Thursday, 11 April 2013

A vision for the future? Up to a point, always up to a point....

From the latest presidential address of the Archbishop of Wales at its Governing Body [full text here]
It takes a certain admirable theological chutzpah to quote in a single paragraph both Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther ( in a context in which I'm far from sure either of them would feel particularly at home) and the second passage quoted below also shows us what damage we do to the English language when we attempt to tinker with divinely ordained institutions; but the major problem is what is being left out .... 

We can all heartily applaud these words - depending, of course, on how we define them:
...And that is what all of us who are disciples of Jesus are meant to be and to do. Our manner of life and our relationships should be shaped by the Gospel, in terms of love, fellowship, compassion and a concern for others. Being in Christ means living out this pattern of the Gospel and when that is evident, others will see its authenticity and be drawn into the life of faith. That is how new Christians are made.... 
But in the particular liberal protestant, faux-primitive vision of the Church's future and of its ministry which is now being sold to us on the back of economic and numerical exigency, the vital question is not where is the theology of ministerial priesthood (because, unfortunately, those of us who are enduring the current revolution - as radical as anything thrown up by the unfortunate events of the sixteenth century -  know the answer to that already) but where is the Eucharist?
."...Churches with ordained clergy have been tempted to assume that all ministry is vested in an omnicompetent, all-singing, all-dancing professional minister and that the task of ministry belongs to him or her and then when he/she is a bit hard pressed, he or she may delegate some of the tasks to other people but really essentially it is her/her ministry. That is to start in the wrong place. “It takes a community to manifest the grace present in Jesus” says one theologian and if that is so, ministering and the task of ministry is entrusted to the whole Church and, from within that Church, some are called to exercise particular ministries. The State of the Church in Wales’ Report of 1993 sadly says that “the laity still think of themselves as servants, not of God, but of the Vicar, whose job it is to be the Church for them.” I am not convinced much has changed and all of us must shoulder the blame for that. This also shows very clearly that we fail to act on reports we ourselves, have commissioned. I hope this report does not go the same way.
Nor are lay people there to carry out the administrative tasks leaving spiritual tasks, such as baptism, marriage and confirmation preparation, bereavement counselling and sick- visiting and involvement in the community, to the clergy. Rather, these tasks are to be carried out by a team of people, clerical and lay, according to their gifts, on behalf of the church, led by a stipendiary priest..."
Below are some words of the Archbishop's predecessor, speaking as Archbishop of Canterbury, in a lecture given in 2004 [here]. The contrast is, shall we say, interesting...
"... The Church is never left to reimagine itself or reshape itself according to its own priorities of the moment; for it to be itself, it has received those gifts that express and determine its essential self as a place where the eternal self-giving of Christ is happening in such a way as to heal and change lives. The Bible and the ministry constitute the Church as literally a 'responsible' community, answering to what is there before it. And as the understanding of ordained ministry has developed, what this has come to mean is that this ministry is one of the things that renders every local community in its witness and worship responsible to the creative source of the Church's life.
What does this begin to mean for the priest today? If this account of the inextricable involvement of apostolic ministry with the very identity of the Church is right, the person exercising that ministry has one fundamental task which breaks down into a number of different responsibilities. The fundamental task is that of announcing in word and action in the middle of the community what the community is and where it is; it is telling the Church that it is the created universe insofar as that universe has been taken up into the activity of the eternal Word and transfigured by this fact, and that it is in consequence the place where Christ's self-offering continues to be most freely real and effective. The priest is therefore in the business of – as we could put it – immersing in Christ's action the gifts and prayers and love of human beings. These things, of themselves, are too weak and compromised to make peace, to sustain the loving relation of God with creation; so they are borne along by the one action that truly and eternally makes peace, the self-giving of the Word. In all this, we can perhaps see why and how the Eucharist is the central identifying act of the Church, simply because it is where our action towards God is taken up in God's action towards God; where the making our own of Christ's prayer at his table opens us up to receive Christ's life so that our own self-offering may be anchored afresh in his. 'Although we be unworthy... to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service'...."

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