Thursday, January 11, 2007


Even if I'm relaxed and happily on holiday, work still haunts me from time to time in my dreams. I awoke this morning from a dream in which I was taking part in a very grand wedding in a cathedral, which seemed a bit to be like Llandaff, back home. It was very crowded and there seemed to be lots of clergy especially women clergy, taking part. I had a small part to pray - the nuptial blessing, but the service was long and elaborate, I had no hand in arranging it so wasn't entirely sure of what came where, and I had either lost or was not given the order of service. To cap it all, everyone I asked for a peek a theirs seemed to have a handful of books and leaflets, and didn't know which was the one I wanted to consult. Moreover the service seemed to have started, though the bride and groom seem to have slipped in unconventionally by a side entrance.

It's not so strange really, I often get anxious when I do weddings, even though usually I have not only done the painstaking preparation and rehearsal, but also take the entire ceremony myself. Although I'm in control, I feel out of control. At one level that's OK, as its God's Spirit who really is in control of all our sacred encounters, but somehow, my fear of a descent into chaos which I am powerless to prevent has haunted me right through my years of ministry.

When I was first ordained, I dreamed of standing up to read the Gospel and being unable to make myself heard or gain the attention of the assembly, quietly chatting away and oblivious to my presence. This has repeated itself over the years in similar form. A few months ago I had an interesting variation on this in which I was, for once, in the congregation in a church resembling Holy Trinty Geneva. I was seated at the back with the stewards and the welcomers, coping with an influx of people during the service, and struggling to keep them quiet, and in one case having to deal with a veiled muslim woman who wanted to go down the front of the church to pray in the side chapel while the service was going on - and why not? In a house of prayer. This was another 'struggling to cope' dream, but from the other side of the communion rail.

How to understand such dreams?

I think that I've always been acutely aware of the potential difficulties in communicating the truth of faith in a setting that no longer shares a consensus about what religious truth is, which has limited regard for the authority or conviction of ministers of the Gospel, and which is far from knowlegeable about how to behave in church or what goes on there. This is the climate in which ministry is exercised today, virtually isolated by one's knowledge and experience, in the shadow of one's own fears of failure, if not rejection.

Yes, of course God is in charge, but trusting God in this sort of climate doesn't depend on passive acceptance, for our calling is to be God's fellow workers, taking responsibility, doing what is right under the cloud of uncertainty, always questioning, open to make things better, without absolute certainty that everything we attempt will turn out for the best. Perfect love certainly casts out fear, but at some levels, it's a lifetime's process.

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