
After all this work and despite a plethora of positive comments, one conversation stood out in particular after those services. Someone who had done none of those things, whose first comment was ‘where’s that picture of the last supper gone’. This despite me talking quite passionately about the Church of the Future and how we need to be willing to give up our hold on things we hold dear but that in the scheme of thing don’t matter or hold the Church back. It’s about sacrifice.
Despite all the positive comments, the fantastic feel and look of the building, despite the accomplishment of the team – the one thing people, my wardens and the team leaders in particular want to address now is the question posed by this particular member of the Church. To the end that I had to stop the wardens from getting the picture and all the other trinkets and and crucifixes and ecclesiastical junk we have and putting it all back out without a thought to what we had achieved.
Now a small number of people are calling for the PCC to decide what goes back. This of course is not going to happen, it’s not a PCC matter until such time as we decide to dispose of such items. But there is this odd perception in Church that we must so all to bring everyone along. Well here’s some news: we will never take everyone on the journey. Sure, of course you want to go together, of course we want a consensus – Church leadership is about empowering people and leading on a corporate journey. BUT we will never take everyone with us.
Bill Hybels says that when people don’t respond to the call we should not ‘beat the sheep’ but look inward at the way we’ve failed in communicating the vision. We should not get cross at people if they don’t follow. These are wise words. But the issue remains is that sometimes it is not about our communication but about an inability to let go to a dearly held value for the greater call or the greater good of the Church. Too many churches have died because the call to change was too painful.
As it is in the parishes so it is in Synod.
Yesterday’s vote in the General Synod of the Church of England again highlighted the inability of the Church to change, and the way it is held back from it’s call to respond to what God is doing in the world today by the very people it is called to serve. The vote for the measure before the Synod was lost by a small margin and of course votes are won and lost by small margins all the time. But what is significant is that the minority won the day, yet again in the Church a small number of vocal opponents of changed shaped the future of the Church. The vast majority of Synod voted for yesterday’s measure yet here we are still unable to proceed.
I know that this is a difficult question for many, and though I do not agree with their interpretation of scripture, I do sympathise as they wrestle with conviction and conscience. But I also see a church that as already agreed in principle to proceed with appointing women bishops, a Church that is lead by two Archbishops who support the appointment of women bishops, by the vast majority of of Diocesan bishops who support the appointment of women bishops and by a significant majority of clergy who do the same. On this measure specifically 96% of the Diocese in the Church voted and approved it, the Archbishops approved it, the synodical houses of Bishops and Clergy voted overwhelmingly for it. Surely the doctrine of male headship that naysayers claim to hold dear would require them to follow the convictions of the male leaders who were calling for the measure to pass?
I am left wondering who it is who is called and charged with leading this church if a 36% minority in one house of a synod that is overwhelmingly for the measure can bring the whole process to a halt. This is not the Godly submission to authority the bible teaches. And it belies the lack of trust this minority have in the appointed leaders they claim to follow.
No one wants to return to a autocratic clergy & unaccountable bishops but it does leave me wondering Who Leads the Church? What is the role of bishops, priests and leaders in a Church that can be easily manipulated by a small minority, whether it be in the parish or a Synod?