On potholes and Calvinism

May 10th, 2006 | By | Category: Ministry

The grass on the banks needs to be cut, the weeds are through the gravel again and the potholes need to be filled in, I need to lead a work party next week to get the church grounds back in order. In the past, when I imagined myself twenty years on from ordination, my vision didn’t include wielding a hoe.

Sometimes, I wish I was a Presbyterian. Presbyterian ministers are much better at praying than Church of Ireland clergy. They are generally awful at liturgy – their services following a very predictable sequence in which the minister seems to do everything Sunday by Sunday, but when it comes to praying, they are streets ahead.

Partly, I think, it’s because they don’t have a prayer book, so must improvise for when the congregation gathers for worship. Partly, I think, it’s their tradition – the minister is the teaching elder. It is the minister’s task to preach the word and to lead the prayers. Between Sundays the minister does pastoral calls and he or she studies and prays, they don’t hoe weeds or shovel gravel into potholes. The minister is not expected to be the jack of all trades in the way the Church of Ireland Rector is. Partly, I think, it’s because Presbyterians seem to take prayer far more seriously.

I have a friend who a Presbyterian – amongst his congregation he had a senior police offer and a member of parliament. Every Tuesday night there was a bible study and prayer meeting at the church and every the police officer was there. Even when it meant Special Branch men parked at the church gate and a Special Branch officer standing at the door, the police officer was there.

Because Presbyterians take prayer so seriously I tend to pay special notice to the content of their prayers. Themes and illustrations from the Bible are very common, as you would expect in a church that places such an emphasis upon Scripture. I used to attend meetings where a retired Presbyterian minister, David Alderdice, would regularly lead the prayers. He would begin with an illustration from Scripture and weave the prayer around it, helping his listeners approach God in a way that they were very clear what they were about and what it was they were asking.

I remember vividly him praying about a particular situation. He used as his Scripture the reading from the Acts of the Apostles about Peter being miraculously released from jail. We had been confronted with an unexpected opportunity in the way that Peter was, but it was up to us to respond to that opportunity.

I remember clearly a line from his prayer, ‘Lord, you opened the cell door for Peter, but he had to stand up and walk through it’. Since I heard him saying that prayer, there have been many times that I have thought how appropriate his words are to very many situations. How often have we said our prayers in this church? How often have we really expected an answer? How often when there has been the chance of an answer have we been prepared to stand up and take the opportunity we have been offered?

If the Lord opened the door, sometimes I think the Church of Ireland would say it was too draughty outside, anyway, we have to pull up the weeds and fix the potholes.

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