FROM THE RECTORY – I am continually perplexed by the church – what is it!? You might have thought that as a vicar I should know! Well perhaps precisely because I am a vicar I find myself pulled in lots of different directions, relating to lots of different people all of whom have lots of different ideas about what the church is or should be.
At this time of year at church (there you go!), all the stories that are read are about Jesus after his death, gathering his group of disciples back together, empowering them with the gift of his Spirit and sending them out to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations. They were a community of believers with a message, a movement which spread all over the Roman empire and beyond within an astonishingly short time.
Thomas Cullinan, a Benedictine monk, wrote of the church using these words:
“Some have only just set out, others are way ahead;
some are walking, others running;
some are fascinated by the scenery, others have eyes only for the road ahead;
some have a single problem, how to cope with excess baggage,
others are relatively free of baggage.
There are the mad, the bad and the sad
but they all make up the church and all need a place.”
Questioning this as a rather romantic idea of the church, another writer, Brother Silas a Franciscan friar has written of the drawbacks of this approach, highlighting its dangers:
“A motley band of individuals not highly committed to each other is liable to spend all its time arguing about the best route to take, or simply disintegrate.”
So the church can’t just be a movement, it also needs to have an institutional aspect to it as well. This though is the least favourite dimension of the church for us all! Recently we have had to pursue people to fill in a completely new form in order to be entered onto the church Electoral Roll. A new form has to be completed every six years – it makes good institutional sense, but few people are that concerned with the church as an institution – you don’t have to be on the church Electoral Roll to be an active member or to receive communion – and your salvation certainly does not depend on it! The difficulty is that when the church is working at its most institutional, it is often at its least engaging and few are interested in the politics that is an inevitable ingredient. That’s not what we are in the church for!
Two new church leaders have recently been appointed, each having to face deep issues concerning the church as an institution – Archbishop Justin Welby the issue of women bishops and Pope Francis the reform of the curia. Each of these very different issues show just how important the institutional side of the church is – it does matter. So I want to thank very warmly indeed all the many people who give their time to keeping the institutional side of Iffley Church in such good shape. You are unsung heroes! Thank you!