A pastoral riddle

The perfect pastor

The perfect pastor

In a letter to the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis wrote that the pastoral ministry ‘is a call to walk in fidelity to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Good grief!  Has the Pope made his first error of judgement? What has the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ got to do with pastoral ministry? We must investigate!

What do parishioners want of their pastors?

  • Someone to baptize, marry and bury. This is a statutory duty. It is a pleasure and a privilege.
  • Someone to, in the words of the 1662 ordinal, ‘search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish’. So is this.
  • Someone to lead public worship. As is this. Even though they don’t often come, most of them like to think that it’s happening.
  • Someone to maintain the tribal temple in exactly the same state as it was when they were children. God forbid that the colour scheme be changed, or that pews be removed.
  • Someone nominally in charge of the burial ground where they can go to talk to the people they feel guilty about having misjudged (or worse) when they were alive.
  • Someone nominally in charge of the burial ground where they themselves want to end up.
  • Someone they can complain about in other meetings and gatherings. This is a popular pastime in the Church of Ireland, and seems to be the cause of church-hopping. Catholics seem less bothered about it.

What don’t parishioners want of their pastors, though the Gospel says that they should?

  • Someone who treats new arrivals the same as long established members. Body armour required.
  • Someone who encourages parishioners to look into their own hearts before they start pointing out faults in others. It is one of the greatest pastoral joys to help people with this, and to see as a result more and more of the hidden murky depths of one’s own heart.
  • Someone who challenges bullying in church meetings. Bullying takes many forms; it is insidious and malign.
  • Someone who delivers parishioners of demons. Well, good luck with that, girls and boys.
  • Someone who knows that the church is in law a charity and so insists that church affairs be conducted in a business-like fashion in accordance with the law of the land. Fortunately, there’s no argument with this, however much resistance one encounters – and one most certainly does.

Are there any clergy like Dick Emery’s character? Wouldn’t it be lovely if pastoring were merely a matter of drinking tea and agreeing with people? Perhaps not. It would be very boring, that’s for sure. The sermons that have brought me most trouble have been those that uncompromisingly preached the Gospel. I regret not one word of them.

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