November 2017

Dear Friends,

Standing frequently used expressions on their heads can be fun.

The result can be sheer nonsense, but it can sometimes point us to something important. Here’s one of my favourites:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

This is highly dangerous territory for a parish priest; and especially for one who is constantly being humbled by the enormous amount of sheer hard work put in by volunteers to keep the parochial show on the road. Their dedication is amazing, yet, despite there being a good number of them, here, as everywhere, they only make up a minority of the congregation. This is not always the fault of the majority, and age and infirmity are not the only reasons for people’s unwillingness to take on responsibilities. But be that as it may, the heroic efforts of “the few” are not unnoticed, neither are they unappreciated. I know how much I depend on them, and am truly grateful.

But too much activity can have a serious downside. A question we all do well to ask ourselves from time to time is “what would I like to be remembered for?” Our answer is likely to be influenced more than anything else by our memories of the people who have meant the most to us. The people we hold in greatest affection are those who, however full their lives, had time for us.

We might like the idea of being remembered for our achievements, and for our contribution to our church and community; but if these had become so exhausting and all-consuming that we had no time for people, we’re unlikely to be remembered in the ways that, deep down, matter most to us. And, tragically, neither will our labours have done much to advance the Kingdom of God.

As you’ll have realised, these words have been addressed as much to myself as to anyone else. But, as another interregnum approaches, it’s good to remind ourselves of the dangers of busyness. It’s reaching epidemic proportions in the Church at large – one initiative after another, plans, statistics, mission strategies etc. - and it needs to be resisted. What’s needed is the courage to do less, not more. “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

But I can almost hear you thinking “that won’t even arrest the Church’s decline, let alone help it to grow!” I beg to differ. St Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), a renowned Russian Orthodox spiritual guide, said this:

“Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

That applies as much to a congregation as to the individuals within it. Our noisy, confused world seeks a peaceful spirit more than anything else. St Seraphim might appear to have been exaggerating, but if we turn his saying upside down by expressing it in negative form it highlights a truth which we ignore at our peril. “Without a peaceful spirit few, if any, around us will be saved”. Its acquisition should be our first priority.

Next time you go into Wentworth church look for some words carved in stone and picked out in gold above the altar, and take a little time to ponder them. It’s an invitation with a promise: “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Striving for a peaceful spirit is doomed to failure, but accepting that gracious invitation will help to bring it nearer.