Sunday’s Sermon on Vocations

Here’s what I said on Sunday about vocations

[Sorry about the poor audio. We’ve some major problems with the sound system that are going to take some weeks to sort out – however, the Vestry are well aware that Something Needs to be Done].

The Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church have asked the whole church today to reflect on vocations. The idea is that on this Sunday, when the readings tend to reflect on the idea of Jesus as the great shepherd of the flock, we think about the notion of calling. So we must think about how we discern God’s calling and what we might make as an appropriate response.

I am aware as I begin to open up that subject that we are stepping on sacred ground and must mind where we go. Immense amounts of sadness and disappointment have been the result of vocations, and not exclusively clerical vocations, which the church has not been able to affirm and rejoice in. On the other hand, this is, as the gathering place for the diocese, a place where vocations are delighted in and celebrated in ordination services and in various ways of thanksgiving for lay ministry, including the Ministry Celebrations Service in the summer.

But I do with caution. And I begin with my own experience. [Read more…]

Mission Plans

I’ve written (and lots of people have commented) on previous mission and ministry plans, policies and plots – here and here.

We now have a new Provincial Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy to absorb. It is fourteen pages long and has some good things in it. Like lots of long documents, it also has some things that don’t seem quite so good and some things which are not easy to understand.

I balked at the idea that what we need to do is move further towards emphasizing individual dioceses rather than the whole Scottish Episcopal Church in our mission and ministry planning. It seems to me that although some dioceses do well in that world (Edinburgh is doing conspicuously well at the moment) the news for the whole church is very different. The faster we move resources and decision making away from the Province and towards the dioceses, the faster, it seems to me on reading the annual statistics, the decline progresses.

Quite often our mission plans emphasise the things that we are not particularly good at and aim to improve them. That’s really quite a tall order and the very opposite of what someone in a business would try to do. Lots of our churches are not particularly great at working with children for example, but do much better with different constituencies – thirtysomethings or early-retireds or mobile professionals or whatever. Yet most mission plans make working with children a touchstone of success. Working well with children is something that is of great importance and in places which can do it well, needs to be resourced and supported to the highest degree. However, for other churches in the Scottish Episcopal Church, work with children and young people is a bit of a fetish. Something we think we need at all costs but which simply might not be what God (or the world around us) is calling everyone to excel at.

Here in Glasgow and Galloway, we are supposed to be working on

  • prayer and spirituality
  • learning and discipleship
  • missional leadership
  • numerical growth, welcome and integration
  • children and young people
  • imaginative outreach into local communities

Those are not bad things, indeed they are good things. Are they the things that we can achieve enough change with to start the turn around the statistics though? At that point, I’m not quite so sure.

Someone said to me that if I have other ideas on what might stem the decline from our churches, I ought to be up front and say what they are.

Well, that’s a fair request.

Here goes.

I think that very many of our churches would attract more people if the preaching were just a bit better, the singing were just a bit more fun and the congregational (not, for heaven’s sake the diocesan) website were a bit better too. That’s three things that I would make big priorities which I don’t really see reflected in current diocesan or provincial thinking. They are three things we think about quite a lot here and things that can always be improved. What’s more, they are things that can be improved without spending an enormous amount of money.

So, those would be my priorities over three years:

  • preaching
  • singing
  • websites & social media

That’s for stemming decline. If we want to grow then we need to plant some new congregations and use the resources from closing congregations to do so.

What do you think? Are those things as important as I suspect they are at this stage of our common life?