Early March is often is my low point. I can no longer pretend that I’m just catching up after Christmas. Holy Week is about to claim the diary completely, and after that there are six AGMs to get through. I would still like to know who decided to put the Annual Meetings of the Church of England in April. It seems an aggressively anti-liturgical move.
There is always danger, therefore, that I will write my annual report in Grumpy Prophet Mode. (The winter has passed, the head-count is over, and we are not yet saved.) Grumpy Prophets have no place at annual meetings. So I have learned not to rely on my own perceptions.
At our PCC meeting on Monday, I asked for help with the AGM: ‘What’s going well? What do we want to celebrate?’ I knew there were things. Even as I asked I began to remember: conversations about children and communion; the weird but wonder summer produce stall; the atmosphere at the 11.30 service; the rescue of the ancient and lovely purple altar frontal. But the first response from the group surprised me completely.
‘People are talking about faith. Outside of church. People are talking to each other.’
Really? I had no idea.
One of the problems of having six churches is that I never feel like I know what’s going on. I am only there two Sundays out of four at the big church, and even less in the villages. I don’t get to feel the little shifts, the mood changes, spot the patterns because I’m always trying to re-join the community and figure out where they are.
It should not be surprising that people talk about faith, but it is. It’s one of the hardest things to get a community to do. Is it happening? Not enough. Not yet. But I am thrilled that even one person, in one part of the church thinks that it is so.
And the real mark of God is that I have no idea why it should be so. Yes, the Lent Groups are good — but there have always been Lent Groups. Yes, I expect people to talk about God — but I’m sure that’s been true of my colleagues too. But something is changing.
In a small group the other day, someone asked — in genuine curiosity and kindness — ‘Why are you here?’ It was a God question. We’d been talking about gender roles and Christian Feminism, and I suspect my outsider status was showing. What she was asking was, ‘Given the local culture, and given what you believe — what on earth is God doing, putting you here?’
I’m sure that I’m here because it was time for me to receive a gift of kindness — and these congregations give it abundantly. But as for what I give, what I am here to do? I am still not sure.
But perhaps we are beginning to get an answer. I am here because my very presence upsets the status-quo. I am here because when I say things about God that I think are normal and uncontroversial, they are often seen as surprising. The gap in assumptions can be hard, but it’s fascinating; so people are talking.
‘Does she really think that?’
‘But I’m sure we were taught…’
‘Do you think it could be…?’
There’s good Godly gossip going on, and that is worth celebrating indeed.