Pens and spades

Jan 18th, 2007 | By | Category: Ministry

I belonged to the British Labour Party in my late teenage years. Tony Blair would have still been a student in those days and the party was very different.

The party membership card had the old crest on it. No wimpish rose in those days, instead a torch crossed by a pen and a spade. The torch was the light of liberty and it was to be achieved by the co-operation of workers, represented by the spade and intellectuals, represented by the pen. None was superior and none was inferior, each had a place in society, each made a valid contribution to the common wealth.

The idea of workers and intellectuals both being necessary for the well being of society wasn’t confined to the political left. I remember a Roman Catholic colleague talking about the reorganisation of schools in the North. Two schools were to be merged, one named after Saint Thomas Aquinas and one named after Saint Joseph. My colleague thought this an excellent mingling, those under the patronage of the intellectual Aquinas and those under the patronage of Joseph the worker.

Why would such a combination not be desirable? The question arose at a funeral today when unease was expressed that I had been painting the parish hall.

“Why wouldn’t I share in the painting?â€? I asked. Manual work is biblical and is part of the religious life, I tried to explain. I’m not sure I convinced.

Clergy up ladders painting is a blurring of traditional lines, a confusion of roles, even a breakdown of order.

Perhaps blurring, confusion and breakdown are part of Christian ministry, setting aside human attitudes and ways of doing things in order that we can make space for God’s ways.

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