Friday, March 1, 2013

Meetings, meetings, meetings

I had back-to-back meetings today. They were productive, good meetings. The sort where like-minded people get together and share creative ideas and insights and build on each others' gifts. I wish I could be more specific, but I'm afraid it wouldn't be prudent at this juncture to share, other than to note that they were all mostly related to the two big projects I am working on at the moment for Messiah. One of those projects is already public: the Café Messiah idea. The other idea is still being kept secret for the time being. Look for an announcement in a few weeks.

It occurs to me that a really important part of my own home-grown methodology to get anything interesting done is to network with a lot of like minded people and get their input and assistance. Most of the time that's about all people are prepared to contribute in our busy age, but I've learned to appreciate good will and good ideas. Even more importantly, I've come to appreciate the kind of creativity that comes out of an essentially social or transactional creative process. I thrive in the context of social exchange, I'm an extrovert, and so I need to talk my ideas through or else they whither from lack of nourishment.

I'm certain that not everyone is like that. I'm sure there are people that just work through ideas in the privacy of their own minds, and communicate them once they are fully thought through. There are many advantages to that approach, as well, but I'm not wired that way. So, as part of my process for developing these two parallel projects for Messiah I've scheduled a lot of meetings with people who I think can help. Some of these people may be able to help very directly, others will be offering moral support or just companionship along the way. One must scatter seed, however, if they expect to find a harvest come spring.

If one or (God willing) both of the projects succeed, it will be interesting at some point to look back at my appointment book and see which conversations moved the direction of things one way or another. Certainly my own thinking is evolving I hope the people I've talked with today realize how much influence they are having on future events. Conversation, even of the blue-sky day dreaming variety, is a sacred trust.

Spending all day talking and planning for the future of my church is not an extra part of my responsibilities as the Rector. I actually think it's probably my most important responsibility. It may mean sacrifices in other areas (a classic example is pastoral care), but I was struck at VCP this year by how many leaders whom I respect made a strong case for such sacrifice. Judy Paulsen, for example, spoke powerfully about how she simply doesn't visit people unless they are basically dying. I often feel guilty about not doing more visiting and one-on-one care of that sort, but then I hear people like Judy and others who talk about how developing the Mission of the Church is going to mean that the congregation, itself, is going to have to take on some of the functions that used to be the responsibility of the pastor. In other words, you can have a priest who simply takes care of everybody, or you can have a church where the priest is working to transform the parish into an instrument of God's mission, but being focused on both is pretty much impossible. Thus, the parish must take responsibility for one or the other of these functions.

I realize this is a controversial claim. I'm not saying we should abandon pastoral care at all. I'm just saying that the George Herbert model of priestly ministry is long dead and buried. Those of us that went to conventional seminaries or who grew up in the inherited church have a hard time letting go of the fantasy of the priest spending his days going from home to home in the village. These days pastoral care needs to be the responsibility of the whole congregation. In my case I have two volunteers in particular who provide great care and attention to several members of the congregation who need to be looked-in-on. I really don't need to visit them, and I should probably let go of the guilt of not being "a better priest" in that regard.

Funny, even as I write this I feel awful. One part of me certainly feels a strong obligation to visit some of these folks. Then another part of me feels overburdened as it is trying to manage the day-to-day operations plus take on two major strategic initiatives plus other duties like teaching Fresh Start to my colleagues and producing videos for the Diocese. I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to describe one of the tensions inherent in parish ministry. Sometimes it is referred to as the tension between the prophetic and pastoral aspects of priesthood. Those of that minister as ordained clergy occupy a strange place that mediates between two worlds. We are constantly asked to translate back and forth between universes. I'm not just talking about the human-divine, but also the parish-community and parish-wider-church divides.

Part of the way I maintain those balances is to cultivate relationships that pluck those chords and thus create some kind of harmony. That is, the more fully I develop the prophetic vision and the fully I engage the Saturday Afternoon Healing Service, then the richer the chord that sounds. I worry some people might not see the balance as important. Certainly I know parishioners who are more Congregationalist than Anglican, and would gladly chuck the Diocese and bishops if they could. Yet for me, one of the essential (and, indeed, classical) "marks of the churh" is that it must be "catholic." That is, local parishes do not exist in isolation, but enjoy a certain unity and common mission.

I guess that's a long way of saying that I had a lot of meetings away from the church to talk about the church, and that's okay!


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