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Friday, 30 September 2011

A Reader in All Saints, Vendée reflects on a parish interregnum

Reader John Matthews
When a parish is awaiting the appointment of a new priest it can be a trying and anxious time. Very often the spiritual leadership falls upon a Reader if a parish is lucky enough to count on such an authorised lay minister. All Saints Vendée in France is seeking a new priest-in-charge. While the search continues, Reader John Matthews wrote the following in the parish magazine, to encourage his fellow parishioers and remind them of their own vital ministry at this time. It is a helpful reflection for any of our congregations going through this "in-between time" and I am grateful to John for his permission to share his thoughts on this blog:

In St Luke's Gospel chapter 5 Jesus calls Simon Peter, James and John as disciples. All were fishermen and Jesus tells them 'Don't be afraid, from now on you will be catching people'. I suspect that not many of us in All Saints Vendée are fishermen, so what do you regard as your major strength, or interest? Have you spent your life developing and using your skills to good effect or have you sometimes felt like a 'square peg in a round hole'?

God has brought us all to this corner of France, from our varied backgrounds, for a purpose. Us, not the church buildings we use on Sundays! He's not expecting us to just fill these buildings every Sunday, he wants us simply to be the individuals he created us to be. We can't become somebody else, only more and more the individual God had in mind, but we need to believe in him to achieve our full potential.

As with the early disciples, God wants us to interact with the people we meet in our daily lives (English-speaking or not), in the supermarket, at the vide-grenier, in our hamlet, or in our Associations - and yes, in the church buildings, too! After all, if we can't exemplify Christian love in the way we relate to others within the church (the Body of Christ), why should anyone else feel we have any good news for them?

The Church is not yours, mine, or the priest-in-charge's; it belongs to Christ. One of the most important re-alignments in Church of England thinking about ministry in recent years has been the relocation of ministry in Baptism (which is 'the commissioning of the people of God for their ministry in every place'). Thus, ministry belongs first to Christ, then to his Body (through Baptism), then to the Body's corporate leadership, then to its 'servant'/leader - the priest-in-charge. As Paul has reminded us, all parts of the Body are interdependent!

This does not diminish the role of the priest, who has a key responsibility to share his/her interpretation of the bigger picture to the local Church community; to discern with them a local strategy, built on its quality of life and its key message about Jesus; and to discern, and help develop, individual gifts. But it does mean that, in this period when we are 'between priests-in-charge', we have a responsibility to continue to work together on the quality of spiritual life within the existing Christian community, and on the effectiveness of our ministry and mission to the wider community.

There are no 'square holes' (or round ones), to be filled in the months ahead. We are each called to use our God-given talents in the service of others, in accordance with our Christian faith; the Holy Spirit does the rest! Like Abraham, we are heading for a 'distant land', not knowing where God will lead us but believing his promise that all things work together for the good for all who believe.

We will have a new Priest-in-charge in God's good time but, in the meantime, let's respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and let the world around us know what Christ means to us.

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