My participation with the Anglican Church nationally, our Diocesan Mission Support Officers and Ministry Council highlight a number of significant ministry matters; eg, training of lay and ordained Anglicans, evangelism, disciple making, curacy placements, how to grow healthy parishes and partnerships.
Here are 3 ministry issues: 1. What causes conflict? 2. Am I a guest or a host at my church? 3. How to be one body? or Holding it all, local and centre, together.
1. WHAT CAUSES CONFLICT? Conflict in dioceses, parishes and agencies is often said to be due to their critical decline and their need to change. Change and its management are certainly demanding and involve the resolution of differences and conflict. The need for civility and respect when people hold different opinions. Having observed the lack of Christian charity and character involved in too many such situations I believe that the root issue has more to do with the degree of commitment to Christ and our will to act in his ways. The Apostle Paul appealed to the example of the humility and sacrifice of Christ. We must be challenged by this word and example. See Philippians 2:4-11. If so challenged, will we commit ourselves to growing in Christ-likeness?
2. AM I A GUEST OR A HOST? A key question from a Back to Church Sunday presentation, “Are you a guest or a host at your Church?” i.e. A “guest” is a worshiper who is there as a member of an audience to observe and participate in worship but not as someone who invites others and looks out for their welfare during their time with us. We need to be “hosts.”
3. HOW TO BE ONE BODY? A key issue that I have observed over the past decade in the national Church and here in Tasmania is the increasing demands made upon an organisation’s centre while at the same time the organisation faces the increased imperative to do effective ministry locally.
The increased demands on the Anglican Church’s centre have to do with legal and financial compliance, requests for information, increased desire for participation in decision making, conflict resolution, developing safe church communities, processes for handling complaints concerning professional standards, communication, recruitment, fewer volunteers, staffing and assistance in addressing strategic mission in increasingly diverse contexts that are no longer responding to inherited ways of being and doing ‘church’.
Part of the conundrum is that stronger dioceses, parishes and agencies may not see themselves as needing such assistance from their respective centre. Thus stronger groups resist making contributions, minimize participation and opt out where possible. This reduces resources to the centre and indirectly to needy dioceses, parishes and agencies. Whatever happened to an understanding of the ‘body of Christ’ extending beyond my own diocese, parish or agency? Is it not possible to support and partnership with a diocese, parish or agency in need? To what extent does the parable of the Good Samaritan continue to have currency within Anglicanism?
As a Diocesan Bishop I occupy roles at both ‘the centre’ and ‘locally’. This does not deafen me to voices of criticism: self-justification; failure to address the national church, parishes and agencies that need some tough medicine; better to prioritise care for the strong so that long term the strong will care for the weak; the parable of the talents is the parable for our times; etc.
We need constructive engagement of persons and organisations coupled with a robust ecclesiology and understanding of the Church. Is it possible to put aside personal, local and central ambition, defensiveness and comfort? Will we address these ministry issues or avoid them? These issues should be strong fodder for mature, prayerful conversation.