June 4, 2016 § 5 Comments
I am MAS – the C of E’s Middle Aged Spread – and I am a “problem”.
The latest Ministry Statistics show a preponderance of clergy aged 55 – 61. Though ordinations are increasing, even the most optimistic of projections show the number of stipendiary clergy reducing over the next 20 years.
The statistics are here. People like Ian Paul and Peter Ould, here, and David Keen, here, have looked into them closely. Whether I am a problem because of a “disastrous decision” in the 1990s to ordain older people, or I am a problem because I was a younger ordinand in the 1980s, I am a problem, because I’m going to retire, and there’s a gap behind me.
If I don’t much like being depicted as a problem to be solved, because it saps my energy, how might MAS be included in the solution? Why not work with me in two areas: later retirement; and the ‘last post’?
A lovely graph in the 2012 statistics – Fig 12 here (but not developed in the 2015 figures) – showed the effect of delaying the average age of retirement by just one year. It was nearly the same as increasing ordinations by 25%. Doing both would make quite a difference, wouldn’t it?
The reality is that, full pension or not, I am likely to go for retirement earlier rather than later. If I’m an incumbent I am heading for burn out. David Keen has shown that 5000 stipendiaries are sustaining a ministry pattern once undertaken by at least 10,000. I am 55 – 61, and I don’t have the energy I once did.
So: sit me down and get me to look carefully at how you can get the best out of me for the next ten to fifteen years, not the next five.
Give me one of those whizzy health checks you give to Bishops and senior clergy as they are appointed. Give me active encouragement to invest all I can in my spiritual and physical well-being. Yes, I know that’s been the message drummed in to me from the beginning, but tailor it and target it for me. (I am numerous enough for this to be done economically too – discount for a bulk order).
The next post I’m looking for is likely to be my last. So offer models of ministry and growth which go beyond getting a hipster millennial to plant something – fab though that is. Recognise that I am likely to be turned down in favour of a younger model, unless posts are identified where age and mileage will be an advantage, not a problem. Manage the expectations of those writing job descriptions and doing interviews.
Update my software. I can be a decent mentor to these young things whizzing through the processes. Yes, they are young enough to be my offspring. Get me excited about how I can foster vocations and mentor younger generations. I can be taught new tricks too, and they might need a wise head (if I’ve learnt anything…).
When I retire, think carefully about how my ministry can be continued. There are more clergy with PTO – the majority retired – than stipendiaries at present. Is House for Duty the only option for the deployment of the retired? Are there other models of focussed ministry in the years from 65 – 80? Invest in your officers for retired clergy – the numbers are worth it.
I am MAS. I am large enough (in numbers!) to be treated as a “thing” and am worth investing in. I am not just a retirement problem to be anticipated, I am a resource which can make a difference now.
The 2025 statistics should make interesting.
December 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
A friend gave me a book* to read this year. One of my resolutions for 2014 had been to read the books I intended to read, and like all resolutions it didn’t quite work out. But this book I did. It’s about technology, and the way we use it, and it uses us – the way we change as we use new tools. The sections about email, and smartphones and social media were powerful. I know that some of my friends have made resolutions this year not to be so dominated by their technology. I’m sympathetic to that too.
What struck me most forcibly was that this was a book which could only have been written in the last couple of years. Twenty years ago it would have been baffling. Then, though it existed, I knew nothing of the world wide web, the Internet, or email. In 1994 I was just getting into text messaging I remember, and I sent my first email in 1995, I think. Social media then was still a letter, or a fax. To think that in 2014 I would witness my 84 year old mother in law on Facetime speaking to her relatives 300 miles away, just like those communicators on Star Trek…well, I would not have imagined I would really see the day. Who can predict what such a book will be covering in 2034, when I’m 74?
I guess that’s the point of marking a date in the calendar as a good time to look back and to look forward. We don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future, but we can use what we have learnt so far, and we can equip ourselves to face what will come so that we can judge what will nourish us and what will harm us, what we should embrace and what we should avoid. And that’s why I’m talking about the book my friend gave me. In one small section it talks about the kind of looking back you do when someone dies, and how you talk to them.
The author suggests four things to say to those who have died, and I think you can say them to the year which is past too.
“I’m sorry. Thank you. I forgive you. I love you”
I’m sorry. There will be things in this past year which you have not done well, or which you’ve been a part of which are beyond your control and which are a source of regret. A resolution might be to try and repair any damage, and certainly not to take part in the same stuff again this year – and to create the conditions where society, or the world, won’t cause that stuff to happen again.
Thank you. One of my resolutions this year is to relish what has been good, and, where possible, to let others know if they have done it. There is now a Masters Degree in handling complaints. I’d like a Masters Degree in offering thanks, and that will start with thinking of enough good things to be able to start offering thanks for, and calling to mind the people who have done them. That includes the Almighty.
I forgive you. There will be stuff from this year which has been caused by others. I spend too much time in the middle of families who have been torn apart, or situations where disagreements have become divisions. That’s a privilege of the priestly ministry, and all priests know that these things are only resolved when someone offers forgiveness to another. But it’s a costly beginning, and it may as well start with you.
I love you. To reflect on what has been is to work out what, and who, is worth our time, our attention, our effort. Where those people are still with us, then making an active choice to love them, rather than just hoping that they already know, will make all the difference to our, and their, future. Where those people have died, then loving them in memory will enable us to live with what they gave us.
The Biblical writers were skilled at looking back in order to look forward. Isaiah took such courage and hope from God’s dealings with his people that he could be confident that there was a future and a hope, a way to walk. The Gospel writers, sure that Jesus had conquered even death, were thrilled to offer us the words they heard from Jesus about trusting in God for everything, and not giving our energies to things which would ultimately not satisfy.
I pray that this New Year you’ll be able to look back and ask questions of the past in such a way that you’ll be able to embrace the future with faith and hope. I pray that there will be thanksgiving, apologies, forgiveness and love. And I pray that all of your living, with whatever the future will hold and whatever tools we use in it, will be held in the palm of God’s hand, and lived to God’s glory, for God, in Christ, is our yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.
*The book is Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, Basic Books 2011. On p. 304 She quotes a Rabbi’s sermon at Yom Kippur, and he offers these four things to say to the dead.
September 21, 2014 § 1 Comment
I post sermons on here when enough people comment about them after I preach them. So here’s today’s, on Matthew, and whether I am converted.
The thing is, I wonder if any of us really know what it is to be thoroughly converted. What it is to be going completely one way, and then stop and go in the exact opposite direction. What it is to set aside everything for which we’ve dreamed and worked and saved and planned, and to go and do something completely different. I wonder if, really, we’re a mixture of old and new, good and bad, trying to shape it and sort it so that land just on the right side of the line. I wonder if most of us are really going at this Christian life bit by bit, two steps forward and a step back, hoping that, when we take stock we can demonstrate that we’ve made some progress.
If I’m honest I’m quite envious of someone like Matthew. Everyone knew what he had been like, and therefore what a difference Jesus had made in his life. We all know about tax collectors in the Bible. They did a necessary job: taxes help society when used well, and in themselves they are not evil. But the biblical tax collectors added their personal touch, using the force of law and the authority of the state to line their own pockets as well. Matthew, or Levi in the other gospels, did this like any other, and was loathed as a result. Tax collectors personified what today’s collect called “the selfish pursuit of gain and the possessive love of riches”. They were a byword for everything that was corrupt and bad and loathsome, and they knew it. Perhaps they even revelled in it. ‘No one likes us. We don’t care’.
The way Matthew tells it, he’s in his booth being loathsome and corrupt. Jesus walks past. Jesus has already gained a reputation for being powerful and charismatic and challenging and divinely inspired. He’d healed loads of people, cleansed people of leprosy, helped a paralysed man to walk, rid people of evil things which had taken them over. He’d even changed the weather. These were close knit communities. People talked, quicker than we tweet now. No one, least of all Matthew would have been in any doubt as to who this was and what he stood for. Two words to Matthew. ‘Follow me’. And that’s it. He does.
That’s why I’m envious. Because, the way it’s told, Matthew is one thing and then immediately he’s another. Old life: gone. I guess it would have to be: he was so obviously doing the wrong thing that any hint of doing it again and he would have been out on his ear, even self condemned. If he was going to follow Jesus it would be all or nothing. And it was all. Not only does he get to be one of the twelve, he gets to write it all down, so that he’s both an Apostle, one of those who could recount the words of Jesus and he’s an evangelist: a writer of the Good News, so that we can still hear his words today.
And, perhaps because he’s conscious of all the harm he has done his own people, the Jews he has a special concern for them in his Gospel. Remember how Zaccheus makes recompense by repaying what he’s taken many times over? I wonder if Matthew, aware of all that he has taken from his own people, ensures that he gives them the most precious thing that he can: an account of the faith in Christ which turned his life round and gave him hope. Read through Matthew’s Gospel – I dare you – and count the number of times he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures and shows how Jesus fulfils them. From wherever you are, he says, Jesus can and will be your Messiah, your Saviour, your hope and your light.
I’m envious because this shines a very clear light on the murkiness and complexity of my discipleship. I can point to a moment when I knew I made a decision for Christ. That came after a lifetime – 15 years – of church attendance. I was never very bad, and then and now have had no public reputation for going the wrong way or doing the wrong thing. My day to day life didn’t have to change very much, and, though pleased, no one was very much surprised when I followed a call to be ordained. I didn’t have to turn round from very much, and that means I have to look very carefully to check what a difference following Christ is making today.
Reflecting on the call of Matthew, crystal clear as it is, is like holding up a mirror – one of those dressing room mirrors with lights on it. Matthew’s is what a 100% conversion looks like. What does yours? What, for example, has following Jesus done to your attitude to money? Do you still, really, put more store by it than your heavenly treasure? What about your attitude to other people? Are they all there to be served, to be loved, or are some of them to be swept out of the way, dominated and defeated? What about your reputation, the things which mark you out as successful, your ambitions? Where are they when faced with the two simple words Matthew heard: follow me?
And if you want my honest answer: none of my responses to those questions will be as clear as Matthew’s. I know I could have been something else rather than a Vicar, but I have to say that my last three roles have meant living in three very nice places. I know as a Vicar I am the target for all sorts of stuff other people avoid – last night I was walking the dog up Toll Gavel, when a hooded young person in Subway saw my clerical shirt, looked me straight in the eye, leered and stick his middle finger up. I don’t think it was a cheery greeting. And sometimes you get worse abuse in the church, not out of it. But no one can tell me that my life is harder than anyone else’s in a complex employment situation. And this is no sacrifice compared to the lot of some Christians across the world.
I want to secure my finances as much as the next person. I’m as defined by my possessions as much as anyone else. Ask me how pleased I was when I bought a guitar I’ve wanted for 30 years. I care about my position and what people think about me, and if I had to weigh that up against what I want people to think about the Jesus I serve, there might be a slimmer majority than for the Scottish referendum.
Matthew shows me that my conversion is still happening. And I bet yours is too. Yes, I follow Christ. I sometimes wear clothes which make that so clear that people can tell me what they think of it. And yes, I’m still working out what that means. My emotions, and my finances, and my intellect and my relationships are all still listening to Jesus’s words, and trying to make sense of them. Thanks be to God that when we’re with Jesus we are truly with him, right from the start. After Matthew’s call there’s a big dinner, and all sorts of dodgy types are there. Far from them dragging Jesus down, he raises them up. That’s us: with him we are made new.
And then we have to work out what that means. I will follow, if you’ll help me. And I’ll help you too. Amen.
August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
In the Hebrew Scriptures the history books – Samuel, Kings and Chronicles – have a difficult time with the idea of Kingship. It is not because of the bad ones: the kings who manifestly disobey the commands of God from start to finish. It‘s also the ones you would think we should admire, and hold up as examples. Of course even they do some stupid things. People do. But the histories of Israel are more worried than that. Taken as a whole they advise us to regard the whole institution of monarchy with great caution.
This stretches right back to the people’s demand for a king in the first place. Samuel has combined the roles of prophet and judge, but the people have no faith in those who will follow him. They look around at other nations, just as our politicians do today when looking for a model of some social policy: ‘they do it better in Sweden’; ‘this is what works in Germany’. The people look at the strong nations around, for Israel has ever been under threat from its neighbours. And they see that kingship seems to work. ‘Give us one of them’, they demand of Samuel.
Samuel does, but gives them a health warning. The King will make you subservient. The King will demand everything of you, he says. ‘In that day you will cry out because of your King’ is his prophecy, in 1 Samuel 8. 18. Their reply? ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we might be like other nations…’ (1 Sam 8. 19, 20). And they get their wish. Saul, who is something of a disaster, then David, who builds up the country and enlarges its borders, and Solomon, who establishes it, fortifying Jerusalem even more, holding court there so that world leaders come knocking, and founding the temple, to show the impregnable power of the relationship between God, King, nation and people.
A wise reading of history is often able to show that the seeds of destruction are to be found at the moment of what looks like complete success. A reliance on what has got you to the point of achievement, simply looking for more of the same, will lead to the whole edifice crumbling. That’s as true of the Roman Empire as of the financial markets in 2007 as it is of the England cricketers who won the Ashes in 2005 and fell away soon after. The Books of Kings, especially, describe just such a fall, and attribute it not just to bad leadership, but to the very model of kingship itself.
Solomon, the wise, the all powerful, the sought after one, is not immune from finding security in transient alliances rather than the complete dependence on God which is the hallmark of Israel. Kingship makes you do that. Power concentrated in the hands of one person, to whom others fawn, eventually corrupts. And with few checks and balances that power turns in on itself. It was already happening at the end of Solomon’s reign, and not even the strong words of the prophet Ahijah about the breaking up of the twelve tribes of Israel can stop the process.
Our first reading tonight carries on the story. Solomon has died. Rehoboam, his son and anointed successor, trusts in the wrong sort of exercise of authority. Absolute kingship, he feels, can best be demonstrated by showing people who is boss. Is that not what a King is? Wise heads invite him to exercise his authority with humility and restraint, but kingship lends itself more easily to a display of power than of humility. He would rather be ruler than servant. He would look weak otherwise. Ten of the tribes tell him what he can do with it, and so begins the split of the nation, into two Kingdoms. A couple of hundred years and it’s all gone, the nation overrun, the leaders in exile. And we can safely say that the split, the destruction, has been there all along.
My former boss used to say that ‘any system can be made not to work’. The Judges and the early prophets had their troubles too. But reliance on an overt exercise of power – ‘someone who will go out before us and fight our battles’, as the people say to Samuel when they ask for a King – this reliance has perhaps more chance of failure than any other. The people put a figurehead and a system in between them and their joint responsibility for the land and nation and people. Their abdication of power leads to it being exercised badly, however hard the King in question tries.
In that same land today different models of leadership and power currently clash, and people die. In our own land the people with power seen increasingly remote for the people they govern, or should that be ‘serve’? We do well to be suspicious of the exercise of power. We do well also to pray for those who have it, and hold up before them the model of the one who, with all authority on heaven and earth, sought out the weak, sat with the needy, shared the life of the poor, and gave up every shred of what he had, that we might live. Amen.
August 5, 2014 § 4 Comments
When I was a Vicar in Nottinghamshire I had good cause to be grateful to the Chaplaincy Team at Kings Mill Hospital, in between Sutton in Ashfield and Mansfield. It is a cause of great regret to me that the trust which now manages that hospital is unable to employ Canon Jeremy Pemberton. Its rules state that Chaplains must be authorised by their denomination, and the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham will not issue a licence. The story from the BBC is here.
I know Jeremy. We share a name. We have a curacy in common, and we’ve met down the years. I hope I would feel the same way if he was unknown to me. In February I wrote a blog post which regretted the strength of the wording of the House of Bishops’ Statement on Same Sex Marriage.
The House stated, incontrovertibly, that the Christian doctrine of marriage as it currently stands does not allow for a relationship between people of the same sex to be counted as a marriage. It went on, though, to use the words ‘conduct’ and ‘discipline’ in such a way as to allow individual bishops to use the statement as a means of their formal actions with clergy who marry a person of the same sex. I regretted this, because it seemed to me to prejudge the outcome of the ‘facilitated conversations’ we will be having in the next two years.
Jeremy Pemberton was the first C of E cleric to marry under the provisions of the new law. His Bishop had to do something – the House of Bishops’ Statement required it. As I understand it the Bishop of Lincoln, in whose Diocese Jeremy is currently a Hospital Chaplain, wrote to Jeremy, noting that his marriage was at variance with the Statement, but not withdrawing his licence. That seemed to me a humane and pastoral response, though I’ve not seen the letter itself.
Jeremy had already applied for a new Hospital Chaplaincy job in another diocese. Allowing an ‘errant’ cleric to keep their licence is one thing. Issuing a new licence to one is quite another. Again, it seemed to me that such a Diocesan Bishop could, in theory, note the circumstances of the cleric’s life, determine that, though irregular, those circumstances were not a bar to the proposed ministry, and issue a licence with a note on the file saying that those irregularities were on record. Such a Bishop could look his brother Bishops in the eye and say that the provisions in the Statement had been duly considered.
But…Southwell and Nottingham is in interregnum, and has a Bishop who is acting until a new diocesan is appointed. That Bishop is in an impossible position. Even if he wanted to issue a licence, he would not want to tie the hands of the new Bishop, and indeed he had already acted by removing Jeremy’s Permission to Officiate (Jeremy lives in that diocese, though he works in Lincoln). Advice from the Archbishop of the Province would no doubt be the same – again, entirely understandably. Though the House of Bishops approves of ‘conscientious dissent’, this was not then the situation in which it could be exercised.
Which is the pity of it all, and the unfairness, and quite possibly the injustice. Some injustices are not the fault of an individual, or one part of an organisation. They emerge out of a series of unfortunate events. Jeremy as a gay married cleric, is currently licensed to do the job he does. He is being refused a licence to do that same job in another place. What puts it into sharp relief is that the NHS would be prosecuted if it tried to prevent any other of its employees from being appointed to a post because they had married their same sex partner.
No one wins here. The House of Bishops, and the Church of England, is only at the beginning of a response to Same Sex Marriage, but the House’s initial statement is phrased such that it will now be continually on the back foot, or ‘behind the curve’, as Jeremy put it on TV last night. Jeremy now looks to be marooned, unable to be licensed to any other job than the one he holds. Kings Mill Hospital has to look for another Chaplain – and the hospital trust is surely baffled at a church which acts in this way. The Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham has to bide its time, awaiting a Bishop who can act in his own right, rather than simply holding the fort.
It will be reasonably clear that my personal theological views allow for the possibility of marriage being expanded to include those of the same sex, though I have much more thinking to do, and I’m sure many members of my congregation are in a different place. That’s a conversation for us to have, as the wider church will also have it. But I think there are wrongs in Jeremy Pemberton’s situation, and I pray they can be righted. I hope the House of Bishops can have a full and frank conversation very soon.
July 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
I first joined Synod in 1995, representing Southwell (now Southwell and Nottingham). I came off in 2002 when I moved to York, but for seven years my job at York entailed organising the Synod service at the Minster. That meant I got to come to stuff on campus, join in worship (and help it on site too) but not have to sit through the tedious debates. Win win.
I came back on in 2009 to represent York, and after the vote yesterday I’ve been reflecting a bit about the massive privilege and learning experience it’s been over the last 19 years.
There is no more intimidating place to make a maiden speech, even though everyone is lovely. I’ve spoken from the platform as well, and that was even harder. I’ve helped in worship: from eucharists for the staff, said and sung morning and evening prayer, to stuff with a contemporary music group. I was even Chaplain for one whole day. The Eucharist in London is complex logistically! I’ve seen four Archbishops at close quarters. Once I got to be Canterbury’s chaplain, in York, just for a morning in the Minster, carrying his processional cross.
Synod’s work is most done behind the scenes. I’ve been on three steering and revision committees, from the Common Worship Eucharist through the Additional Lectionary to Faculty Jurisdiction. I’ve had seven years on the Liturgical Commission and a couple on the Church Buildings Council. Both of these are applied theology and ministry seminars, and are wonderful. In our debates I have learned such a lot – from speakers on the platform and from the floor.
And over the last year we’ve had the change of atmosphere which has led to our ‘good disagreement’ and the passing of legislation to open the episcopacy to men and women equally.
Above all there have been massive and lasting friendships, across theological and churchmanship lines. These have been, and are, with Synod members, the fabulous staff, and the press and observers. Eating together at York has been a joy. That started in the 1990s with 30 minutes talking to David Sheppard about how to play leg spin, and ended yesterday with Archbishop Justin laughing uproariously at the recounting of a calamity of mine.
If you’ve read this far you’ll be thinking that it’s begun to sound like on obituary, and it is, because I resigned today. No big deal. Just because of the timing of a course of study I want to do. I figured that voting ‘yes’ yesterday was a good way to end. Except that this morning iced the cake. Three of us formed a music group. Simon Butler, a friend made through Synod, and Archbishop Sentamu, and I played three of my favourite chorusses (not chosen by me). To have voted as we did yesterday, and then to have worshipped that way this morning means that July 2014 will live long in my memory.
And nineteen years serving Synod have given me so much. I’m very grateful.
It’s been a blast.
July 15, 2014 § 3 Comments
Home now from York. Monday, where we voted in favour of women bishops, was just exhilarating. I’ve been pondering how we turned round the deep feeling of despair of Nov 2012 to the joy (for many) and tentative confidence (for, I hope, all) of July 2014.
A few factors – which I wonder if I can apply to the meetings and church decisions I have a leadership role in
Facing reality. In November 2012, no one was pleased. All, even those unable to receive a woman bishop’s ministry, knew we had failed. Collectively we squared up to this as a fact: rationally, emotionally and spiritually. We agreed we could not go on.
Assessing our processes honestly. We realised that starting with the ‘rules’ meant that we were instantly adversarial. We articulated that, for something as fundamental as this, we needed to talk to each other in a different way.
Thinking outside the box. We stepped outside our previous processes, and used a model of reconciliation tested in conflict zones around the world. The ‘facilitated conversations’ meant that those with differing views had to thoroughly listen to each other.
Using the current box creatively. A defining moment was when Pete Broadbent, who knows how institutions work, proposed a way of using Standing Orders which was within our usual rules, but their creative use meant that there could be both speed and thoroughness. The ‘reconciliation’ model became the way to start the legislative process, and we owe much to the group of people who, on eth Steering Committee, turned intention into action.
Treating each other with lavish generosity. The debates that followed were a million miles away from a succession of speeches for and against. People committed themselves to listening and understanding. Some were very moving indeed.
This was not universal. There remain some who regard themselves as under threat and marginalised.
But: we only really started the process on year ago, in July 2013. We’ve done it in a year. It feels very different. I praise God for it. And I wonder whether this might be a model for some of the contentious things which affect our parish life.
I’m leaving the most important point until last.
Recently there has been a ‘continuous praying presence’ whenever Synod is meeting. I’m convinced that has made a, or the, difference. And as I drove back this afternoon I wondered whether having that for our PCC meetings, and Standing Committee, might change the game too. Hmmm…