Changing peoples

Mar 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

Being appointed rector of Mountrath in Co Laois this afternoon; there was a moment to reflect on the past eleven years.  The best moments will remain in the memory until the memory itself fades away, or dies; but what the worst moment?

Perhaps it came on an evening in 2005.  A group drawn from two parishes sat to watch a video made in 1999 on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, one of the books near the back of the Bible. It was filmed in a well-known church in London. The church was packed. I know that this wasn’t just for the video; members of my church had attended there and had to queue to get in half an hour before the service.

Hordes of people sat absolutely intent on listening to every word that was said. They are filled with enthusiasm for studying the Bible and fired by a great love for Jesus.

We didn’t have hordes. There were six of us, two clergy, an evangelist, a lay reader, a clergy spouse – and a solitary lady who wasn’t part of the business of parish leadership.

Watching the video, I wondered where I went wrong. Where were all the people with enthusiasm in our area?

I was sure the man on the video had never had to help run a fete to raise the money to pay himself; nor had he ever never been part of a work party clearing the church grounds; or had to photocopy the parish magazine. His world was very different from the one inhabited by sloggers like myself.

The low point was a turning point.  Would I have changed places with him? No.

One of the things I believe is that Jesus had a place in his heart for ordinary blokes and women who are never going to be inside any of the evangelical churches. They matter to him as well as the enthusiastic crowds who fill the videos. Staying in touch with them was a struggle. It meant staying in a lukewarm world, it meant taking knocks and setbacks, and failing at most things you tried– not because of a lack of faith, but because people hadn’t changed in 2,000 years.

It was never about strategies or plans or programmes.  It was about people, people as ordinary as myself.  Life never fitted into slogans or titles; it was blurred and messy and vague.  Wherever ministry is exercised, it is the same; it is about the people.

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  1. Thanks. Will keep that in mind as we think about the future …

  2. May the Lord bless you in your new ministry, Ian!

  3. Ian, my thoughts and prayers go with you as you set out on a new chapter of you journey.

  4. You’ll be right! Word will get around about the new boy in town! Good luck.

  5. Congratulations on your new appointment Ian. Beginning a new venture is always a combination of excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Our loss is going to be Mountrath’s gain that’s for sure. Do the folk in Mountrath realise that their ‘candles budget’ will need to be substantial… May God bless you in all from this day forward…

  6. Thank you all for your good wishes.

    Starting out on something completely different a few months short of one’s 50th birthday is daunting.

  7. All the best in your new assignment.

    Do stay online 🙂

  8. Congrats on the assignment. I think our best moments make us comfortable with who we are and our worst moments (offer opportunites to) make us better. I was please to read your last line – that ministry is still about the people. The folks at your new assignment will appreciate that.

  9. Congratulations Ian, your ministry, pastoral care, humour, presence and smile, will be greatly missed,
    as Jeanne has expressed it above, Mountrath’s gain is our loss. Your ministry comes across as caring
    for the person and being able to explain the gospel message in a way that makes it relevant to our lives today. May your new ministry and days ahead be greatly blessed.

  10. Ian, God be with you at this time of change, challenge, uncertainty and (I hope) excitement too.

  11. Sometimes I think the Methodist or Roman Catholic systems are better, where regularly moving is part of the natural order of things.

  12. Ian: Turns out that the Roman Catholic ‘natural order of things’ included moving perps around, too. The better to hide them with, my dear!

  13. I hadn’t thought about that – I was thinking of the Godly men I have known who have completed the nine years of their appointment (as it is in this diocese) and have moved on.

  14. I actually was schooled in the theory behind the regular rotation to new assignments. Unfortunately a seed of cynicism has a good hold on me. There have been Godly men for sure and I don’t want to take that away from them. I have distant kin on my mother’s side who fit the ‘Godly’ category.

  15. Whenever tempted into negative thoughts about a church that doesn’t even recognize my own as being a church – ‘ecclesial communities’ I think the last Pope called us – I remember the good and gentle men whom I have met. William Trevor articulates the mood of my own community wonderfully well:

  16. Ian: You’re worried about negative thoughts about a corporation that wrote the book on institutionalized betrayal and coverup? With all due respect, disagree with you, however. You wrote that the shock is not in the stories. I believe it is. It has been one silent shock after another. The larger shock you proposed was necessary to draw more help for those who were the names and faces of the stories. Norbertines . . . The White Canons. Betrayl of Trust: The Father Brendan Smyth Affair and the Catholic Church by Chris Moore, published by Learning Links, 1995. You’re a much better person than I am. When I am tempted into negative thoughts about the ‘corporation’ that called little children liars, I write them.

  17. Gram,

    I read Chris Moore, even quoted him in work for my Master’s – I have no reason to defend an institution that has for centuries been steeped in corruption – but if the Roman Catholic church is gone there will be no Christian presence in much of Ireland. Maybe that would not be a bad thing, the church would be driven back to its roots – to reinventing itself without hierarchy and power, but, in the meantime, I would wonder about all the good and faithful people left with no-one to care for them, because one thing is for certain, laiisez faire capitalism has no regard for little people.

  18. Ian:

    I’m glad to know you read Chris Moore. Library holdings, whether public or private, have far too many title options in that genre. I have no reason to defend the corporation, either. I’d just as soon see them go broke. It’s sad, however to know that a Christian presence anywhere depends on an institution that concocted the pay-per-indulgence scheme. You are spot on with their lack of regard.

  19. I remember Chris Moore’s documentary ‘Suffer Little Children’ on UTV in Northern Ireland in 1994. It brought about the fall of the Irish government and will probably be seen in retrospect as the beginning of the end of Catholic Ireland.

    It’s hard to imagine what will the religious landscape of Ireland will be like in ten years time.

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