Friday, 14 December 2012

On being controversial

I like being a village vicar.  I like being a chaplain to those in need.  I am at my best taking occasional offices, welcoming new Christians in the lovely sacrament of baptism, presiding over the joy of a wedding, holding in my heart those who mourn as I take a funeral.  I have no aspirations to become a bishop - as a natural introvert I cannot imagine a worse job - and I have, at last, found my dream job.  I am an awkward-shaped peg fitting neatly into the awkward-shaped hole that is this combination of incumbency and chaplaincy.

I'm busy, too.  Christmas is approaching rapidly, like a truck with me squarely in the headlights.  I have a series of sermons to prepare and deliver, a party to host and clear up afterwards, a whole set of celebrations both inside and outside and it seems all-consuming.

I should be focused fully on my local roles and pulling together worship which I hope people will find transformative and special, taking the ancient Christmas story and retelling it for the world today.  Instead I find myself drawn into the blogosphere, hooked on Twitter, constantly rechecking the state of the State church.  The twin controversies over gay marriage and women bishops have hurt and distressed me more than I expected them to.  If I don't want to be a bishop, why does the exclusion of women from that role hurt me quite so much?  Why could I not sleep the night of the Synod vote?  Why did I feel overwhelmingly compelled to write a polemic on gay marriage, when I am neither a professional theologian nor a senior member of the clergy?  I do not want the rude responses that will inevitably follow, I do not want arguments within my local church and, while I don't mind a spotlight when I'm at my best, I could do without it right now.

I think some of this is precisely because of my slight distance from the issues on a personal level - I am not ambitious and not an academic with a position to maintain.  I am something much more important, for I hold the 'cure of souls' of the people within my parish.  Most of those souls are female, or gay, or both.  They need a church which affirms, welcomes and supports them as equally loved and valued by God.  Somebody has to speak up for their pastoral needs.  The Church of England, the mysterious capital-lettered version, as opposed to the kind group of people who worship in my church each Sunday, has to hear that all people matter, and the people who matter most are those outside the church still waiting for their invitation.  Yes, ordaining women upsets some people, having women in leadership positions upsets some people, and marrying gay couples will upset some people.  Crucially, though, those people may leave the church but it is likely they will not leave the faith - if they are sincere Christians they will go elsewhere.  Meanwhile our current discriminatory positions alienate much larger numbers of people not just from the Church of England, but from Christianity itself, and I cannot think of any more urgent issue for the Church today than the exclusion of these souls from Christ's body.

I have not yet laid down the national issues for the parochial issues as I had hoped, but I carry them on in parallel.  The little resin figures of Mary and Joseph are travelling around the parish, ostensibly on a donkey but quite frequently getting taxi rides from the Vicar, and at each stage an amazing thing happens.  Something potentially kitsch becomes extraordinarily beautiful, as we remember all those who travel, willingly or unwillingly, and we see every family as holy.  A blessing comes to every place that receives the figures.  I am learning so much from this experience.

The carol services continue apace, and are all lovely.  Groups of children, groups of elderly people singing old hymns with varying tunefulness, and all fill me with joy.  I love Advent and the joyful waiting which is so different from the penitential intensity of Lent.  I suppose, being strictly liturgical, we shouldn't have all these carol services yet, but the world calls to us to show the real Christmas alongside the advertised fantasy, and the church must respond.  This year, more than ever, I hope that Christmas will bring the church some peace, and joy, and goodwill.  We need it.

O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

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