Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Midweek Sermon

As these don't tend to get shared elsewhere - here is my midweek thinking for today...

James Hannington Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, and His Companions Martyrs, 1885 — Commemoration

Matthew 10.16–22

16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

I’m not sure we should have favourite Bible verses, but today’s Gospel reading contains one of mine!  “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” says Jesus.  Not quite as powerful, perhaps as ‘For God so loved the world” or as resonant and long lasting as the image of a wayward son or a good Samaritans, but still I find it a most profound and helpful verse – and part of a profound and powerful passage.

Christians, especially Anglicans, are often looked at as being somewhat bloodless in their faith.  We are considered by the majority of people to be the acceptable face of religion!  Whether it’s true or not – apart from the odd fundamentalist or religious nut - we are looked on as a relatively mellow and bloodless kind of religion. Here I could get into a long discussion about what happens when people add the name of Christian faith to their campaigns and crusades and the less than illustrious history of the Church – but after a couple of thousand years and the ubiquity of Christendom in the west there’s a certain level of blandness ascribed to Christianity.  In Western Culture at least…

But Jesus doesn’t give us that impression.  No bloodless faith in his world.  His is a faith that is full of passion and compassion, life, love, wisdom and grace. But also a faith that is strong, life changing, risky and dangerous. 

There is an expectation in Jesus’ talking of faith that it is and will be dangerous to stand up for faith.  But there is also an expectation that those of follow the way of Christ will be able to stand. Far from the images of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ we see in today’s lesson a strength in refusing to fight back against persecutors, to speak out without violence for that which is right.  Jesus reassures his hearers that that those who are taken prisoner for their faith will be given words to say and the courage of the Holy Spirit even under persecution.  I am grateful that we don’t suffer being tortured and put to death for our faith, as Bishop Hannington and his companions did and the persecutions we suffer are (relatively) mild in our society – though I know some of you will have experience of the danger of speaking out for faith – but there is still a calling to stand, to share, to change our world with the life of faith no matter what the cost.

And into this Jesus speaks these words – be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

What does that mean, though?

I think it means be canny (as they say in Scotland and the North of England) – listen and learn, take your opportunities where you can, be crafty.  Yet at the same time be honest, and transparent, be people of integrity.  Act, and be, righteous.

We are not called to naivety, or to being treated like doormats. We are called to be strong, and committed and faithful and loving, even when it hurts. We are called to be Christ like in our words and our actions, and even our thinking.

If we are willing to stand up for that which is right, and to share the faith which Christ calls us to – a transforming, disturbing, honest and powerful faith. A faith that calls all to leaving behind dishonesty and abuse, injustice and inequality. Faith that calls to love and serve one another, to know ourselves loved and to act with love towards all.

If we are willing to stand for that faith then we will put ourselves at risky of persecution, marginalisation, condemnation.  Or just of apathy and disregard. But in following Christ we are challenged to live lives which are completely dependent on God, that are different to the lives we would live without God, and that make a difference to the world as much as we allow the Spirit moving in us to make a difference to ourselves.

 May we be, with the Spirit’s help, wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sermon for an early Eucharist!

Teresa of Avila & John of the Cross

Today is the remembrance of Teresa of Avila, and of St John of the Cross – two 16th Century contemplatives.  We are using the readings and prayer for Teresa, but we keep in mind also her friend and follower John of the Cross.  From the companion to our readings we are told that Teresa of Avila was a Spanish nun of the sixteenth century whose visions of Christ and gifts as a spiritual director have placed her among the greatest of all Christian mystics. She was the only daughter of a minor nobleman and entered the Carmelite convent in her native town of A’vil-a when she was twenty-one. Over the next two decades she endured many illnesses, one of which left her paralyzed, and also a nagging sense that in her prayers and devotions she was doing nothing more than “treading water.” 

Then, in answer to her despair, she began to have visions and hear “interior voices.” The most famous of these experiences, known as “transverberation of the heart,” took place over a number of days in 1559. At her left side Teresa beheld an angel who held a golden spear with a flaming tip, with which he pierced her heart again and again. Teresa later wrote that each time the angel withdrew the spear she was ‘ ‘left completely afire with a great love for God,” and knew that her soul would “never be content with anything less than God.”

Three years later, in obedience to another vision, Teresa left her convent with thirteen other nuns to observe the primitive constitutions of the Carmelite Order in all their strictness. Despite fierce, sometimes violent opposition from the Carmelite establishment, Teresa eventually founded sixteen other Reformed Carmelite houses.

In the midst of her other concerns Teresa also found time to write a number of books, which reflect her holiness, wisdom, and sense of humour; and through them she has become one of the most widely loved saints in the Church, attractive even to those who have not shared

Then of John of the Cross we are told he was the greatest Spanish mystic of the sixteenth century, and his writings still nourish modern Christians in their hunger for true experience in the spiritual life. John was born in 1542 and became a Carmelite friar at the age of twenty-one. Four years later he met Teresa of Avila and joined in her reform of the Carmelite Order, serving as confessor to Teresa’s nuns. His prominence in the reform-movement made him a target of intrigues; twice he was abducted and imprisoned. After Teresa’s death he also suffered vindictive treatment at the hands of his own superiors in the Reformed Carmelites, and their harshness contributed to his death in 1591.

Through all his trials John was sustained by an intense mystical love for Jesus Christ. Like Teresa, he experienced the presence of Christ in “intellectual visions.” His reflection upon these experiences issued, first of all, in poetry of extraordinary power and beauty. At the urging of his disciples, he selected a number of his poems and produced  prose commentaries on them, which have become classics of mystical theology. John united the vocation of a theologian with the experience of a mystic, and his writings are the supreme example of theology as the fruit of prayer.

What bound these two together, and the reason we mark both at the same time is this common thread of prayer.  And that prayer is sometimes dangerous, disturbing, powerful, filled with unfilled and fulfilled longings and hopes. Even sometimes filled with visions… And sometimes filled with nothing.

Often when we hear of Elijah’s journey into the wilderness – his fearful flight from king Ahab and the king’s murderous rage.  We focus on the still, small voice at the end of Elijah’s vision but we forget what brought Elijah to this place – the fear, the anxiety, running from his home and from all that was his.  We forget that he needed sustenance for his journey – provided miraculously by the angel in the story. We forget he was so tired he lay down under a tree and slept – then we forget that before he got to the place of the still, small voice he had to pass through ‘the earthquake, wind and fire’.  Considering all that he was going through, that’s a pretty terrifying experience, if you think about it.

Theresa’s vision wasn’t a pleasant one – as we hear it today we are perhaps slightly shocked by the idea that she had her heart pierced by an angel again and again… sometimes called the Dart of longing love… but that on the other side of that vivid vision, experienced over days, came an overwhelming desire to know, to feel, to engage with the presence of God.

From John of the Cross we gain that powerful and painful image of the ‘dark night of the soul’ – an experience he had, and that expresses the feeling that many people have – of a spiritual emptiness even whilst seeking God in prayer and contemplation.  It is the title of a prayer by John, talking of the soul’s journey towards God and the hardships one faces in that spiritual journey.

We often, I think, take prayer for granted – we have words provided for us by our prayer books, and we have the prayers of the people, we have spiritual songs and hymns that give voice to our hopes and longings and fears and triumphs. We have an extensive vocabulary.

But these two mystics teach us that prayer is so much more than that.  Prayer is exposing ourselves to the divine, being vulnerable to God. It is being willing to discipline ourselves in prayer, to being silence, to seeking God in the difficult parts of life, to clinging to the faithfulness of God no matter what is happening to and around us.

Prayer is painful.  To truly journey to the heart of God is not a pleasant experience – because in doing so we confront ourselves, and we touch something greater than we can ever comprehend.  When we are open to God in prayer we take away all other supports and all of the things we rely on to make us comfortable, we are willing to bear the spiritual wilderness and face up to our fears, even to death itself.  In order that we might find our way to resurrection.

We are encouraged to not let our hearts be troubled, to hold fast to the knowledge of Christ’s faithfulness even in that face of death – to cling to the one who is the way of truth and life.  But when we find ourselves stripped before God we might not feel that sense of reassurance that we long for.

That’s where the examples of those through the ages who teach us about God being in the midst of the darkness, the God who is there when we don’t feel she is – the God who is faithful – this is where their examples can bring us encouragement.  To hold on, or as John Bell Scottish writer and member of the Iona Community once said ‘we grasp God, that we may be grasped by God in return’.

These faithful pilgrims, our sister and brother in faith, encourage us to be faithful ourselves in whatever situations we find ourselves.  They encourage us to travel deeper into faith, even when the way seems frightening and desolate. They remind us that God is not easily found in comfort and complacency,  but in struggle and discipline.  They remind us that faith is risky, and that prayer is dangerous.

They remind us that God will sometimes speak through the earthquake, wind and fire with the still small voice of peace.  But that we may have to endure the shaking and fear before our eyes and ears are able to hear the profound stillness of God.

A 12 Step Eucharist Sermon

Preached on October 14th at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria.

Amazing Grace

We live in a society that often seems obsessed with how we look… the clothes we wear, the way our hair looks, or the state of our skin, whether we eat right, exercise, look buff, whatever…  We are obsessed with how things seem, how they look, what impression we give.

But that’s not a new phenomenon, as the reading today indicates.  Jesus condemns those who are obsessed with religious observance at the expense of true devotion – particularly those who actually use their religion to distract from the true intent of their hearts – a desire to be SEEN to be proper, to act in the appropriate way and to get credit for the way they appear.  In the older translations of the Bible later on in this passage Jesus calls these types ‘whitewashed tombs’ – meaning it all looks nice and well cared for on the outside, but you really don’t want to know what’s going on underneath.

But for those of us who know ourselves, who have looking inside ourselves – we often feel the other way around. That we are afraid of what is inside us, or we are ashamed of what happens under the surface – we don’t want people to know what is going on ‘in here’ because we feel so inadequate, or bad – the word we often use in the Church is ‘sinful’.

It is hard to open up – to others, and to God, because we are afraid what they will see,

I don’t know about you, but when I pray about the God who knows all the secrets of our hearts, or when I read about Jesus saying ‘nothing that hidden will remain hidden but all will be brought to light’. When I read in the story of the choosing of King David that though he was the smallest of his family God saw what was inside him ‘for mortals look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart’.  When the Bible talks about God looking within – I get a little bit fearful.  It can cause a certain amount of anxiety.

What if God doesn’t like what God sees? What if I am not worthy, or God takes offence at something I’ve done, or said, or even worse – something I’ve thought?

I would love to be someone, and I hope to be someone from whom goodness overflows from within – as our reading today said.  But I often feel as though I am not.  I worry that all my good works, all the kindness I try to show, all the words I say are just a cover up job for my general feeling of brokenness and the wrong I know I am capable of.

There’s an urban legend that does the rounds every now and then about a University professor who called around a city at random and just says to whoever answers the phone ‘everyone knows, the secret’s out, get away quick’ and that a significant number of people did, in response to that random call, pack up and get out of town.  It’s an urban legend, so I doubt the truth of it, but I do recognise that inside myself, and I am sure inside many of us, there is a feeling that we are perhaps just waiting to get found out. That there is stuff within us that we don’t like, that if people truly knew what we were like, if God truly knew what we are like, we would be rejected.

Well, here’s the secret.

God truly knows what we are like.  And God loves us.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see the stories of our ancestors in all of their imperfections and the horrendous mistakes and the violence that characterised their lives, and the wrong things that they did – the more I see of a God who chooses to use imperfect people, who teaches us to use our mistakes to grow, who does not condemn us, who loves us.

So when Jesus questions the motives of the religious leaders, as he does in today’s reading, I don’t think he does it as a threat, or a condemnation – but as an expression of sadness at how we sometimes don’t let the light into our hearts.  When I realise that God searches my heart, I realise that God doesn’t do so to condemn or judge me, but in order that I might open myself up to love, to hope, to faith. 

The word is Grace.

Grace doesn’t ask us to be worthy. Grace doesn’t demand that we are good before we are loved. Grace doesn’t hold our mistakes or our wrongdoings up before us and say ‘you are bad’.  Grace loves us – as we are, where we are, who we are.

Grace doesn’t call us to be perfect before we know we are loved.

Grace doesn’t demand that we get everything right before we are forgiven.

Grace doesn’t make us pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do better.  Grace works with us to transform us, to help us, to guide us, to strengthen us, to bless us, to love us.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Law, Liberation, Life, Love

Another sermon from today, same readings, different event (this time a short Eucharist for the ACW - Anglican Church Women - group here in Victoria)


Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path’ proclaims the Psalmist. Which is nice.

But what does he mean?

Well, when the Psalmist is speaking, and indeed when the compilers of the proverbs are writing the definition of the word is quite clear – it is the law.  God’s law – the commandments, all 613 of them.  For in the commandments – far from the impression we have in Christian circles, is a sense of liberation and joy, a sense of ‘this is how we please God – by living by these commands’

And these commandments are so special, so wonderful, so life-giving that even now any adult member of the Jewish community becomes, on their transition into adulthood a bar or bat Mitzvah – a son or daughter of the law.  Even now, as they have done for hundreds, thousands, of years, Jewish scholars and writers dedicate themselves to an understanding and interpretation of the commandments – believing that fullness of life is found within obedience to the word, the law of the Lord.  Or as it says elsewhere in the Psalms ‘your statutes are my delight’.  How often do we think of delight, of joy, of freedom when we consider the law of the Lord – the word to which the Psalmist and the Proverbs refer?  How often is this idea of law taken as a liberation and as an expression of the freedom God desires?

For within the law are not just the ten commandments – that’s a particularly Christian concept – nor are there only laws about religious ritual. In the law are considerations of justice and fairness, of how we live together with care for one another, of how each member of the community should behave in order that there might be peace- Shalom – wholeness. There are considerations towards the stranger, the alien, and towards the poor and needy and sick. There are guidelines about what to eat not just for religious but practical reasons – I mean, eating shellfish in the desert before refrigeration… not a sensible idea.  Pork, when it is not subject to the kind of rigour that pork farming is now, is stuffed with all sorts of unpleasant parasites and diseases.  These laws became part of a ritual food code, but started as some pretty sensible advice for the wandering people of Israel!  The law is meant to take away the stress of living, and show us how to relate to God and one another, faithfully and joyfully.

As Christians we kind of hijacked the idea of law, taking a cue from Paul and holding up the law as oppressive, negative, bound by rules and regulations, and in sharp contrast to the life found in grace in Christ. I don’t actually believe that this is what Paul meant, for in Chapter 7 of his most exquisite and nuanced theological work – the letter to the Romans – he says ‘I delight in the law of God’. And I am certain that this negative view of law is not what Jesus meant when he talked of himself as the fulfilling of the law.  Or said that not one iota of the law would pass away until all is fulfilled…

The law, the word of God is considered to be life-giving, life affirming, life-changing.  It is meant to be a way in which we see God’s inmost desired and we are encouraged to meditate on this law and to live by it.

But like so many bits of scripture, I would say that it is not the words themselves that are to be our focus – but the meaning behind the words.  The law seeks to frame an attitude towards God, not to bind us in a blind obedience, but calls us into deeper, richer, more profound relationship with God. Indeed, in our Christian tradition the whole of scripture calls us that way – and though the Church often focusses on the words of Scripture it is the Word within Scripture we are called to discern.

Ooooer, I hear you think, what does the Rector mean by that?

Don’t get me wrong, I love words, I love reading, I love playing with words. And I am the same with Scripture – I love to meditate, consider, struggle with, think on, pray on and learn from scripture. But the words in themselves are not where God resides – I do not worship the Bible, I worship the one Word, who we call Christ.  In the well known prologue to St John’s Gospel we hear the words used at pretty much every Christmas Night service  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’  In the Greek the term is logos. The logos is the expression of God – the breath of God gone forth in substance. The reality of God made manifest.

Within the words of Scripture, I seek the Word of God. I look for where the Christ leads me, I listen for the voice of God and long to feel breath of God ruffle the pages of my Bible. It is this word which brings the words of our Bibles to life.

We don’t worship ink and paper. It is disturbing to see how many seek to enshrine the living, breathing, vibrant spirit of God in words and phrases pulled from a book.

Christian faith, following Christ, is actually a much harder, higher, more exciting calling than that.  It is to be in relationship with a God who is experienced in prayer, in worship, in sacrament, in love, and yes in study of scripture.  But not a God trapped in scripture, we are called to discern the word behind the words, the life behind the scriptures.

And it is the task of each of us to set our minds and hearts on this discovery – together, seeking to discern the life of God.  When we trap our understanding of God in words, or traditions, institutions or even just habits of worship then we miss out on the true and living Word.

For a faithful Jew, the life of the law comes from being excited about and by the life behind the commandments.  For those of us who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our fullness of life comes from a relationship with him through our common life, through our care for one another and of all in need, through our shared experience of worship and prayer.

And as I said at the early service this morning (my last sermon, found below), taking my cue from the Gospel reading where the disciples are sent out with nothing, not even money or bread - we are not to be distracted – whether it be by the minutiae of biblical verses, or our own comfort, or the way we like Church to be – but to live fully in the life of Christ, abundant, transforming, hopeful, loving, faithful life – that all the world might know and be transformed by it.

Dust and Feet

A sermon preached at our midweek early morning Eucharist in St John The Divine, Victoria

Dust and feet

In today’s Gospel reading, which is the one I want to focus on this morning, there is a declaration made by Jesus which I have found troubling since I first heard it.  It’s that bit about ‘wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them’ 


In Matthew’s account (today’s reading was from Luke) it goes even further ‘Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.’

This reminds me of my introduction to my first ever parish where the Rector announced to the congregation – Alastair comes as Curate to our community, and we hope that as he comes to us he will bring peace, and that peace will rest on us – and that he won’t turn away and say ‘Sodom’…

Which got a slightly scandalised laugh from the congregation!  Which was the point and broke the ice somewhat…

But these harsh words seem so odd from the mouth of Jesus – what is he saying? Is he really giving up on those who do not hear the message on first blush – is he really consigning to judgement those who do not accept the disciples as they share this message of the good news. It certainly doesn’t sound like good news if there are people excluded, for whatever reason, from the party!

I suspect that these words were said by Jesus – as most scholars agree that the most authentic parts of scripture, most likely to be accurately recorded and passed on, are the difficult bits – the bits we find uncomfortable. The bits that the early Church would find uncomfortable as they sought to bring all into the life of Christ.  The logic goes that if they made a point of recording it and passing it on even though it’s difficult then the chances are it did actually come from Jesus as if it was from elsewhere they would have been more likely to edit it out.

So we have these words, but like all faithful followers we are called to question. What does this actually mean? Who was it said to and why? What is the meaning behind and within these statements…

I think that these words are less a judgement on non-believers than an encouragement to us.  They remind us that not all will hear and accept the message of faith – that it is right not to browbeat, cajole or force people into accepting our way of seeing the world. Jesus is simply acknowledging that some won’t get it, and won’t want to get it.  As for the consequences of this, it is for God to sort out, not for us to pronounce judgement. 

As an aside, the comment about Sodom and Gomorrah is about the lack of hospitality shown by those cities – something that is considered sacrosanct in middle eastern nomadic societies where survival is often dependent on supporting and caring for one another.  Throughout scripture we are shown the importance of hospitality and welcome, including the famous statement by the author of the letter to the Hebrews “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” 

And as for shaking off the dust.  I think this was for those first disciples, and indeed is for us, a comment about not carrying with us our failures, or rejection, or negativity. Let nothing hinder us from our sharing of the life of Christ – do not be distracted. When the disciples were sent out with nothing, not even staff, bag, bread, money or a change of tunic, they were being encouraged to depend only on God, to strip away anything that might give a false sense of security, anything that might possibly make them think about anything other than what we call the ‘kingdom’ or the ‘reign’ of God. This is to be something that is so focussed, so intentional, so much at the heart and the foundation of what we as Christ followers are about that we are to let nothing distract us. Not even our failures.

Which should give us cause to think again about those things which might be distracting us from our calling to live and to be the good news to this world.  I think that we are too comfortable, too distracted – and I certainly include myself in this. We are rarely confronted with our calling to give of ourselves to others.  From that place of knowing ourselves loved, called, graced and embraced should come hearts and minds and lives which are consumed with the love of God. And from this spiritual foundation comes our calling to be and to bring the Good news – we are called in word and deed to proclaim God’s radical message, love for all, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, confronting the powerful and abusive, bringing comfort for the afflicted – living out the values of God’s kingdom and seeking to make those values real in our own spiritual community and in the community around us.
It’s a scary calling. It’s a spiritual calling. It’s a shared calling. It is something we as a community are being called to – this isn’t one of those ‘what are you doing because it all depends on you’ callings, but to ask what our part is within a community that seeks to live and share these values.  Perhaps our calling is to pray, to give of our time, talents or money , perhaps our calling is to volunteer, perhaps our calling is to listen to where God is leading us and to respond.

Whatever our calling, the question that comes back to us is this – what do we cling to or carry around like dust on our feet that prevents us from fully entering into this wonderful, distressing, challenging, transforming life which Jesus calls us to and what do we need to leave behind that we too might be a community which is living the power of the spirit in transforming this world.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Bibliography for Dissertation


Cited works

Avery, Brice 1996 The Pastoral Encounter London: Marshall Pickering

Campbell, Alastair V 1993 Rediscovering Pastoral Care London: Darton, Longman & Todd

Dominion, J 1976 Authority Burns & Oates: London

Green, J B & McKnight, S (eds.) 1992 Dictionary of Jesus & The Gospels Dower’s Green, IVP

Harris, John C 1977  Stress, Power and Ministry Washington: The Alban Institute

Howard, Roland 1996 The Rise And Fall Of The Nine O’Clock Service London: Mowbrays

Jamieson, Penny 1997 Living at the Edge: sacrament and solidarity in leadership London, Mowbray’s

Kittel G & Friedrich G (Eds.), 1967, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Volume 2 Grand Rapids, Eerdmans

Komonchak, J A, Collins, M & Lane, D A (eds.) 1987 The New Dictionary of Theology Dublin: Gill & MacMillan

Lake, Frank 1994 Clinical Theology (Abridged by Martin H Yeomans) London: Darton, Longman & Todd

Middleton, J R & Walsh, B J 1995 Truth is stranger than it used to be London, SPCK

Pattison, Stephen 1993 A Critique of Pastoral Care London: SCM

Powell, Cyril  H 1963 The Biblical Concept of Power London, The Epworth Press

Reid, Bruce 1974 The Dynamics Of Religion London: Darton, Longman & Todd

Richardson, Alan 1962 A theological word book of the Bible London, SCM Press

Riddell, Michael 1998 Threshold Of The Future London: SPCK

Tomlinson, Dave 1995 The Post-Evangelical  London: Triangle

 1995 New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised edition) Oxford: The University Press 

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Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Last Chapter - some conclusions on Power and Pastoral Ministry

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry

Chapter 5
Observations and Conclusions

The purpose of this study has been to make it clear that to attempt to deny or ignore the power inherent in Pastoral encounters is deluded and opens the way to serious, though often unconscious, abuses of the power that exists whether it is acknowledged or not.  This acknowledgement of power and the acceptance of the authority conveyed upon those engaged in pastoral ministry is the beginning of any attempt to move on and tackle the related issues that arise in pastoral work.  The presence of power will, whether known or not, influence any pastoral encounter for ill or for better.

As discussed in the previous chapter, the church structure within which power is exercised and from which authority for ministry is gained is often blamed for individual failures to use power appropriately.   While it is true that the ‘senior executives’ within the church - whether they be elders, Bishops, Archdeacons, Superintendents or otherwise, - often have a strong influence over the Christian community it is recognised more and more that the authority these individuals hold is dependent upon acceptance from those who are part of the main body of the church.  In this way issues such as hierarchy, power sharing and accountability are being placed on the everyday agenda of the ministry of the church. 

The Church of England has always located the ultimate authority of a given situation in one individual - the Bishop, priest or other figure.  This has given those in pastoral ministry in that denomination a sense of accountability and responsibility due to the power invested in them.  This has not always been successful but has offered a working model for the Anglican Church for a number of generations.

The truth is, that without an obvious location of power and responsibility then power often comes out in other ways.  Churches that claim no one leader will often still have an individual who, through the dynamics of the group, will be an unconscious bearer of power, with the ability to influence the congregation accordingly.  This offers more dangers than the model of a defined role taken by one person who, though working as part of and on behalf of the fellowship is the one on whom responsibility will lie.  At least in such a model there is some form of accountability.
It is important to acknowledge the ‘power factor’ in a pastoral relationship.  This process involves a certain amount of vulnerability on the part of the pastor and the client, but it is one which, having made the issues known, leaves less room for unacknowledged power to sabotage the process.


Three Steps in Moving Forward

The first step in moving towards more open pastoral relationships is to examine the dynamics that inform the process of pastoral encounter.  This is the concern of Dr Brice Avery (1996)as stated in Chapter Three.  Therefore the position of client and pastor must be made clear and the, often unconscious, motivations of each must be examined.  This is not to advocate that the pastor offers all of her or his misgivings, vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses to the client, thereby disempowering him or herself, but that, from the very beginning, there will be an awareness of the underlying issues of power and authority that flow quite naturally within a pastoral relationship.  Brice Avery (1996: 46) tells us,
“The activity in the best of pastoral encounters is one in which the pastoral pair work together to reveal, for reflection, activities on the emotional level that the client had, until then, been unaware of.” (Italics mine)

Recognition of the nature of the power relationship that will exist in such an encounter is the beginning of working together in order to bring about such revelations.  Pastors, especially Christian pastors,  must embark on the long journey of self-awareness, informed by reflection, scriptural understanding and personal honesty that will allow them to be truly aware of their motivations and desires, and not allow them to subvert the true purpose of the pastoral encounter, to bring about the increased well-being of those who seek the pastor’s aid. Campbell (1993: 99) states
“Because caring is an interaction in areas of life where helper and helped are both vulnerable, the person who claims to care must learn to recognize the intrusive quality of his or her own needs.”
Without this self-understanding and self-knowledge the pastor is liable to be living out unresolved issues, playing out fantasies and serving her or his own ends in the pastoral encounter and thereby making it impossible to engage in a deeper relationship, a relationship of trust - in this case the client will find it difficult to open up to a pastor, as Harris (1977: 48) tells us “…a trusting climate is necessary if an individual is to see purpose in relaxing his defenses, in opening up his life and concern to others.”

The second step in making pastoral relationships more open and more constructive is concerned with the consideration of the roots of pastoral ministry which, certainly in the church, are found in the early history of the church and in the life and ministry of Jesus.  With this basis we find a critique of any aspects of power which involve control or manipulation, and the ideal of the pastoral community as one of mutuality and sharing.  In looking at certain biblical material in this study we have not sought to claim that only Christian pastoral contact is of any value, but that all pastoral ministry can be informed by the example firstly of Jesus and secondly of the primitive church that struggled to care for those it met, even while the church was subject to persecution, in the early years of its life.

The issues of ‘power’ and ‘authority’ which stand out so strongly in the life of Jesus and in the writings of the New Testament are tied up with the need for the pastor to be grounded in the life of the spirit and with the community of faith.  This is the natural outcome of the struggles of the earliest generations of the church between ‘charismatic’ and ‘institutional’ power being located in leaders. 

At best, power that is acknowledged as institutional offers, a safeguard against the extreme abuses of pastoral power.  This power is rooted in the understanding that Jesus found his home among those he trusted and gave them the authority to continue his work.  These were the founders of the heritage to which the church clings today.   Power and authority are indeed dangerous, unstable concepts, yet Jesus was unafraid to speak with authority and to follow the leading of compassion and commitment to others event when it brought criticism.  This, indeed, is the calling of pastors in every age, to be committed to the appropriate use of power in encountering those who seek help. 

Ultimately the call of the pastor is to encourage healing and wholeness, recognising her or his own need for that healing and wholeness.  Jesus offers us a model of humanity which allows us to feel, to weep and laugh alongside those who are travelling with us through our journey in life. Harris (1997: 167) writes that pastors must “…learn to focus on the struggles of their people to be more fully human.  The aim and purpose of Christ’s ministry was that human beings might live more abundantly.” This is the aim of pastoral relationships within the church.

As a third step to fuller pastoral contact we must bear in mind the ongoing dynamic of the pastoral encounter within the community.  This study is concerned to make clear the idea of community as the background and basis of any genuine pastoral encounter, whether it be through the network of persons in church fellowships or the fact that the minister represents and works on behalf of the community. Pastoral authority and power, to be used appropriately, must be made to exist in relationship to the community of faith or pastoral organisation from which the pastor works and such power must be acknowledged as part of the ministry of the church, not just a personal control over others.. 

Pastoral ministry, certainly in the long term, can only be effective, and perhaps safe, agains the background of community.  Those who are pastoral ministers gain their identity, their authority, their grounding in being a part of and coming from a community or organisation from which they derive their power and authority.  For the Christian pastor that community comprises of the church, both on the level of individual fellowships and on the structural level of the church at large.  A Christian minister is recognised as having power due to the social, historical and tradition-based processes that have made the church what it is now.  Even for those who have no active involvement in the church the minister will be an approachable figure because of  their office as well as, or even in spite of, who they are as a human being.  Though exploring one’s full humanity must be a part of the ministerial task.

Because of this ‘rootedness’ in the community, the minister must always be accountable to the group she or he represents and speaks for.  To facilitate this the pastor must be transparent, honest and open to the community for and to which she or he ministers. This involves, from the start, acknowledging the presence of power in pastoral encounters and being willing and able to work on the issues involved together.  If the pastor genuinely finds their grounding in the life of the community then there is the potential for a relationship of trust which is essential for power to be truly shared.  This concern can be tackled initially by the desire to bring about mutuality in pastoral relationships. Harris (1977: 71) borrowing a phrase from Rollo May, talks in terms of ministers not having ‘power over the members (of the Community) but power with them.”


Pastoral Power grounded in community

Apart from the community the pastor has no power to offer authentic pastoral assistance, for it is by the commission of the community that he or she derives authentic pastoral power.  There will be times when healing and wholeness can only be brought within a community, and the leader must hand over to the pastoral community to allow the worshipping fellowship to do that work.  Frank Lake (1994: 14) makes the observation that
“It is in such a Christian community that the resources of Christ are meant to work.  It would be a departure from the New Testament pattern to set up separate clergymen working like therapists and general practitioners in isolation from the Body of Christ.  The resources of God are mediated in the whole life of the Christian fellowship…”
It must be admitted that for the leader of a community it can be a risk, it can be costly letting go.  At a certain level, sharing power allows more opportunity for mistakes to be made and more potential for failure, simply due to the fact that more people are a part of the pastoral process.  On the other hand holding power has the danger of one person’s failure being ultimately equally or even more damaging than a community sharing responsibility.

If, as discussed in the previous chapter, the role of the pastor is partly about being one who can foster and appropriate dependence on themselves within the community, it is only done in order to move individuals beyond ‘extra-dependence’ to ‘intra-dependence’.  In other words, as Dominian (1976: 98) says, “Although we are born in a state of dependence, the meaning of life is not to be found in dependence but relationship.”  This stresses the need for a mutuality in pastoral communities.  As Harris (1977: 60) explains, “Power is a social process.  In its best forms, power is expressed as people speak and act together in a climate of mutual respect.” In pastoral care the aim must be to empower people in such a way that it facilitates both their own healing and the healing of others.


Beyond the Church

Though this discussion has been concerned with a critique of power within the church, there must never be any doubt that the care that the church offers must be for society at large, not for a select group seeking to be comfortable and well-adjusted at the expense of others.  Just as many caring agencies seek to assist any in need, the care of the church must be open to all who come.  Pattison (1993: 15) states that
“One feature of the experience of pastoral care today which is very important is the fact that while pastoral care may be carried on primarily in, or on behalf of particular Christian communities, it cannot be directed solely towards Christians.”
This is the ‘Mission’ of the church in its broadest sense - working in common with other pastoral agencies to bring healing and wholeness to an often broken and confused humanity.  This mission, for the Christian, reflects faith in a God whose ultimate aim is the healing of creation, a work that is performed by those that seek to do the work of healing as part of the Christian vocation.

Pastoral care is needed by the world, by society as a whole, and the church is called to model healing relationships, appropriate dependence and authority without abuse.  Dominian (1976: 78) writes
“…ultimately, what society is seeking is that the model of authority should be one of integrity, wholeness, holiness, wisdom and love and not based on the power of money, coercion, violence and subjugation of others.”
In the present era, when so many values and ideas are being questioned, people are turning to people they can trust rather than to ‘meta-narratives’ or cosmic explanations.  If the future paradigm, the future ‘philosophy’, of western culture is to be relational, then the Christian community of faith must live in relationship to one another and the world in such a way as to demonstrate the love and freedom that their faith aspires to.


Word and Deed

In any pastoral encounter words and deeds, teaching and practice, must both work together.  It is impossible to pay lip-service to empowerment and then retain old methods of control and still retain any credibility with those who seek the aid of the pastor.  The authenticity of such a ministry would soon come under question.  The pastor cannot claim to be mutual and concerned with sharing if their model of ministry is still dictatorial and manipulative. Therefore, those who hold positions of pastoral responsibility must take risks in allowing the community of which she or he is a part to be responsible for their own healing.  If we are, however, to follow the example of Jesus as pastor then we must acknowledge the client’s part in their own move towards wholeness.  Pastors must live by values that allow them to empower those they serve as well as talking about such values. Hannah Arends, quoted by Harris (1977) writes
“Power is actualized only when word and deed have not parted company, where words are not empty and deeds are not brutal, where words are not used to violate and destroy but to establish relations and create new realities.”

If pastoral care is about creating a new reality in the lives of those who are seeking wholeness and healing then power and authority must be part of a system that allows for its appropriate manifestation. Those who are particularly responsible for the administration of pastoral care, and there will always be individuals whose calling is to particularly minister pastorally on behalf of the community, must be willing and open to admit their limitations, to allow the community to be a resource and encourage partnership in the pastoral process.  There is no room for the kind of relationship where a pastor tells a client exactly how to lead their life, though there may be times when an authoritative pronouncement is appropriate.  Instead we have sought to express mutuality, transparency and accountability in pastoral relationships.  When the pastor is seen as a person of integrity, speaking from and as a part of a pastoral community she or he embodies and authority that is representative and persuasive rather than manipulative and coercive, in short, Harris (1977: 79) talks about it in terms of “…the difference between authority and control, the capacity to have one’s advice and insight taken seriously, verses the power to decide what happens.”



The pastor is a person of authority, and that authority is part of the heritage of the Christian community.  The authority to offer forgiveness, love, healing, wholeness.  This is a process where that authority is bestowed by the institution of the church, but is also made real and effective by the spiritual and emotional power that comes from integrity.  Integrity has been a much used word in this study, with a belief that the reader will make their own assumptions as to the meaning of the word ,but a definition given by Alastair Campbell (1993: 12) adds some meaning in relation to our subject, Campbell  writes
“When we speak of someone possessing ‘integrity’ we are trying to describe a quality of character for which the word ‘honesty’ may be too weak a synonym.  To possess integrity is to be incapable of compromising that which we believe to be true.”
The ultimate conclusion of this study is that fostering responsibility and integrity is the only solution to the difficulties of issues around pastoral power and authority.  Those who are called to exercise a pastoral ministry must be grounded in community, aware of self, and seeking to do what is right for others and for themselves.  All these must be believed to be true in order for the pastor to be truly a person of integrity. When pastoral power, and the authority of the church, is to be exercised then it must be done by those committed to assist their fellow travellers to live life to its fullest extent. 

The conclusion of this study is one made on a personal level, it must be those who are pastors who have the responsibility to care for themselves and be honest with themselves in order that they may care for others.  It is difficult to impose any structural changes that could foster this beyond what seems obvious, that pastors need supervision, support and accountability structures both within and without the local fellowship in order to facilitate this.  The church is beginning to take seriously commercial and managerial models of support, but these cannot be simply transferred into ecclesiastical structures, they will need translation, interpretation and adaption.  The church at large is recognising the need for change, and as we end this study our hope is that this recognition will grow and develop.

There will be tensions on this journey, as Harris (1977: 171) writes
“…the practicing minister needs constantly to balance opposing tendencies within himself, and between himself and the congregation…He is continually caught, for example in at least three fundamental tensions: the tension between comforting and confronting, between controlling and sharing control with others, between encouraging healthy dependence and stimulating growth toward interdependence.”
This tension is where this study ends, we recognise that the issues brought up by this work are not easy ones, nor are they easily defined.  For the church to continue to function in service to the world and faithful to the gospel, however, the issues must be faced by all of those who offer pastoral care on its behalf.  Pastoral power is an unavoidable part of the pastoral encounter, and must be acknowledged, accepted and worked with, rather than ignored, repressed and allowed to cause damage to those who come seeking guidance and help from ministers.