Yesterday I had a bone scan. It involved being injected with something that was mildly radioactive, going home and returning a couple of hours later to lie on an extremely narrow bed while an immense machine gesticulated around and above me. I was trussed up like a chook for dinner, albeit really quite comfortably, and asked to keep still for about half an hour. I couldn't quite manage it. I had a cold you see, one of the sort that behaves itself when you are standing up but not when you are lying down. I managed to control the urge to cough reasonably well except for, I think, three times where there might now be a little blurry line on the picture. I came home with a blocked nose, red eyes, sore throat and went to bed for the afternoon feeling miserable. Odd really. The disease which is potentially lethal causes me no trouble whatsoever - I wouldn't even know it was there if they hadn't told me - but a common cold causes me a great deal of inconvenience and distress.
Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels which is the same sort of thing. The minor issues are the ones that take all the time and grab all the attention. The big issues, the life and death ones, we pass over quickly if we even see them at all.
... I spent the first 9 years of my ministry in co-operating parishes, which were somebody's bright idea sometime back in the '70's. The plan was to combine Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian parishes into one happy family. It was a good idea, and a lot of effort was put into administrative matters: making sure property rights and regulations for the length of time a parson could stay were all sorted out, for example. A whole new book of rules was written to be put on the shelf beside the individual denominational ones. The trouble is, no-one but NO-ONE bothered to work out the theological issues involved in combining churches with very different spiritualities and traditions. No one thought through the sociological issues involved in combining a number of different communities. Gnats were strained. Camels were swallowed - or at least the attempt was made with fairly predictable results. Co-operating parishes, with one or two notable exceptions, are not one of the churches' brilliant success stories.
And today I look through the papers for the synod my diocese will hold soon, and which I won't be attending. I am encouraged that there is a real attempt to examine the malaise of the Anglican church but, to my eyes, the solutions suggested look like Coldrex, not the required radical surgery.
The Anglican church is not in decline because it is badly administered, so it's fairly obvious that we won't cure its ills by administrative means. Jigging around the way we organise our clergy or how we pay them or how we draw diocesan or parish boundaries just won't do the trick. Neither will arguing the minutiae of our liturgies. The big issues eating away at our church are spiritual and theological. This is why, in this sabbatical, I have decided to think about Being rather than ministry models. To some this path of enquiry seems effete and esoteric, but this is where 30 years of parish ministry has led me. If the church is going to survive, we must reassess ourselves at the deepest, most profound level. People are as hungry as ever for answers to the big questions of life. If such answers can be found, people are seldom really bothered by the surface details of how and where they are delivered. There are camels everywhere, but I fear that the church is intensely preoccupied with the blueprints for gnat sieves.