When I moved here from central Manchester, it felt like moving to Dibley - and the manse has more than a passing resemblance to the vicarage in said fictional village. Hopefully Geraldine Granger does not have to live with the fact that her gas fires have been declared unsafe and cut off, or a chimney that was described last week as being at imminent risk of collapse. That said, my diaconate cannot quite measure up to the Dibley PCC, so we must be grateful for small mercies!
A vicar friend of mine often refers to summer weekends as 'cinema time' with anything up to four weddings and a funeral. If that is so, this must be a reverse film fortnight, as it has seen four funerals and not even a hint of a wedding!
The result of the above means that not much energy has gone into much else, and having delivered two services literally back-to-back yesterday my brain is largely reduced to mush!
I was using the lectionary readings from Deuteronomy 18: 9-20 and 1 Corinthians 8 as the basis for paired reflections looking at the balance of 'life in the faith community' and 'engagement with the communinty of which we are part.'
My own congregation began with an activity to list things they had been told that 'Christians don't do' and then I asked them why not - they realised they did not know (as expected!). So we should not be knitting or sewing on Sunday, swearing, laughing at risque jokes, hanging out washing on a Sunday or gambling. They seemed rather shocked when I told them I could make a Biblical case in favour of drinking alcohol and probably justify one against hair dye and perms! And as for the fact that if I take the church table cloths to wash after a Saturday event they'll be hung out Sunday morning ...
Anyway, we used the Deuteronomy passage to think about life in the faith community and the need to engage with questions about life style, spiritual matters and so on. The twin risks of foot-stamping, proof-text quoting legalism at one extreme and laissez faire 'as long as we love each other' at the other were identified. We talked a little about occult involvement but focussed on the central theme of seeking God's guidance in matters of faith and life.
The 1 Corinthians passage raised questions about understanding the culture outside the faith community and the need to respect the sensitivities of others and not simply assume they know what we know or think as we think. What are the stumbling blocks we put in the way of people discovering a relationship with God through Jesus? We identified the need to be culturally aware and to understand why, for example, alcohol, meat eating or head covering might matter to others.
We concluded by recognising the tension that must exist between seeking to develop our own 'holiness' (to pinch a Wesleyan word) and being gentle with those on the edges of faith community. We are not to be holier than thou, thinking we've got it all sorted, but as learners oursleves, we need to be gentle with others, allowing God to challenge and change them (or us) if needed. Got a few raised eyebrows at my illustrative scenarios but hey, that's the job!
The second congregation (at Dibley plus 1 mile) did not do the interactive bit but heard the same reflections.
I'm not too sure if what I said made any sense to either of them, but I found it helpful to reflect on these two lesser known passages and to see how my own understandings have changed over the years as I have better (I believe) understood the challenges of authentic discipleship and become less dogmatic in my views.
I'm not too sure what either congregation would have made of me ordering a pizza delivery when I finally got home on Sunday evening - but I can find at least two proof texts in my favour!!!