I fear that the Faith Movement is viewed by Archbishop Cushley and its members as being the cornerstone of the church here. I do hope that the Faith Movement really is a movement of the Spirit for our times. What are our own experiences of the Faith Movement? What do we know? Do add comments to this blog.
I think my concerns are not that it exists, but that:
- It grows in influence without to my knowledge declaring itself publicly in the Archdiocese; it is not apparent which parishes and posts are occupied by priests in the Faith Movement.
- At both parish and wider scales, its effect seems to be to marginalise the gifted and engaged, both lay and ordained.
- The FM has at its core certain writings that shape it. These cannot but filter the interpretation of tradition (Vatican II included of course) and scriptures:. Does this give a debilitating uniformity of theology and especially ecclesiology in the Archdiocese?
Having pursed this line of thought far enough into a valley of despondency. I put my headphones on.
On the Web I found the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. People had gathered from across the country. Lay and ordained were being treated as adult with something to say to each other, for all are baptised in the Spirit. They has set out to discern from their joint experience and reflections, for it is in community that the Spirit is most evident. Respectful of, but not bound by past formulations, this Assembly was seeking to find and express what God was asking of the Church in response to the changes and challenges of the age…. Not all of it was cutting edge, much was simple accounting for leadership and actions in all the dimensions of life of the church – now there is an idea!!
In the sessions of the Assembly reports collated in its Blue Book were being discussed prior to votes on “deliverances” that formalise the conclusions, for example with amendments to these reports. Its interesting to see what this Church gives attention to. Dominant seemed to be the intersections of the Church with daily living, politics, social life, justice, needs of the oppressed and poor.
This wasn’t a self-appointed or anyone-appointed elite – but each year different people come from each cluster of parishes (presbytery). To me that indicates a Church with refreshing confidence in its laity and its clergy, and especially its God. Perhaps that cycle of people is also why on occasions progress seems slow – so that one group of personalities on one occasion does not set a course for years to come….. it avoids its Brexit moments?
Such an Assembly was rightly celebrated with a festival: it was appropriately titled Heart and Soul. SE Edinburgh Churches Acting Together was invited to share Liberton Kirk’s tent. I had the opportunity to be a part of that – our given focus of justice and peace is an area so rich for expressing and growing in our unity in Christ. The festival, like the week itself was an antidote to any sense that the church is not for our times.
I’m sure there are other gems to explore, but in that week I gave attention to just two. Firstly, there was a debate about the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration. In this debate Palestinians, were being acknowledged as deserving of apology, recognition and support and recompense; some speakers still sought peace without justice, it is true, but their voices are fewer as the truth is seen by visitors to the West Bank. I write this exactly 50 years after the occupation of the Palestinian and, in the Golan Heights, Syrian territories. It is a year of Kairos and should be of jubilee… However Jubilee, the opening up of a new future should have been about 45 years ago, given that 5 years is the international expectation of the length of an occupation.
Secondly there was an exploration of new theological approaches to the questions of sexuality and same-sex relationships. There were apologies for discrimination in the past. This was being explored in the context of a carefully worded motion about considering same-sex marriage.
Time and again in the Assembly, people were, as Micah had wanted, caring about the poor, about justice and walking humbly with their God and their notions of God. So much of their attention was turned outwards to the world they wanted to serve.
It intrigues me that a) the role of Moderator is changed every year; and that b) local ordained ministers, men and women, are well established as a ministry to serve parishes. This last is I am excited to see is a theme in the ACTA conference.
I asked friends in the Church of Scotland to glance over these thoughts: they laughed that I had put on rose-tinted spectacles along with my headphones, and had at last caught up with the Reformation…
Be all this as it may, into this quest for, and outpouring of, the Spirit in the Church of Scotland a prophetic voice from another denomination was invited, Rev Dr Sam Wells from St Martin in the Fields. The full text is here. I found it to be one of the most energising talks I have heard or read – I am returning to it time and again. It flew through “the convictions of kingdom communities, the constraints on kingdom communities, and the characteristics of kingdom communities.” The following especially struck me – but please read the whole talk as these extracts in isolation do not do it justice:
On the convictions:
“Christmas tells us we meet God not by withdrawing from life, but by immersing ourselves in it.”
“Good Friday also embodies a paradox: that at humanity’s lowest moment, at God’s most horrifying moment, humanity is the closest it could ever be to God. …..The right questions are, ‘If I’m oppressed, am I allowing myself to see God with clarity and humanity with mercy? If I’m not oppressed, is it because I’m complicit in perpetrating or overlooking oppression, and if I stopped being so wouldn’t I quickly find myself oppressed too?”
“Easter says there is forgiveness – so the past is a gift; and there is everlasting life – the future’s our friend.”
“Pentecost proclaims that the work of reconciliation was not only the work of Jesus, incarnate among us, but is the central work of the church in ministry and mission.”
On the constraints of Kingdom communities:
“The church has made God’s love too narrow with false strictures of its own.”
“The problem isn’t simply occasional thoughtlessness and bad-apple perversity. It’s a whole mind-set that seeks social superiority by making the church a refuge of the worthy, the advantaged, the tasteful and the assured, establishing blue water between it and the soiled, the complex, the untidy and the distressed, and calls that blue water God.”
On the characteristics of Kingdom communities:
“That’s what ministry and mission are all about – not condescendingly making welcome alienated strangers, but seeking out the rejected precisely because they are the energy and the life-force that will transform us all. …. If you’re looking for where the future church is coming from, look at what the church and society has so blithely rejected. The life of the church is about constantly recognising the sin of how much we have rejected, and celebrating the grace that God gives us back what we once rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives.”
Sam Wells and my rose-tinted view of the Assembly challenge me in ways that resonate with Pope Francis in “Joy of the Gospel” talking of the Church as a field hospital, unafraid of mistakes or of diversity of ideas; with Sabeel in Palestine-Israel seeking justice rooted in deep commitment to the Gospel, with imagination and courage; and Sant Egidio in Rome, building friendship with the marginalised.