the Rector Writes – Clergy conference and content

The Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan clergy conference took place between 9th and 11th February in the historic city of Kilkenny. The keynote speaker was Bishop John Saxbee, a former bishop of Lincoln. He spoke to us on the theme, ‘Christ for the World – Re-imagining Mission and Evangelism for Ministry today’. One of the bishop’s catchier theme subheadings was, ‘Don’t just do something – stand there!’ This, he argued, is based on the image of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel – the Gospel which is the focus of our lectionary readings for this Church year. In the earlier part of the Gospel, Jesus is full of urgent action and the word ‘immediately’ appears almost 40 times. However, when the Gospel moves on to his betrayal, trial, passion and crucifixion – which is essentially the second half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is no longer the active party, but rather he practices ‘purposeful passivity’. And the surprising thing is that both were equally powerful in their own way. Obviously, those who experienced Jesus reaching out and touching them had every reason to appreciate his activity. However, in John’s Gospel we find that Pontius Pilate, his wife and a Roman centurion, all people who had never previously met Jesus, came to understand that Jesus is the Son of God – not from his activity, but from his inactivity. To translate that into today’s world, which had often been described as a hive of hyper-activity, stillness and calm can make the greater statement – especially to those who are trying to make sense of the world and of their lives.
 Teasing out the balance between meaningful activity and purposeful passivity, the bishop posed the question, ‘what is the greatest need in our world today?’
 After a short discussion it was unanimously agreed that ‘Peace’ is our greatest need – peace in ourselves (in our hearts and minds), peace in our homes and families, peace in our communities, peace amongst peoples and nations – the peace which only God can give which passes all understanding.
 In our Holy Communion Services when we are encouraged to exchange a sign of peace, it is precisely this we are invoking God to bestow on ourselves, our neighbours and our world. The sign of peace is NOT a simple greeting as one might exchange in the street or at a formal introduction with a mumbled ‘How do you do?’ It is much more profound than that and a refusal to exchange a sign of peace is a refusal to invoke God’s peace on ourselves and those around us – a refusal to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.
 The bishop posed two further questions. The first, using the analogy of the woman who suffered from haemorrhages cured by Jesus, is, how generous is the hem of the Church’s cloak? Is it possible for people to reach out and touch it and to receive a generous healing and peace? The second is, how wide is the circle of the Church and who is included (or indeed who is excluded)? To graphically illustrate this he likened the Church’s options to a person entering a huge high-end department store which offered the choice of an escalator or a lift to move between floors. The Church can either opt to be like a person who only wishes to visit a single department and chooses the lift. The lift operator presses the buttons and that person is transferred to their chosen destination or department without any ‘contamination’ or knowledge of what is available in other parts of the store. Or, the Church can opt to use the escalator and thereby see all that is on offer and even interact with it as they make their way to their ultimate destination. If a Church is serious about mission and evangelism, it must choose the escalator option.
 With every blessing, John.
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