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Dont lose your pastoral heart

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Dont lose your pastoral heart

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                                              Don’t lose your pastoral heart
                                              Clerics urgently need to recover their interest in people, says James Woodward
                                                                                                                                                MIKE COLLINS/IMAGES OF PRAISE
                                              I OVERHEARD a clerical colleague                                                                                                     ministry with a greater sense of
          Giles Fraser                        respond recently to a parishioner’s re-                                                                                              realism.
                                              quest to visit a non-churchgoing                                                                                                         We need to create time to meet
                                              member of the parish: “Visiting —                                                                                                    people on their ground. When was
                                              parish visiting? That’s old hat these                                                                                                the last time we accompanied a
     Too much                                 days.”
                                                   This need and the response may
                                                                                                                                                                                   parishioner to the workplace, listen-
                                                                                                                                                                                   ing to the realities of the office, hos-
                                              fill us with concern, guilt, agreement,                                                                                              pital, farm, or factory? We should
     religion is                              or bemusement. Time is precious,
                                              and it is impossible to meet every-
                                                                                                                                                                                   place ourselves in places where we can
                                                                                                                                                                                   meet people: the pub, community
                                              one’s expectations. It reminded me of                                                                                                hall, and school playground all offer
      bad for                                 a hospital chaplain who could not
                                              leave the building until he had visited
                                                                                                                                                                                   the chance to establish friendships.
                                                                                                                                                                                   Let us see time spent with people not
                                              every bed on the rota of wards for                                                                                                   as administration-time wasted, but
     your faith                               that day. I wondered whether the only
                                              need he was meeting was his own.
                                                                                                                                                                                   people-time wisely spent.
                                                                                                                                                                                       This might mean reordering our
                                                   All of this raises important ques-                                                                                              use of time to create space for a wider
                                              tions about the management of time,          Use the opportunity:                                                                    range of pastoral encounters. It might
LAST SUNDAY morning, I took my                but there is also something else going        baptisms, weddings,                                                                    mean that we lead by example, so that
daughter swimming. I was not on the           on. We need to understand how we              and funerals can be                                                                    others in our church community can
rota for duty in church, and I did go         choose to exercise our ministry, and         good places to listen                                                                   have the courage to be pastoral —
to the eucharist in the evening. None         what perspectives shape the choices                     to people                                                                    opening up much of what is a closed
the less, I felt guilty. This was the first   we make.                                                                                                                             group to more challenging conversa-
time in years that I had not been to               I believe the Church is losing its                                                                                              tions about life and God.
church on a Sunday morning, and it            pastoral heart. We have ceased to                                                                                                        We need to set ourselves a feasible
felt weird. But it did me good.               invest in our interest in those around       ask questions, if they are given time    for it. I am not arguing for com-              target for visiting, and stick to it. Even
    “Too much religion is bad for             us and the richness of their lived ex-       and attention on their own territory.    pulsive activity. Being over-busy (look        one quality visit a week will trans-
your faith.” These are wise words I           perience. We prefer paper to people,            Many of these encounters emerge       how important I am) or tired (look-            form the relationship with scores of
once heard from the college principal         computers to conversations: we now           from conducting occasional offices       ing after others can be a substitute for       people in a year. Don’t forget that they
at Cuddesdon many moons ago. He               seek to manage our parishes rather           with care. The mother arranging a        caring for ourselves) is a character-          love a phone call or a postcard, too.
was right. It is all too easy for those of    than to pastor them.                         baptism is also a stressed accountant    istic of the clergy today. We hardly               All of this needs to be put into the
us who are involved day by day in the              We imagine that an organised            worried about her work and how this      convey life in all its fullness because        context of collaboration with the
work of the Church to become ob-              parish is alive and ready to take risks,     balances with the responsibilities of    we cannot stand still long enough to           whole people of God, where we
sessed by the details and the delivery,       but the communities and individuals          motherhood; she is a spiritual person    look.                                          release the potential of others, as we
and to neglect the big picture.               who are the subject of our strategies        wanting to know more about how               We are afraid of allowing the              work together for the common good
    This is why we professional reli-         are all too often feeling ignored on a       prayer works. The grandparents at a      experience of others to change us. As          — sharing the joyful task of pastoral
gious types — especially clergy and           deeper level. We are retreating into a       baptism party are anxious about what     members of the clergy, we can learn            care with lay people, and letting them
those poor souls who are attracted to         carefully planned irrelevance — ab-          kind of world their little ones will     from artists: the artist goes deep into        set the agenda for care.
the work of church committees — get           sorbed by a bureaucracy that distracts       grow up in. After the funeral of a       himself or herself to create. Let others           The many diocesan schemes to
all steamed up about things that are,         us from the time-consuming task of           younger person, gathering in the pub,    and their stories set our theological          train lay people to work with the
in the great scheme of things, un-            interpersonal care. We are failing to        a stranger is kind enough to ask:        agendas, as we move inwards and                clergy in visiting and care are a great
important: what you wear to say               engage with people for their own             “Where has all that left your head,      outwards towards a different set of            ministerial innovation. But, too often,
mass, what an obscure verse of scrip-         sake.                                        vicar? Do you fancy a pint?”             priorities for the gospel.                     these schemes make clergy volunteer-
ture means, the latest nonsense from                                                          Beyond the meetings, the forms,           If this resonates with you, then the       managers rather than pastors, be-
GAFCON (News, Comment, 25                     OUR THEOLOGY can be enriched if              and ministerial-appraisal sessions are   challenge must be shared with                  cause among the clergy there is a deep
January).                                     we open ourselves up to people, their        the countless opportunities to en-       colleagues in the hierarchy — those            confusion about the priest’s identity
    Faith is supposed to broaden              work and values, their hopes and             gage. A card, a phone call, an invita-   who labour under the conviction that           and pastoral task. One of the ways
horizons. To claim a faith in God is to       anxieties. We can do this only if we         tion for a drink, a visit — these are    they oversee. In our ecclesiastical self-      through this is to recover the art of
see yourself and the world from               make a choice to listen: to attempt to       the lifeblood of hearts that can be      preoccupation, we need to look                 visiting, and so rediscover for our-
within the context of one who                 connect beyond the safety zone of our        recreated through a commitment to        outwards. We shall need to give a              selves that which is being lost: a
created the stars and the sky, the one        inward-looking religious worlds. I am        pastoral care.                           higher priority to the occasional              pastoral heart.
who is eternal and everlasting. To be         constantly amazed at people’s pre-                                                    offices and the opportunities they             The Revd Dr James Woodward is Vicar
a Christian is thus to view things            paredness to open up the spiritual           IF WE BELIEVED that this task was        give us to connect. Let those on the           of St Mary’s, Temple Balsall, in the
with a wide-angled lens. Yet too many         fabric of their life; to talk theology; to   important, then we would find time       outside help us to understand our              diocese of Birmingham.
of us are caught up in minutiae,
focusing ever more narrowly on what
are little more than technicalities.
This is why too much religion is bad
for your faith. Often, you have to step
away a little to see it.
                                              Spread the money and power
    Most of my fellow Sunday
morning swimmers have no interest
in church. What has the 10 a.m.                                        DO NOT get between the                                                                     divisions, socio-economic disparities, poverty,
service to offer these people that is                                  hippos and the water, the        Kenyans need to challenge                                 and endemic corruption.”
more important than the joy of                                         sign said. It was the only                                                                     It is the culture from which this disturbing
larking around with their kids in the                                  danger around. We had            their political inequalities,                             violence erupts that does not disturb us
pool? Of course, I think it has a great                                gone to see the vast flocks      says Paul Vallely                                         sufficiently. Kenya is far from Africa’s poorest
deal to offer. Jesus promised life in all                              of flamingos that covered                                                                  nation, but 60 per cent of its people live on less
its fullness.                                                          the lake like a                                                                            than $1 a day. The strong economic growth in
    The problem is that many                                           shimmering pink haze.                                                                      Kenya in recent years has not filtered down to
churches do not appear even to                                         Naivasha was a pretty            hailed as the most politically stable in the region.      them, but has remained with the “Mount Kenya
attempt to live out that promise. I                                    little lakeside town.            We all have what a friend of mine calls “the Daily        Mafia” of politicians and their business cronies
wager that the vast majority of                                           This week has turned it       Mail within”, from which our basest atavistic             (Comment, 11 January).
business conducted in most PCCs                                        from a tourist town into a       reactions bubble before they are dissipated by our            Ordinary people lack not just economic
relates more to ecclesiastical house-         no-go area, a terrible development for a country          reason. It is there in the other media, too —             affluence, but are deprived of the education that
keeping than the deeper point of the          where tourism is the top earner of foreign                hence the wildly off-beam comparison of Kenya             would enable them to see that the small solidarity
Church. Jesus makes big, bold,                exchange, but more terrible for the hundreds of           to Rwanda. Things are terrible in Kenya, but this         of tribalism offers no solution to problems that
shocking claims. We squeak like a bat         people who have been hacked to death with                 is not a small group mobilising a community and           go far wider. They need to press for change to a
— and I hate to say this, but it is true      machetes, pulled from their cars by mobs and              state institutions, using state resources, to             system where the President appoints the electoral
— liberals especially.                        stoned, or burned alive as they took refuge in            exterminate an entire community.                          commission and the judges that hear electoral
    Large organisations readily come          buildings.                                                    Kenya has long had what the locals call “land         petitions; or where Nairobi’s inner circle can
to see their own internal workings as            The post-election violence in Kenya has taken          clashes”, flaring up around election time. It             manipulate who gets elected to parliament in
being what they are all about. The            a disturbing new turn, as a tribal polarisation           happened in 1993, 1997, and 2002. The cause is            most of central Kenya; or where politicians who
reason churches so often become dull          between the Kikuyu (20 per cent of the                    the lack of fertile land for ordinary people,             had previously tried to minimise ethnic conflict
is that they confuse the infrastruc-          population) and Luo (13 per cent) has deepened            though frustration is commonly expressed                  this time mobilised their supporters along tribal
ture of the church with its purpose.          to a low that Kenyans have not seen before. It all        through ethnicity or tribe.                               lines.
This sort of church may be of interest        gives further ammunition to the prophets of                   This is not rocket science. Three years ago,              The two men who both claim that they won
to ecclesiological anoraks, but it            despair in the West who dismiss Africa as                 Graça Machel, in a report interrogating the               the disputed election are now prisoners of their
won’t get people out of the pool and          ungovernable. The Daily Mail has even published           country’s governance under the African Peer               respective political positions. The time has now
on to their knees. When the Kingdom           photos of vigilantes armed with bows and                  Review Mechanism, suggested that Kenya was                come for them, like their supporters, to abandon
comes in great power and glory, no            arrows, reinforcing the subliminal message that           sitting on a political time bomb: “Kenya has              their sense of grievance, and look to a solution
one is going to care if anybody took          these people are primitives, not long out of living       much strength that mitigates against the                  that is not driven by fear and anger. If they
the minutes.                                  in trees.                                                 outbreak of mass violence, but it also exhibits           cannot, they should both go.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team                 It is tempting to lose patience with Africa,           many of the factors that have been markers of             Paul Vallely is a co-author of the report of the
Rector of Putney.                             especially when violence comes to a country long          civil strife elsewhere, such as strong ethnic             Commission for Africa (2005).

                                                                                                                                                                                CHURCH TIMES 1 February 2008             13

								
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