You’ll have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much this week. It’s time, you see.
It has been Freshers’ Week at the University, and I’ve tried to put a bit of extra time in there. A dear old lady died at the weekend. I had another funeral to do yesterday, a training session to lead at my friend Kim’s church (and no, I won’t be sending them a bill for my professional services) and I’ve had three separate meetings at the school where I’m a governor. I’m a colleague short on the Circuit staff because the minister we were expecting in August from overseas has not yet been able to get here leading to a variety of extra issues which need to be sorted out, and a particularly tricky form from the Connexion for me to fill in which required, among other things, some lengthy conversations with my boss. (Not *that* boss. The one in Cardiff.) I’ve used the time in between all these things reminding the wife and kiddies what I look like, and I’m sorry to say that blogging hasn’t been at the top of my list.
The week at the University has been a modest success, I think. We’ve been glad to welcome some new folk, and welcome back some others. The ‘Opening of Session’ service was earlier this evening, and my colleague Fr Neil preached a really excellent short sermon. The size of the congregation raised some issues for me about Christian unity on campus, but that’s sensitive stuff and definitely not ‘blog fodder’.
What is a minister? over at Dave Warnock’s blog managed to catch my eye. The post and subsequent conversation raised some really important issues. One of the things that occasionally raises its head in British Methodism is the distinction between ministers, ordained by the church to word and sacrament, and the “Local Preachers”, lay folk who have been trained and authorized to preach in our churches.
Sometimes one hears Local Preachers declare that whereas ministers have ‘all week’ to prepare for worship, they have to fit their preparation around a working week. It’s as if they really believe the old canard about ministry being a ‘one day a week job’. What they forget is that all ministers (by which I mean, technically speaking, ‘presbyters’ — but let’s not split hairs) have been Local Preachers before they were able to begin their training for ministry. Back in the days when I had what my mother calls a proper job, I would make myself available to the Superintendent to be planned to preach, taking about 6 or 7 services a quarter. Not a huge number, but given that I was also the church treasurer for quite a large church, enough. I had a job I enjoyed, but which often required me to meet with clients ‘out of hours’ and with limited opportunities for those hours to be made up. What I can say, hand on heart, is that I had more time for preparation back then than I have now, and I felt far freer not to trouble myself too much about getting something new ready for every service. (I earned more back then too, but that’s a side issue) Believe it or not, ministers do not spend the time between Sundays punctuating naps with coffee breaks and extended sessions with daytime television. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not complaining. Ministry is a tremendous privilege and has many joys. But it also has significant costs, and those are not always borne by the minister herself.
Which raises the issue of money. Ministers receive a modest stipend and somewhere to live from the church. Local Preachers (mostly) receive no payment other than travel expenses, and many decline even that. This is used on occasion to claim that, in contrast to ministers, Local Preachers are “volunteers”. But this is nonsense! As a letter to the Methodist Recorder pointed out a while ago, the only basis on which any Methodist preacher can take to the pulpit is as a result of a call from God, a call which the church tests in a variety of ways. Preachers, whatever their financial and employment arrangements might be, can only preach because they have been compelled. It’s a big claim, and it will seem preposterous to some, but that’s the Methodist position. We don’t preach because we want to, but because we have to. The notion of a division between the noble volunteers on the hand and the paid hacks on the other would be laughable if it were not so divisive of the fellowship of the Local Preachers’ Meeting, to which all Methodist preachers belong.
On a entirely different and completely unrelated subject, I couldn’t resist this picture from today’s Guardian. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I’m not claiming that the shape of this US Navy building in California has any significance, but you have to wonder how this could possibly have been allowed. Didn’t architects draw plan views in the 70’s? I was glad to learn that part of the planned remodelling of the building might include solar panels. Is this further evidence that George Bush might actually be ‘getting’ climate change at last?