Tuesday 18 October 2011

Clergy Losing Faith

Clergy losing their faith is nothing new. They are people, and some people lose their faith. It may come about through personal or public tragedy, although such circumstances also serve to cement faith and strengthen it in many. It may happen through a general drift away from belief over time. It may occur because faith has become confused with the excitement of ‘significant times’ of ministry, and when those times are over the individual discovers that there is nothing left. Loss of faith is sad, but it happens.

The e-News sweep that came my way yesterday contained a link to news of a support group for clergy who have lost their faith. As always, it seems, there is a link to ‘high priest’ of atheism, Richard Dawkins. It is reported that:

‘The Clergy Project has grown to nearly 100 members since the launch of a private, invitation only, website in March. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have now made the project public in hopes of drawing more pastors, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders who have chosen to "move beyond faith."

“We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn,” Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who now serves as co-president of FFRF, said in a statement Friday.

“Now they do have a place to meet, a true sanctuary, a congregation of those of us who have replaced faith and dogma with reason and human well-being.”’

I’m sure it is true that clergy are reluctant to own up to doubt within their church and denomination, for fear that it may lead to loss of their livelihood. It may also be true that denominational hierarchies (and if you are a Baptist, ‘lower-archies’!) don’t know what to do with doubting clergy. How do we support those clergy who are struggling with faith and wrestling with doubt? Is there a space where we can be open and honest and go through our ‘long dark night of the soul’? Answers below, please ….

I am a little amused that the Clergy Project is speaking of itself in pseudo-Christian terms: ‘a place to meet ….true sanctuary ….a congregation.’ Is it that they realize the church has something to offer which they do not? I also reflect on the fact that the church has always provided a place for doubting atheists to come and find faith in Christ.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of them were Richard Dawkins?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Austrian Hits!

Today, I arrived back from a day retreat to discover that my blog has had 42 hits, 41 of which were from Austria at around 3pm! Intriguing.

Anyone like to own up? :-)

Monday 10 October 2011

Mr Holland's Opus

Recently, I was introduced to the 1995 film, 'Mr Holland's Opus', starring Richard Dreyfuss.

Mr Holland is a musician and composer. He dreams of composing music that will be performed to many. Like many in his field, he takes his teaching certificate as a 'fall-back' in case the composing doesn't pay. In the film, we see him as a young newly-married man, who takes a teaching job in a high school. With his income, and his wife's, in four years he will be able to give up teaching and concentrate on composition. That is what he really wants to do.

It doesn't happen! Mr Holland teaches, grudgingly at first, trying to draw out a little talent from a lack-lustre collection of music students. As time goes by, he becomes loved by the students for bringing out their potential, but still he dreams of being a famous composer.

Mr Holland's teaching career is brought to a close, age 60, by budget cuts at his school. Now, he protests at the lack of options for the pupils at the school, but to no avail. He thinks he has achieved nothing of what he should have, as he wanders through the school a final time. Hearing a noise from the school assembly hall, he opens the door to find out what it is, and is greeted by enthusiastic applause. Pupils, past and present, are there to say thank you and wish him farewell. The Chair of the Governing body gives a speech. She tells the audience that he is not famous, and he has dreamed of being somewhere else. Then, stirringly, she says to Mr Holland:

'Look around you. We are the notes of your symphony!'

It's good to have hopes and dreams. Yet I wonder how many of us spend much of our lives wishing that we were somewhere else, when all along we are in the right place? Perhaps our impact where we are, is greater than our impact would be if we were where we wanted to be? Maybe, when we meet our Maker, God will rewind the film of our lives and say to us, 'These people you served, these situations you battled through, these times when you thought you had achieved nothing - these are the notes of your symphony!'

Friday 7 October 2011

Tell them that they are loved

At my Baptist Ministers' Refresher Conference last week, Jeannie Kendall, one of the speakers, told of how she asked friends via Facebook, what she should say to us.

One reply in particular stays with me:

'Tell them that they are loved, because ministers need to hear that too.'

Thursday 6 October 2011

Lessons from Steve Jobs

Following the sad and early death of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, there are a couple of quotes being shared that are worth repeating here:
  • "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."whenever the answer has been “No” for too many row,hange something.”
  • "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me; Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, now that’s what matters to me."
Inspiring words! RIP Steve Jobs. And for the rest of us, carpe diem!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Back to Church Sunday

There are various blogs going around at the moment on the success - or otherwise - of Back to Church Sunday. Some of them are of the 'we tried it and it didn't work' variety - as if B2CS is the panacea that the church needs to get it back on its feet. Others are of the 'we didn't think it would work, so we didn't try it' variety.

I guess it depends on context! In my church, we tried it as 'Back to Church Sunday' and it didn't really work. The suggestion was that if people were once part of a church, they would quite likely be open to an invitation to return (thus, some of the blogs about the gap being too big between church and the unchurched miss the point - B2CS was originally aimed at the 'ex-churched'). One or two responded and came to our church, but most of the invitations met a blank. The second year, we aimed at those who are un-churched but with whom we had friendship. About 12 extras came along, swelling our normal congregation by around 10%. That's more guests than normally come along, so I think that makes it a success. This year, the Baptist Union branded the day as the 'Big Welcome' and aimed, I think, more specifically at the unchurched. We had about 8 extras come in response to specific invitations, and few more visitors who happened to be there. Again, the strategy could be seen as successful and the service and sermon ideas that were provided worked well.

Juliet Kilpin has written an thought-provoking blog which you can read here. I agree with much of what she says, and particularly resonate with her question 'Why aren't we inviting people to church anyway?' The reasons she gives are:
  1. Lack of confidence in the church i.e. our congregations don't feel that their friends will relate to or like what goes on during a Sunday service
  2. Over-churched i.e. Christians don't get out much, spending so much time on church things that we don't have un-churched friends to invite.
  3. Churchless faith - for many the gap between where they are and church is too great to cross. They may encounter God in a different setting e.g. a different expression of church
For me, these aren't reasons not to observe the 'Big Welcome' or B2CS or whatever you want to call it, but we need to be better at what we do. For many churches, particularly those of a more traditional nature, the impetus of a national campaign (which could include Alpha, Christianity Explored etc) is what we need to encourage us to invite others. It encourages us to audit our welcome, our service content, our user-friendliness etc and that can be no bad thing. Of course, our mission strategy shouldn't stop there, but it might just start something!

Sunday 2 October 2011

Church at its best!

It seems to me that a church is at its best when it learns to have fun together! That's what my church has been doing this weekend.

Yesterday evening was our Harvest Supper, back again this year after its successful comeback last year. Around 100 people crammed into the church hall, for bangers and mash, and entertainment. The latter was mainly musical, including four excellent new worship songs written by one of the newer members of our congregation.

Today, we used the Operation Agri material for our all age Harvest Celebration. The children played their part, I missed my cue to finish off their presentation and we sang songs in English, Portugese and Karen. It was fun, but more importantly we were challenged as to how much we love: God, others and ourselves. And people around the world will benefit through the giving to Operation Agri!