Sunday, January 21, 2007

Personal Journey 21: Reaching a Decision

I am quite pleased to have been able to keep posting this week. There has been so much going on. To cap it all we had a serious burst pipe on Saturday at the Vicarage. It takes forever trying to sort these things out, doesn’t it? Don’t get me going about plumbers!

I am preaching on the rest of 1 Corinthians 12 today. A hard message to communicate. Anyway, I will try and post again on Tuesday.

See you then!

Personal Journey 21: Reaching a Decision

The problem in making a decision as to whether I should stay or seek a move was that, on the one hand, I believed that someone new could bring fresh insights and gifts. I thought the momentum that you get when someone new is appointed might help whoever it was who was appointed achieve some difficult goals and overcome the small, but vocal opposition that there was likely to be to change. On the other hand, the church members themselves were marvellous and were showing real potential for the future. People within the Church had caught the vision of an inclusive community in which difference was celebrated and not seen as a threat. Maybe, after all, I was the one to continue what I had started.

Perhaps I can be permitted a comment here. I believe now as much as I did then that a church community needs to be about inclusiveness, tolerance, and compromise. I don’t think a church should grow by one side ignoring the beliefs, opinions, and attitudes of the other, whatever those beliefs, opinions, attitudes may be. But it must surely be wrong that a very small number of vociferous people, who only have influence because of their social status, should hold a church to ransom.

In terms of my own ministry, I did feel that maybe the time had come for me to move on. Precisely because of the strength of my relationships with people, there were limits to what I could do. It isn’t good for me or anyone else just to do the same thing year in and year out. Furthermore, I still hoped, more than anything else, that I could be involved in theological training. This was still proving to be as difficult an ambition to achieve as it always had!

When I first moved up to Scotland from Bedford, I didn’t want to leave an academic environment altogether. I applied to and was accepted as a part-time postgraduate student at Aberdeen University. This enabled me to attend classes and to use the University facilities. I chose to study reformation church history. The reformation had had a big impact on Scotland, and still very much influenced the theological landscape. Also, I didn’t feel that I could cope with the language work, which was still required for studying the New Testament at postgraduate level, beyond what I had already done for my master’s degree. I should explain that when I had investigated doctoral study in the New Testament, my supervsior to be had said the he expected good Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and definitely German. I think this has been relaxed now. It should be!

The time at Aberdeen University was a great time, and I enjoyed being a student again, even if it was only a part-time one! I was still doing distance learning tutoring and some lecturing for people training for the ministry. I was being let down gently after 8 years in a college environment!

The more involved I got with the wider church, however, the harder it became for me to concentrate at the sort of level required. I know others manage to hold it altogether, but I felt I had to choose. I was sure that I should be doing the work that I was being invited to take on in the Diocese and Province. Nevertheless, stopping the formal research was not without regret! Still, I have on an informal level kept up my interest and theological study remains one of my main interests.

I discussed the whole question of the Church’s future and of my own on more than one occasion with Bishop Bruce. He was very supportive and encouraging. I think he felt that I should move from Banchory, but he wanted me to stay in the Diocese. Sadly, there has to be something for you to do and at the time there were just not the openings. I would have liked to work with the provincial theological institute (the body responsible for ministerial training in the SEC), but that didn’t happen either. I was quite clear in my mind that I was not going to move for the sake of it, and I had no desire to move back to England while I was so happy in Scotland.

I think I should explain that I found not being in England genuinely liberating. I found the Church of England suffocating and incestuous. I am more than willing to accept that the problem may have been me and, at the very least, I am sure that I contributed to it. It was just different in Scotland and 'better' different. It helped that I loved Scotland as a country and still do. Indeed, one of the highlights for me during my time while at Banchory was going to Oban in 1997 for the meeting of the General Synod, which was being held there that year, and being able to go with other delegates to Iona to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columba. St Columba, as many of you will know, first brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland.

In the summer of 1999, I was looking forward to another school year not at all sure what to do. It was then that I saw the advertisement in the Church Times for the post of Vicar of Christ Church, Kowloon Tong. Everything was about to change.

No comments: