Saturday, December 13, 2008

Repeat performance

Tesco has been 'upgrading' its services - or so we were told at the end of last month. What this has meant in practice is unreliable, intermittent broadband access, particularly poor often non-existent in the evenings. It's felt more like down-grading, which is perhaps more a reflection of my impatience with something I rely on for easy communications. After a week, sheer frustration convinced me to finally make the effort to ditch Tesco and switch to free broadband with my Talk Talk phone account. What will I do if that turns out to be just as unreliable? All these marketed services make inflated claims for themselves. It's a matter of finding out which has the least disparity between promise and delivery.

Talking of communication, the BBC website yesterday reported that Archbishop Rowan was to be the guest of Solace pub church late Saturday morning, talking about God, just 200 yards around the corner from St John's. It was the first I'd heard of it. Managing media expectations of church leaders these days seems to take priority over ensuring that local followers know and understand what's going on. This makes it hard to give a helpful account to anyone asking about something happening in their own vicinity. It confines everyone apart from the 'in-crowd' to being passive consumers of church 'news'. It's the second time in two years that I've learned about Rowan's pastoral activities in 'my patch' from public media sources. As one of the faithful said with familiar resignation : "Just typical isn't it?"

Archbishop Barry is not obliged to tell me when he's working on 'my patch'. First and foremost, it's his patch. I'm licensed to share his 'cure of souls' where I am placed. However, it would just be nice to know, personally rather than from public propaganda machines when something involving any prominent church leader is happening on the doorstep. It's less embarrassing than having to say "I didn't know..." and sounding like an idiot to those who don't really know what the church is like. My seventy six year old sister said she was shocked to learn that I too had found out about this visit from the BBC. It's not how she thought church operated.

When I talk about 'my patch', I acknowledge such a notion has lost meaning today, despite clerics with eclectic congregations who still speak as if one can consider oneself has having pastoral responsibility towards everyone who lives in 'your parish', whether they accept it, like it or not. It doesn't work like that. We can only serve those who will gather with us, and minister to those who accept what we offer.

The Bishop licenses a cleric to be his representative and delegate in a geographical area. This has definitive clarity in relation to anything involving legislation - the cleric's role as Officiating Minister at weddings of anyone living in the parish, or managing churches and churchyards. No cleric can oblige parishioners to attend their Parish church for worship. The faithful are free to choose where and how they will exercise their allegiance.

However, there remains in Anglican pastoral ministry tradition a strong sense of place, of a cleric being planted sin a place with a duty to serve community building in all its forms, to know and be known by people as a familiar point of reference, as someone knowing the history, remembering the stories, people and events that have shaped the place and its personality. At one time the local police constable, the schoolmaster, the GP, the chemist and the postmaster fulfilled a similar role and were part of what bound community together. Nowadays, most of these professionals on whom community cohesion relies don't live where they work, and move jobs more often. Clergy move more frequently, and serve clientele from far and wide, but still feel a sense of ownership in relation to affairs in the area where they are based. What good does it serve the church, to leave locals committed to a place out of the information loop on special occasion involving our leaders?

Living alongside each other, knowing and being known over long periods of time builds community, builds church from bottom to top. We have to work at this, be aware of and uphold all new community and faith building initiatives in every context. Good for Rowan, for taking an interest in Cardiff's pub church. But not so good that it's packaged by his entourage in ways that fail to take into account the rest of the faithful out there on the ground, striving to maintain the witness to God in the same area.
It's not much of a way to unite the church behind the successors of the Apostles.

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