Going into the valleyNov 15th, 2008 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ministry
One Christmas Eve during the days as a curate, a leading member came into the vestry just after the Midnight Communion service. “Hello, Ian, I just wanted to give you that before the end of the year”. He handed me an envelope.
Exhausted after the service and the days of work beforehand, I went home to my house and put the kettle on to make tea. The next service was at 8 am and I needed to sit and think for a while.
Taking the envelope from my pocket, I thought, “It was nice of him to give me something for Christmas”.
Opening the envelope, I discovered that it was a bill for the use of the church hall by the youth fellowship I was required to run on a Sunday night. it was the only parish of which I have ever heard that billed its own people for doing things for it. The bill cast a shadow over the whole of the Christmas celebrations. It wasn’t for much; it was just the principle and the timing. I sat dejected.
It was a memory that returned this evening.
Coming in from a super day, a beautiful wedding with lovely people, I opened the door at 10 o’clock tired and happy at thoughts of the occasion. It was only the second time that I have officiated at the wedding of someone who was blind and I was delighted that she had been pleased with the day. It had been a special day.
Turning to this cursed machine I opened an email that reported a rant from a colleague about the work of a committee, a colleague who has never once done anything to assist that work; a colleague who has not even the good manners to respond to emails he is sent. The moment felt like the moment that Christmas Eve when I opened that envelope.
Much of ministry is spent on an emotional edge; unless you are prepared to engage with people where they are, in their sadness or their joy, you cannot engage with them at all. Saint Paul talks about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, which you cannot do at arm’s length. The least one might expect is support from one’s own side.
Jesus would probably say, “You think you have it bad? You should have tried working with my lot”.
There is the wonderful moment in the Gospel story when the Transfiguration takes place. Peter and James and John are on a mountainside with Jesus and the place is illuminated and Moses and Elijah break through the space-time continuum and appear alongside Jesus and talk with him. It is a special, special moment.
They go down from the mountain and they discover there has been a row. The magic of the moment is shattered in a second. Maybe Peter complained to his companions afterwards about spoiling the memory, about them casting a shadow over things.
I hope he did – because I certainly feel like doing so.