A week is a long time ….

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PropheticChurch

It’s been a torrid week – from the impassioned pleas of Greta Thurnberg at the UN Climate Action Conference, the dismissive responses from a few (mainly) rich and powerful men. including the US President, Donald Trump; through to the crass and bitter words in Parliament (and notably the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson) following the Supreme Court judgement and the recall of Parliament. A torrid week, that has left me (and no doubt others) reeling and emotionally tired, weary, perplexed and full of questions about the weeks ahead, and our collective futures.

In the UK in particular the focus inevitably has been on the plan to withdraw from the EU – or Brexit! At times it feels like as a nation we’ve talked about little else for three years, talked and argued and yet resolved nothing. Throughout that time no shared ground or common purpose has been sought, and therefore unsurprisingly none has really emerged. We find ourselves it would seem deeper and deeper entrenched in our positions of Leave or Remain often with little purpose, but none the less with powerful embedded emotions attached. It has become an all consuming issue – and that feels like it will never end; but of course it will.

One way or another, one day the issue of Brexit will be done with, either by leaving (with or without a deal) or otherwise by deciding to remain in the EU afterall. If we do leave, we would no doubt survive any economic consequences even if we, “the ordinary people”, the 99% are the ones paying the price of the new found riches of the few.If we remained we would feel few economic consequences but the bitterness and division would not subside overnight, and the entrenched battles may continue still longer.

To be honest, my real concern has never been the benefits or otherwise of trade arrangements and the like, or whether or not we will be “better off” economically if we leave or remain. Instead my chief concern was, and is increasingly, the genuine worry about what kind of country, what kind of a people we are becoming in the process. I struugle for signs of hope in the current gloom, I see fear, hatred and division – I do not know how, or when, we will be able to come together in reconciliation afterwards.

I hope and pray for the sake of our children, and our grandchildren they find a future that is compassionate, that is fair, that seeks for a genuine peace amongst peoples and between humanity and creation.

I hope our children are better people, kinder people, gentler people than we have been.

 

 

Pastors, Priests and other roles

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It seems like I spend a fair amount of time as a Methodist Pioneer actually defining, and describing exactly what it is I am to myself and to others. It seems to be made more complicated to some because of the fact that I am not ordained, and by the fact that I have work and lay roles that often overlap. As a Methodist Local Preacher (lay) I cannot completely divorce from my day job as Pioneer employed and commissioned by the Methodist Circuit, its impossible; and yet the roles are different. The former brings me into contact and demands I minister (in)to “traditional” mainstream church, the latter calling me to move beyond, to those distanced from that space and those traditions.

So what am I? I’m a pioneer, but I’ve been talked about and addressed as: Pastor, Priest, Lay Minister, Father, Reverend and others…. so let’s explore.

The term “Pastor” derives from the Latin for “Shepherd”,  “Priest” has a more complex linguistic background it seems, emerging from Presbyter (Late Latin) meaning “an elder” and / or  from Latin praepositus a “person placed in charge”. Of course the linguistics aren’t the sole arbiter of what we might now imply and understand by these terms today, but they do give us an interesting start point.

Most obviously Pastor resonates with Jesus words to Simon Peter recorded in John 21.16 “…take care of my sheep”. It suggests a role of care, nurture and guidance “[The role of the pastor is] to help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.” so wrote Eugene Peterson “… [and to] keep the community attentive to God.”  The shepherd also plays a protective role and where necessary sacrificial one (John 10.11) putting the needs of the “flock” above the needs of self. In the mission context in particular perhaps, this latter part can be very real, as people from our little community of volunteers and helpers put themselves into vulnerable positions sometimes with relative strangers; taking food into their homes, drawing close to them in order to in turn minister to (and receive from) them.

I guess priest isn’t a term we use in Methodism with any great regularity, preferring instead the term Minister for those who are ordained. As a pioneer however, I am working both “within” and “outside” the tradition of Methodism, working with, missioning and ministering amongst people not of that tradition, and of no traditions.

“Chaplain” is a term that I sometimes use. indeed I am as part of my role formally recognised as Chaplain in two of our local schools. Traditionally the chaplain role is to be an ecclesial role somehow attached to secular institution. Typically therefore we might encounter chaplains in hospitals, schools, the military etc. However it is an approach to ministry to feels to somehow fit with much of what I am, and the role I play – encountering the secular over the overtly religious, or ecclesial. The Chaplain role is closer to just being – being present, being alongside, being available as a resource, being a friend – but I guess it doesn’t fit the bill entirely in all circumstances.

So if we go back again to those linguistic roots to consider this “priest” role we see again it is one of being “in charge”. Now where I work there’s a bit of a workplace banter around this, one of our community even bought me a giant mug (they understood my addiction to coffee) with the words “THE BOSS” written big on it. Banter yes, because although I try to hold the role very lightly, although I try to encourage and empower others around me – in the end as the person paid by the Circuit to be here, to be responsible – the scary fact (for me) is, I am in charge!

Priest, is in the end understood as a hierarchical term, and that’s probably for me as good a reason as any to steer clear of using it, but at the same time it would be completely wrong of me to deny I have power, I do – and an authority to exercise it within the bounds given to me by the wider Methodist Church. As all Spiderman and Stan Lee fans know “with great power there must also come great responsibility” and the denial of oneself holding any power is not being in least bit responsible. Each of us has power in different situations, and each of us has to decide how we choose to exercise that power – hierarchical power and authority however brings its own issues and complexities.

And so as I undertook my first baptism this Sunday of the beautiful Rebekah Ann, her young life full of hopes and possibilities; and as the parents, godparents, and church were each asked in turn to make our promises and commitments – I felt myself as both priest and pastor. In charge of the occasion, responsible for dutifully and humbly serving  God and the Church through this particular sacrament, and also aware of the part I was playing in helping each one of us there to be attentive to God and the grace that is conferred upon us all.