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Absolute Flexibility?

Last night I had a short 'welcome' meeting with the leadership team (for want of a better expression) of my new church.  Among the things we talked about was how best to handle the situations that arise when people knock on the church door requesting financial help.  I asked about keeping a supply of tins/packets that could be offered to folk who claim to have no food and shared my intended practice of going with people to buy tickets for trains or to top up key-cards for fuel etc.  We agreed that, as a general rule, giving people money is not a good idea, but that there does need to be a bit of flexibility and room for discretion.  It is important that we all know where we are in this, and other potentially complex issues.

All of which got me thinking a bit about the balance of rules and responsibility.  Someone once said 'God gave us ten commandments not ten suggestions' (actually there are 14 in the Decalogue if I recall correctly!) which all sounds fine until you try to define them.  'Thou shalt not kill, except when I the Lord thy God command it of thee.'  'Thou shalt not commit adultery but I the Lord thy God shalt not define exactly what constitutes said offence.'  Hardly surprising that by Jesus' time there were hundreds of 'traditions' to go alongside Torah as the poor old Pharisees tried to work out how the Law could be kept.  Easy for us to say they went about it the wrong way - confusing letter (which kills according to the apostle) with spirit (which gives life).

Principles, policies and practices (another advance hint of Sunday if you're checking!) are important for the healthy life of faith communities.  Too many 'thou shalt (not)' statements seem self defeating.  Too much licence and we lose the very thing we try to create.  Responsible, flexible, principled guidance seems to me a good way forward - if a challenge to discern and live with.

So, if you arrive on the doorstep of my (our) church cold and hungry and I'm there, I'll give you a warm, listen to your tale and, with the permission and blessing of the church, may even buy you a skinny latte and a bacon butty at one of the local coffee houses!

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