Wednesday, January 06, 2010

ministry, imagination and leadership

Stephen Cherry, in Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture, reflects on the task of pastoral ministry and leadership. The particular occasion is extraordinary, the brutal murder of a 14 year old boy in his local community. Suddenly, he, as priest, finds himself at the centre of a rapidly evolving crisis. The media ring and at the end of a media interview, the question is asked: will the church be doing anything to respond.

At such moments the canvas is blank. No-one can prepare a leader for such a moment. No book exists, no course was offered in theological education, that can prepare someone for the appropriate response to that particular moment.

After reflection, Stephen Cherry’s church decided to open their doors. The community could come and sit, or light a candle, or write a prayer of condolence. The response was not just his, as ordained minister. It included those who would offer the ministry of the cup of tea.

The moment is certainly extra-ordinary. In my 15 years of ministry, I’ve never faced a brutal murder.

But I reckon the question – will the church be doing anything to respond – is being asked, continually, daily (even if mostly subconsciously). It might be the parishioner, arriving on Sunday, who during the week has just heard news they have cancer. It might be a family facing redundancy, or the professional contemplating a job offer in another city or a festering family relationship.

It might be a more broad brush – the impact of recession, or climate change, or how to live in response to the other that is terrorist.

The canvas is blank, but surely the question is being asked, constantly, subconsciously: Will the church be doing anything to respond?

One answer is no, nothing extra. The church will simply do what is has always done. Driven by a theology of tradition or a theology of worship, the church will continue to pray and reflect. And there is value in that.

But what to do with John 3:16, the knowledge that God so loved the world. Which presumably includes the world’s questions. Or Isaiah 1, which reminds us that God detests prayer and worship as mere repetition, as acts that do not engage with justice, encourage the oppressed and speak for the fatherless.

In the face of the question – will the church be doing anything to respond? – what is required of the minister at this point is primarily imagination. Since no book has been written, since this moment is particular, since the canvas is blank, the demand is for an exercise of imagination.

Thankfully, whether the need is ordinary (the daily routines of life) or extra-ordinary (unexpected tragedy), plenty of resources to nourish the imagination do in fact exist – the guidance of the Spirit, others in the leadership team, pastoral colleagues, time for reflection, two ears that are listening, the wealth of resources present as the church in history has responded through time and space.

As a bird makes a nest, so the task is to work with what is on hand, to sift one’s resources and stitch together something, unique.

Will the church be doing anything to respond is a question not just for the minister, but also for the theological seminary. It is impossible to prepare a leader for every particular. But it is surely possible to give them confidence that they can stitch, that they do have imagination, that they have begun to use it, that they are aware of what resources they might be able to draw on.

Posted by steve at 11:27 AM

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant reflections Steve… I ofte find myself and others reflecting on, asking and getting restless about what we often describe as ‘not rocket science’ in terms of opportunities for us to be a community of people who ‘do something’… in the wake of our bushfires, at a park with other families, in town watching a negative situation unfold… I wouldn’t claim the scenario you mentioned as ‘not rocket science’ but the underlying notion the question is or will be asked is the biggest ‘hope’ we have I think of being able to see our way into new forms of church/of being the people of God where we are… just by being the blank canvass but being aware that it is, that response would be welcomed, needed, found helpful etc etc… I will be thinking about this thru our Summer Camp this week.
    I had begun to ponder 2010 as a year for extending ‘imagination’ and writing about it… you just may have prompted me with framework thru the question you’ve pondered!!

    Comment by Rob Hanks — January 9, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

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