Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Clergy School (3)

Well, that was a good day, content wise and weather wise, and I've had a few hours of quiet to finish off, emailing and surfing, and just thinking. We get three cooked meals a day here. Far more nourishment than any of us can walk off, given the rather static nature of our activity, and the brief quarter mile dash to the offices at St Giles' twice a day. A longer walk is possible, whether for sightseeing and shopping by skipping a session, or to go out to the pub after supper.

Before lunch we had an interesting session by two researchers from Cardiff Uni's sociology department examining the current state of religious nurture among British muslims. There are indications that 77% of second generation muslims have received and maintain the faith passed on to them from their parents. The figure for Christian 'transmission' as they call it, is 29%. It's still a work in progress. The team is trying to identify the key factors. From what I could tell, it sounded a bit like the experience of British expatriate communities abroad, much more tenacious about retaining both their culture and religion in a foreign setting.

This afternoon I missed the start of the follow up seminar because I was writing, so rather than walk in a quarter of an hour late, I gave myself a brisk walk down to Christ Church, bathed in sun, with its gardens and neighbouring meadow looking lovely. I was astonished at the admission price, but then it's not the kind of thing I think of much. The cost of managing the building for millions of tourists a year must be met somehow, when too few people attend and give sufficient to cover such additional expense. I hope we never have to do that at St John's.

It was good to stroll through the pedestrian area and observe a) how well maintained it was, and almost litter free; b) how all cyclists dismount in the marked zones - given how many bikes there are in the city. Maybe there are conventions and protocols about riding that are drummed into every freshman, assuming they weren't raised in the city. I wonder if there are any lessons here for Cardiff to learn?

Our last lecture from Prof Martin Percy was another tour de force in perspective and objectivity from which us clergy could take encouragment. So often lectures to clergy I have heard over the years about ministry have been advocating with sincerity and passion latest trends in thought about how to lead, or how to run the parochial system better, or how to do mission. But not this formidable scholar, a sociologist of religion and theologian. He spoke analytically about the role of the pastor as exercised in Anglican tradition, about getting stuck in to a situation, flourishing where planted, being there for people, as the essential core of mission and ministry, right across the board, no matter what one's preferred churchmanship. Being the one who knows the Parish and is known by the Parish, know as one who cares, even in these times of disinterest towards religion, this is what matters most, and is the source of whatever other initiative or contribution someone can make due to their particular gifts.

He drew carefully from history and from social anthropology in making his point. It was music to my ears. It made so much sense from my experience, having survived four decades of trying everything, exploring innovations, trends and techniques hoping to learn something of value, and always coming back to where I started. My time at St Mikes, hearing much the same assertions from the mouths of wise elder parsons, speaking only the language of clerical piety and personal experience, for that was what they had in plenty. They wouldn't have been surprised to discover that new social sciences upheld what they'd lived, practiced and sought to impart to us young trendy upstarts of sixties modernity.

The bottom line was the very simple reminder to remain faithful and not forget that where the growth of the church is concerned, it's God who gives the increase, not the latest schemes and theories liberally applied. The marvellous thing to me was that this discourse wasn't in any way reactionary, nor an appeal to return to traditional values of a golden age, but rather a reminder to have confidence in who we are, what we know ourselves called to be for others as ministers of the Gospel.

I hope all the sisters and brothers will dare to walk a little taller when they get back to ground zero in their Parishes on Friday.

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