Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spirited-church structures? Friends of students, teachers, creatives?

I’ve found this image a huge source of sustenance this week.

To gaze at the bent back and study the hunched shoulders,
To note the quill, a mind hard at ink,
To be reminded of the Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovering as Companion and Inspirer,
To do some research and find the story, of a man who wanted to live his life in prayer, but was dragged into administration and structures in the service of the church.

I’m tired and so are the students and so on Wednesday we started class by reflecting on those who have gone before, who have also worked hard over bent desk, hoping that in their work, the Spirit might be more fully named.

The man is Gregory and he is saint of students, teachers and creatives. He was leader of the Catholic church from 590 until his death in 604, the first of the popes to come from a monastic background, unwillingly forced from the monastic world of prayer into public church life. (especially through his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the life he used to enjoy.)

Gregory was a missional church leader – most famous for sending a mission to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons of England. From Gregory we get what we know as the Gregorian chant, a system of writing down reminders of chant melodies.

Gregory is known for his administrative system of charitable relief of the poor at Rome. His philosophy was that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. “I have frequently charged you … to act as my representative … to relieve the poor in their distress ….”

My boss made a comment a few weeks ago, about what he called an “old-fashioned” lecturer, the type who did not write academic papers, but who worked out and expressed his theology in the service of the church, on councils and boards and writing church polity. Easy to dismiss. But it’s another whole dimension of ministry, of hard work and bent backs and seeking to see words and structures and administration and decisions be channels for God’s blessing.

Posted by steve at 08:24 AM


  1. I hate to attempt to throw the proverbial cat amongst the pidgeons, but with regards to your boss’ comment, is s/he implying that there is no place in the Body of Christ for the so-called “old-fashioned lecturer”? (NB such ad hominem comments are quite telling)

    Personally, I doubt that would be a bridge that anybody would want to cross; to stand within the Body, draw a line in the sand separating those whom such a person deems worthy or unworthy of participating in the Body, simpyl due to one’s expression (the whole Form vs Content argument again). Is it legitimate for us humans to make such judgement calls on somebody’s form or expression of the core content of the Faith? Can we really say that someone’s expression is illegitimate simply because that is not how we would choose to express our own response to Jesus?

    Sorry — my comment ballooned beyond what I expected to write. Guess I got thinking out loud.

    Comment by Ryan — May 15, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  2. Ryan,

    think you might have grasped the wrong end of the stick. could be my bad for not communicating well.

    most lecturers today both lecture + write academically. publish or perish is pretty strong. the publish is focused on academic articles rather than the church service. so my boss was talking about lecture + serve on boards and write constitutions and polity etc.

    another way to frame it would be to say that administration is – really and truly – a spiritual gift. to type church minutes, to run leadership teams in ways that are Spirited, not bureaucratic,


    Comment by steve — May 15, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  3. Hi Steve. I pursued the link thinking I might find Gregory the Great (you know my hunger for celery). If I’m the ‘boss’ to whom you refer (and the dates and the way you speak to me would suggest that I am), I’d just like to make it clear that I would have made that comment with deep affection and appreciation for the scholar and teacher who “did not write academic papers, but who worked out and expressed his theology in the service of the church, on councils and boards and writing church polity”. I’d go further and say that theological wisdom and insight that finds expression in the life of the church is always better than theological wisdom and insight that can’t break out of the refereed journal article, the keynote address or even the best selling monograph. (I’d add that the two aren’t mutually exclusive – even if one is to be preferred over the other in practice.)

    Comment by Andrew Dutney — October 28, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  4. Yes Andrew, you are “the boss” and the term is used by me carrying the emotions of deep affection and appreciation for you in that role. And the post is intended to point out the need for scholars and teachers that shape the church through structures etc.


    Comment by steve — October 28, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

  5. Oh. Thanks. That’s actually a very helpful affirmation for me this week. The affection and appreciation is mutual.

    Comment by Andrew Dutney — October 28, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

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