A Catholic colleague grabbed a sandwich from among the great spread of food on the table and sipped hastily at the mug of tea he had been handed. He looked at his watch, “I am meant to be at a meeting by four and I have had no lunch.” His meeting was thirty miles away and it was already 3.15, he would have indigestion before he reached teatime.
“I had angina three years ago”, I said, “nothing serious; just a warning shot. I went to see a cardiologist and told him that I only got pain when I was stressed. He asked me what caused stress and I told him, ‘meetings.’ Do you know what he said to me? ‘Don’t go to meetings,’ so over the following months I resigned from every committee and board to which I belonged. The angina has gone away.”
The colleague looked at me, quizzically, as if I had been telling a funny story and there was a punchline to follow. He was clearly unconvinced by my words, probably thought me a maverick, unorthodox.
“The decisions will be taken whether we are there or not,” I said.
He finished his sandwich and last gulp of tea and said he had to hasten on.
There is a danger in the life of the church, particularly in the Church of Ireland, of being regarded as “pious” if one mentions Jesus of Nazareth, or “too heavenly” if one mentions anything spiritual, or “Pharisaical” if one dares to suggest that something might not be right, but, at such a level of risk, it is difficult to imagine that the itinerant First Century Palestinian preacher who strides through the pages of the Gospels would have had much time for diocesan meetings. To be honest, it is more tempting to think that he would have avoided such things altogether.
There are studies on the life of organisations that shows that many organisations continue long after their original purpose has disappeared, long after they have ceased to have any raison d’etre, long after what ever had been the initial motivating vision has completely faded away. The organisation becomes a shell of its former self, it continues in order to continue.
Much of the life of the church has become carrying on for the sake of carrying on, for the sake of preserving the structure. It would be heretical to suggest that the church might simply stop and ask why it continues to do what it does, but the word “heresy” in its original sense meant making a choice. Hasn’t the time come for the church to make a choice of doing things in a better way?