Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Personal Journey 19: Ministry Within the Wider Church

Quite a couple of days! On Monday, we had the enthronement service of the new Bishop of Hong Kong Island. The service began at 6.00pm, but we clergy had to be there by 5.00pm with an hours travelling either side and a banquet after it, it was a late night. No problem there, except yesterday we had a major Opening Ceremony here for our new school block and Church hall followed by a school bazaar. All these events are good fun in themselves, it's just that they are very time hungry. It's then a question of trying to fit in all the routine stuff still waiting.

The service for the new Bishop was really quite impressive as is the new Bishop, Bishop Paul. It's not often that a Bishop manages to say anything substantial in a sermon. Normally it's the same old platitudes. Bishop Paul delivered his very substantial sermon in both Cantonese and English as well as greeting people in Mandarin. He is a very annoying man. Not only is he clever and gifted, he is also a very likeable person! May God give him strength and energy for the ministry that lies ahead of him.

Personal Journey 19: Ministry Within the Wider Church

I think there is the danger when you talk about something as esoteric sounding as a Latin Mass that people think you are very inward looking. However, this was just a small part of an aim to encourage people to be more outward looking by seeing the bigger picture.

Coming back down to earth, the bigger picture for me personally was involvement with the Diocese, the Province and the wider Church as well as mission to those outside the Church. While at Bedford, I had concentrated on my work in the College. At the time, I found this pre-occupying enough, but in retrospect I felt, and feel, that I should have struck more of a balance and been more involved in the wider Church or in the Diocese at least. It has to be said that they weren’t actually clamouring for my involvement! When I went to Aberdeen it was different. Bishop Bruce was the sort of Bishop who encouraged people to be involved. When other clergy also encouraged me to take on a role, I felt that it was the very least I could do to accept.

One thing led to another, and I found myself very involved in the work of the Diocese and Province. One of the roles I took most seriously was on the Provincial Board of Ministry. This oversaw, amongst other things, theological training within the Province. The Scottish Episcopal Church, being a small and geographically diverse church, was wrestling with the issue of what was the best way to train future priests. It was moving from a residential based model of training in which people went away to theological college for training to one where people trained while remaining where they lived. Given my interest in theological training and theological study, in general, I believed this to be very important. In retrospect, I think I took it more seriously than they took me. Nevertheless, I still think what we did and what we were trying to do was worthwhile.

What mattered to me more than anything else at the time was Mission 21. Bishop Bruce asked me if I would be part of a venture within the Scottish Episcopal Church that was to address mission. I will resist the temptation to go into too much detail! Basically, however, Mission 21 was an attempt to encourage the Church to become more outward looking and more geared to mission. The first phase aimed to train a group of people as facilitators, who would spend time with local churches to help them to assess their effectiveness in mission and to ask how they could change to become more effective. I was invited to be one of the first to be trained.

It was really quite exciting, and I remember with fondness time spent at Perth in July, 1996 when Alice Mann from the Alban Institute in America led the training. On a personal level, it challenged me to think more about how I could be effective in reaching out to those who did not come to church. It was intensely practical and thoroughly rewarding. Alice was the sort of person it was simply impossible not to like. She was wise, inspiring, sensitive, and a truly wonderful person.

I went on to work as a facilitator on three separate occasions with three different congregations asking how each could become better at inviting, welcoming, and incorporating people into the specific church in question and, significantly, examining what each church needed to change and to do to enable them to do this successfully. The idea was not to impose a formula or a programme, but to look at the context of each church and to try to see what were the strengths and weaknesses in each situation. The outcome was a set of specific goals that the Church in question agreed to implement. I was so impressed at how seriously each of the Churches I worked with took the challenge. They were all theologically different in emphasis, but each saw the importance of trying to welcome and include people and took it very much to heart. Working with them changed me as much as it changed them.

Back home in Banchory, I was fortunate to enjoy good relationships with the other three churches in the town and with their clergy. There was one Roman Catholic Church and two Church of Scotland Churches. The Churches collaborated together on a number of projects and met together more formally for study during Lent. There were also good friendships between people within the different congregations. I had been the ecumenical Chaplain in Bedford, and found the idea of co-operation between the different Churches just common sense.

Some Christians within the town also met together informally for prayer and fellowship across the denominational boundaries. This tended to be charismatic in emphasis, though not exclusively so. I had avoided too much direct personal involvement in charismatic groups since Moreton. Frankly, it always seemed to cause me trouble more than anything else. I was, however, attracted by the obvious sincerity of the people concerned and with their real desire to minister to people rather than simply to entertain themselves. I appreciated their willingness to include me for a time in their fellowship and to allow me to minister as part of their group. It encouraged me to think seriously about the charismatic movement again.

All of which brings the story back to how I saw my ministry and where it was heading. Little did I think at the time that it would be to Hong Kong! This is going to take a few posts to explain!

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