Our three-day diocesan clergy conference begins today.
Two years ago, I remember taking part in a brief presentation about plans my parish was sharing with two neighbouring parishes. I saw the project as our path into the future. Through engaging an evangelist, we were going to consolidate our existing churches and build firm foundations for going out into the new housing areas with the Good News.
The whole project fell apart last month, when it became clear that my own church was less than enthusiastic about what was being attempted and that the parish accounts had slid deeply onto the red.
So, two years after the burst of enthusiasm, there is no strategy with which to move into the future; and few people to implement any plans there might be. There are no indications that the downward slide that has been experienced in church after church in England is not going to be repeated here in Ireland
We are left holding on, hoping that something might happen.
Surviving, getting by, is not an uncommon experience in the Bible. There are many moments in the Old Testament when the faithful are left just holding on. In the days of Elijah, even though Elijah was not the last of the faithful, as he thought, there were still only seven thousand left. The years in Babylon for the exiles cannot have been easy and must have been harder for those who were not taken into exile, but were left in the land without nation and without leaders.
But we are not people of the Old Testament; no matter how tempting it might be to sing the laments of the Exile, we are people of the resurrection. Our faith is not that of a nation, it is the faith of people whose hearts have been challenged and changed.
Perhaps the thinking at the clergy conference should not be that of grand strategies, but one of gathering the faithful and building anew with the good people through whom God has blessed the church – lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness, as my good friend Fred says.