Mafia priest

27 09 2010

Had an unusual weekend just gone. I took the baptism of my beautiful nephew in Skipton, North Yorkshire. That, in itself, is not unusual. I am often called upon to take the weddings, funerals and baptisms of family and friends. I enjoy it and I hope that it gives a personal, person centred feel to the occasion. What was slightly more unusual about this baptism is that it was held in the afternoon (not part of the usual morning service) and so the church just had me and my family and friends. It was like ‘An audience with …’ I would always prefer to have the baptism as part of the usual worship gathering of a particular community but there was good reason for having this one separately. But it did feel odd!

At first I thought it was because it was just me and a whole bunch of people I know (most of which have no or little church connection); but I have done weddings in this company (with no church members present) so it wasn’t simply that. I also thought it was because I was, as always, disorganised (and sadly that showed!) but again, most of the baptisms I have taken have happened during (so called) All Age Worship and have definitely being less than organised! I thought it might have been that I have become a little more radical in my preaching style (more of which in another blog); but actually I would have felt more uncomfortable if I had ‘watered down’ what I had said. I thought it might have been because I asked for a collection to raise money for the work that I am involved with in Ghana (we raised about £82 – well done family and friends!!); but apart from a few, most seemed comfortable with that.

Then I began to realise that it was a recurring discomfort that I have felt for a long time, and partly why I got into the Pioneer Ministry game. I was worried, in fact I knew, that the language and symbols that I was about to deploy were completely inappropriate to my setting. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand the family and friends wanted to celebrate the birth of the child, wanted to mark it as a special moment, and wanted to do more than say thank you for him. They wanted a ceremony of greater import than simply a thanksgiving or naming ceremony; something that began to articulate the meaningfulness of the moment. On the other hand the words in the liturgy (which in the church I was taking the service were words from 1975) were meaningless to the gathered body. How was I to ask the ‘congregation’ if they were willing to uphold the life of the church in worship and service? Only a handful would have been able to say that with any integrity. (incidentally – this is less of a problem for me in weddings – perhaps because the language is more appropriate, or perhaps because it’s very nature is both rock and hard place – a religious thread in an essentially legal tapestry).

This isn’t a debate about infant vs adult baptism. This is a question relating to pioneer ministry, fresh expressions and new forms of church. What are the symbols and signs that have powerful meaning in our world today that also resonate with a Christian Narrative? What is appropriate language for marking those moments of transition and importance? Important questions if I am to belong to a community that wants to mark significant moments in people’s lives who don’t want to (or cannot) access the language and symbolism of inherited church. This isn’t simply a question about baptism: at a recent Venture FX gathering we began a conversation about what to do when people show an interest in matters of faith – when all we have is Alpha (and Alpha type courses) to fall back on.

All that said – we had a great time staying with my sister and brother and their partners (not to mention one beautiful little baby boy!!!) So I was blessed – even if no one else was!


Christmas and gatherings

22 09 2010

A few people have commented that I haven’t written much on my blog recently so here goes:

I guess part of the reason for not writing is because not much is happening (well in reality a lot’s happening but nothing really worth blogging about!).* I have spent a lot of time reflecting on various aspects of pioneer ministry, Fresh Expressions of church, cultural engagement and all the other stuff that you would expect a pioneer minister to reflect on. Some of those reflections are half baked and need a little longer to mature, some would be inappropriate to blog because they involve people and organisations, some are eventually making their way to hard drive and hopefully will form some kind of document (even, possibly, a book! How long have I been promising that one?!!)

I’ve spent most of September in either meetings or planning a Christmas event. I have applied for funding for the Christmas event and will hopefully unveil it in the next month. I’m conscious of saying too much at this stage, only to find out that it is either financially or practically impossible! I don’t think it would benefit the project to offer up enticing plans for future events and then have to apologise for why they have not happened (I’ve been there many times before). Suffice to say it involves actors, a photographer and singing! I also met with my fellow Venture FX pioneers in the middle of September which was a real blessing. We spent the day, worshipping together, reflecting on our practice, sharing something of our personal journeys and holding one another in prayer. There are 7 pioneers in the Venture FX scheme in total with a few more to come on stream soon, I know that I am hugely biased, but I really do believe that we, as a group, have something quite unique and significant to offer to the ongoing missiological conversation regarding pioneer ministry and Fresh Expressions/Emerging Church. We have covenanted to meet once a month and I am sure that there is a lot to come from those gatherings.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading this month. My reading list includes Kester Brewin’s Other; Christine Pohl’s Making Room (a revisit to this book); and (hat tip to Bart) I have gone back to read works by Jacques Derrida, in particular Of hospitality
. I think you can see where my thoughts are heading. Let’s see where we end up.


* One of the things that Ghana taught me was that filling your day with stuff is as unproductive as filling your day with nothing! Instead, fill your day with that which makes you flourish (some of which will be dull, but necessary).

%d bloggers like this: