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.