What does it all mean?

Last week Jane and I were in Portbury, just south of Bristol, for the baptism of our (now) godson, Felix Jonathan Coore, third child of friends Jonny and Emma. During the meal in the church building following the baptism I was sitting near the vicar who had performed the baptism. She was talking about a recent meeting of the clergy chapter at which someone was addressing the revered audience about the need for more lay people to be involved in the public life of the Church of England.

From what I gathered the clergy in attendance didn’t feel quite as enthusiastic. Which I found strange, because it is a debate that has been taking place for quite a while in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The trouble lies when the question about the ministry of all the baptised gets mixed up with questions about money and misconceptions about the role of the clergy — but that’s a whole different ballpark of worms!

I’ve recently discovered that what you might think you are saying is something positive about the ministry of all the baptised might not be interpreted as such by others. So much is dependent on the hearer’s point of view, fears, and/or prejudices. Take this recent cartoon that I did for Inspires magazine (the monthly magazine for the Scottish Episcopal Church):

Journey of the Baptised

The Journey of the Baptised, for those who don’t know, is an emphasis in the church just now to recognise that not only the clergy are called to ministry but everyone who is baptised is called by Jesus to exercise their ministries and gifts in the church and in the world.

I drew this cartoon as a pro-Journey of the Baptised cartoon. With a bit of cunning wordplay I translated the ‘journey’ into a map with a route: a route from the font (where one is baptised) to the pew, with the words “an incomplete route” beneath it. It was a way of saying, the ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) way of understand that someone gets baptised and then sits for the rest of their church life in the pew is an incomplete and limited understanding of what it means to be a Christian. A more complete route would have had more than one dotted line: out of the door into the world, would be one; up to the front to conduct the service, might be another; into the pulpit might be a third — I’m sure you can think of hundreds more.

It turns out that not everyone read the cartoon this way. Some people interpretted this as a criticism of The Journey of Baptised — that it in itself was an incomplete route. I’m sure it is, such is the strength of the arrangement in our church of lay people served by deacons, priests and bishops (who are themselves part of the laos, the people of God). But it is certainly something to be encouraged and explored.

Well, at least it’s got people talking about what’s important in the Church.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

One thought on “What does it all mean?”

  1. Hi,
    I was interested in your comment about our Rector’s feedback regarding clergy Chapter and lay involvement in the church. As a churchwarden, who leads intercessions, cuts the lawns, takes services from time to time etc. I am fully in tune with your journey of the Baptised (even sometimes the unbaptised). I hope I am still growing in the faith as I retire.

    The recent C of E paper on terms and conditions for clergy talks of Human Resource Advisors (probably legally trained and costed at £40k per person/year) being taken on instead of more clergy, to intercede between clergy and Bishops. Clergy to become enablers who manage the unpaid volunteer staff, and a host of other new changes. I think this is the package that was worrying clergy chapter, especially as a 4 page document that we were asked to respond to did not mention ‘love’ or ‘God’ once. It worries more about Bishops being sued by clergy than a loving relationship. I feel we need to get back to the love of God and our inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and then we can move forward with God’s help. As you rightly surmise, it is several ballparks of worms!

    Regards
    David Yates

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