Friday, December 22, 2006

Personal Journey 15: Initial Opposition

I am posting today conscious that I have finished the post rather abruptly, but I wanted to post, and this is as much as I can manage before Christmas. I will do my best to finish it next week! I love Christmas, but it is hectic! Please pray for me as I preach over Christmas. I always feel that what we are celebrating demands more than I am capable of. To any in Banchory who are reading this: thank you for so many memorable Christmases when I was with you. I hope you have an especially happy Christmas and that it is the first of many for your new Rector. May God bless her in the years ahead.

Personal Journey 15: Initial Opposition

It was clear that change within the church was not going to happen overnight so I aimed, in the short term, at doing two things:

1. Making what we did as friendly and as welcoming as possible without actually changing what we did.

2. Getting as involved personally as possible in the local community so that I could establish and build relationships with people.

The second was to prove easier than the first. Let me give you an idea of the problem. I was 37 when I was installed as the Rector. I was the youngest person on the Church Council (known as the Vestry in Scotland), and one of the youngest in the Church. There were about 5 children in the Sunday School. The services themselves were all very traditional, using traditional language and centred on the choir. And this was in a young town full of young couples with very young children.

On a personal level, I had come to believe at LBC that worship should be Eucharistic, that is, that the Eucharist should be at the heart of the Church’s life. On a Sunday at Banchory, there was an 8.00am Eucharist followed by a morning service, which started at 10.00am. I then had to be at Kincardine O’Neil by 11.15am for their morning service. As it was a ten mile drive, it was tight, and it meant that I could not stay behind afterwards for coffee and simply to chat with the congregation. What is more, the main morning service at Banchory was alternately the Eucharist and Mattins.

For the Eucharist, the congregation was used to the priest standing facing the altar with his back to the congregation. This was a practice that even the Catholics had changed with Vatican II. I did not want to do anything too radical, like moving the altar so I could stand behind it, facing the congregation, as had happened in most other Anglican and Catholic churches, so I moved to the side. I think the understanding that some within the church had come to was that the moment I made any change, no matter how small that change was, they would vigorously protest in the hope that they would discourage me from making any further changes.

I had been Rector just a few weeks when a letter complaining about me was written to the Bishop. It was by the same person who had demanded an assurance that I wouldn’t change anything. He complained that I was making unacceptable changes in the church and that I was ruining an otherwise happy church. He gave as examples my not turning my back on the congregation, telling people to sit or kneel for prayer, and saying ‘good morning’ at the start of the service. Fortunately, on paper the complaint sounded ridiculous and, besides, the Bishop realized that I hadn’t had time to make any changes, not significant ones anyway. However, the Bishop was new himself and handled it gently. I did what I could to explain and reassure. I did feel rather vulnerable, though, and unsure how to proceed.

However, the letter had precisely the opposite affect within the congregation. Most were good, kind people with a sense of fairness. And people felt that this was just unfair and that I was not being given a chance. Several older people, who knew the complainant well, told him what they thought of his behaviour and offered public support for what I was trying to do. This was a much needed encouragement.

While I was having mixed success with the first of my aims, things were, however, going better with the second. The most significant was my involvement with local schools. I had thought when I left Bedford that I would be leaving involvement with education behind. How wrong I was! Upon arriving in Banchory, I was asked to join the three other clergy in the town as a Chaplain to the local primary and secondary schools. Involvement in the primary school was to be especially important and a source of much joy.

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