The Edinburgh Newman Circle had a great meeting on Wednesday 15th February at which Professor Werner Jeanrod, Master at St Benet’s Hall Oxford, made a presentation to about 60 of us from far and wide, advertised as
New Models of Christian Community: Towards a Post-clericalist Church.
People may have come because of this title, or were regulars at our monthly meetings (see http://www.newman.org.uk/Files/EDINBURGH.pdf ), or perhaps because they new of him when he lectured at Glasgow University, or maybe they knew his recent book, A Theology of Love 2010. He provided us with a handout containing some headings and a quotation from Great Catholic Parishes by William E Simon.
His presentation both began and concluded with reference to ‘expectations’: just what do we expect from God and what do we suppose God expects from us. As this set me thinking I cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything else I might say about his talk. He offered us further binary contrasts between a fixed, ideal church and a pilgrim church - the use of the word church to refer to the hierarchy towards the top of a structure and its use as referring to all the people of God: a distinction between leaders and followers.
This led into examining what a ‘good’ parish community might look like and how each individual parishioner might contribute to this. He still regarded the Eucharist as central, though I was not sure whether by this he meant to focus on the reception of the Real Presence in Communion or on the important gathering of a community giving thanks to God - the word Eucharist could refer to either! He noted different styles of leadership involving collaboration, delegation or at least consultation; but he did always refer to the priest as the pastor.
The community of Christians has at most times in the past struggled as it transformed its mode of organisation and operation both for its members and its relationship ad extra (to others). This was obvious in the early Church when it became ‘established’ in the Roman Empire, also during the reformation which not only resulted in the Protestant denomination but also ina more dogmatic Roman Catholic church; and in recent times there has been the changes indicated by the Second Vatican Council, the different responses to this both by groups within the church community and even by Popes. It is always going to be painful living in the meantime, as one model dies and the birth pangs of a new are felt. So we Catholics and many other Christian denominations are witnessing a decline in Church attendance together with the rise of well educated laity who want to support each other in visioning and executing the expectations of God for them as they see them - free from the ‘civil service’ of the hierarchy of the church. We return to the initial question: what does God expect of us?
In the ‘discussion’ afterwards we heard from someone who attended Fr Flannery’s mass in Ireland (see http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/hundreds-attend-mass-as-tony-flannery-defies-vatican-ban-1.2946938 ); and when someone said to Werner that to opposed the hierarchy might lead to being excommunicated, He replied that excommunication was ineffectual nowadays. Generally people left the meeting well satisfied, but still wondering what, in practice, we laity could do. Yet we look forward to the next meeting at the Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church when its Minister, the Rev. Scott McKenna, will speak under the title of Eucharistic Traditions (7:30 Wednesday 15th March).