Someone wise said something to me recently that has helped me navigate the sometimes mundane and irritatingly recurrent problems of semi rural – indeed most types of – church life (keys, parking, invoices, emails, damp, heating, grass mowing).
It acknowledged that these daily annoyances are never far from the real life of a minister but that at the same time, spiritual stuff is happening, care of the Holy Spirit, that is dynamic, exciting, mysterious, unpredictable and taking place right on your doorstep, if only you can notice it…
The challenge is that as a professional minister (or even as a very committed lay person, particularly a Church Warden) you are going to be so involved in the endless tasks of maintenance, that you become entirely invested in them and lose the ability to see beyond them and remain open to the free flowing, life-giving, status quo disrupting, often surprising stuff the Spirit is up to.
People whose undoubted commitment means they are the ones invested in keeping the church going are the very people who are most in danger of losing sight of the free flowing nature of the Spirit of God, and how it/she/he might be involved in people’s lives in the most unusual and encouraging ways.
It’s ironic when you think about it. Sometimes I wonder if we professionals are much more invested in keeping everything going than we should be, and that actually those individuals who present themselves to vocations advisors sensing a call to seek out the lost with the message of Jesus, should be told, on no account should they get ordained.
Don’t get professionalised! It carries with it such a risk of becoming a religious functionary, that ordination should come with a huge spiritual health warning. Stay on the margins instead, go incognito, and perhaps that’s where you’ll be more able to get involved with the free flowing Spirit of the Holy Trinity….
But I suppose it’s inevitable that if you’re presenting to the powers that be with a gift of leadership to the church, you will end up with a dog collar, or equivalent, doing all the mundane chores which keep the thing going (someone has to) and yet, will it mean, tragedy of tragedies, that in doing so, you lose sight of the Spirit?
The nugget of wisdom which I took away from my helpful advisor was in fact that the mundane and the spiritual are running alongside each other all the time, and often there’s no way to reconcile them as such.
Try and pretend you don’t have to do the mundane things, and you’ll end up resentful because they are part of ministry, and you cannot pretend they’re not. But let your energies be entirely taken up with then, and you’ll find yourself sooner or later outside of the flow of the Spirit, and that’s bad place for a minister to be.
So it’s wise and true that both the repetitive/mundane and the spiritually/bubbly are a reality in ministerial life, and it’s also wise and true that you cannot actually make sense of this paradox all of the time, or even any of the time.
So it’s both true that ministry means the mundane sending of emails about the General Data Protection Regulations (yawn) AND about discerning the wind of the Spirit, as a relative stranger tells you over coffee that they have been sensing God’s hand in their lives and feeling drawn to the cross, despite having little or no connection with a church.
It’s a glorious moment when conversations like that happen – if you’re like me you’ll come over all fresh expression-y, imagining what church would look like if it were entirely set up for spiritual seekers with little or no formal church connection, and then you’ll waft home and discover 15 unread emails reminding you that the churchyard hasn’t been mowed, the church key has gone walk-about and the heating faculty has run out.
I recently spent a week feeling the flow of that wonderful Pentecost Spirit, having worship laid on at a clergy conference that both nourished and challenged me, and all the time reading Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance and getting excited about being in the flow of the Triune God, in the dance, in the stream that scarily gets deeper and deeper…
It was wonderful.
The immediate following week: felt spiritually inert, got bored with my own company, was irritable at home and found myself entirely unmotivated in the sermon department.
I’m just glad the flow carries on regardless. I will attempt to join in with it, whilst dealing with emails, GDPR compliance, funeral invoices, moans about lack of volunteers, damp church floors, pealing posters and Sunday attendance decline graphs.
I feel in my bones that the Holy Spirit, the leaping, dancing, mysterious, joyful Spirit of the Holy One that fell at Pentecost, is probably not fretting about any of the above, so maybe I won’t either.
It/she/he is much more likely to be stirring up the most unlikely of people to join the dance, and I don’t want to miss that.
Also, in the flow of the Spirit, maybe even my painting skills might improve…