I’ve been thinking about posture. My posture. The Church’s posture. I hear the call of Jesus to live humbly, graciously, thankfully, servant-like – no more than servant-like – as servants. I am trying to attend to my posture.
I don’t think anyone owes me anything. I am not entitled to anything. This isn’t about me – life, the day dawning, my ministry, even my salvation. This is all gift. No one owes me a living – not society, not the Church, not God. The Church does not exist to support me as a minister (sometimes I see behaviours that suggest otherwise). For goodness sake, if one day I need to go and get a job that provides me with an income so that I can minister in the Church, that’s fine! The Church does not owe me a living. That they do provide it baffles me. How come these good people set aside a portion of their life that I might live? I operate and survive in a daily rhythm of the sacrifice of others. I cannot do enough to repay their generosity. The best I can do is not take it for granted, and not behave as if I am owed anything. I owe them. For that, I will work hard, honestly, and humbly. I will try, anyway. These people are living treasures, how can I serve them and honour them? The idea of stipend is not inscribed in scripture – even Paul, who talked of fair-pay for a person for her/his labour, had no expectation of full-time living allowance. The Church owes me nothing, but gives me everything. How amazing!
I am learning to live in a rhythm of gratitude. I have noticed that it can be infectious. Oh, and I don’t know everything. I am not the fount of all knowledge. I, like the rest of my colleagues, and every single one of the people I serve, only get to see through a glass dimly. I might know enough to know, but I don’t know a hang of a lot more, and, to quote Bono, “the more I see, the less I know and the more I find out as I go”. So I am becoming more careful in the pulpit – that place where the power can be intoxicating, and become for some, a pedestal.
I wonder too about the Church’s posture. I do not think the Church is entitled to anything. It too operates in the circle of gift – in the wake of the giving up of life by the Lord of the Church, in the wake of the death-defying power of resurrection, in the promise of eternal presence, in the power of the Spirit who whispers and blows inside and outside the fences (thanks JKB). But the Church’s behaviour over the centuries has reflected postures other than humility. Lording over, demanding, manipulating, threatening, judging, withholding, hoarding, murdering, ostracising, ignoring… Maybe we Presbyterians think that we have not got caught up in this stuff as much as some of our sister Churches, but some of our behaviours suggest we also operate “over and at” people rather than “with and for”. How many thumps of the pulpit have diminished people over the years? How often has the toxic “saved by works” reflex destroyed people’s hope? Some of our language is revealing… saved/unsaved – as if we really know the workings of God; churched/unchurched – who really wants to be churched?
I wonder about the Church’s expectation that society needs to fit into it. One way or another people around us have voted with their feet. Increasingly they do not buy the package. Well, maybe they do not buy the packaging, and why should they? They do not care to fit the Sunday hour expressed in a building with a pointy roofline. Does the Gospel with its life and spark and refusal to be bound by religion fit the packaging we demand of it either? I wonder what would happen if we stopped demanding that people fit with us, and we took the Gospel with all its stories and its humble Lord who washes feet and lives and breathes grace, out into the life of the community. What would Church begin to look like if a step like that was taken? But we love our buildings… this is Church…we even call the building a church… Oh dear! I wonder what the community outside the church is entitled to? More, I reckon, but less as well – less of us and our stuff.
Rev Martin Stewart
Martin is currently the minister at Village Presbyterian Church. He has served the church in various capacities at local, presbytery and national levels and will be one of our regular Candour Blog columnists.