My ministry as a clergyman has principally been in declining multi-centred parishes. Declining, because of a continual history of digging the heels in, rather than being willing to be led by God; and multi-centred, because of the need to maintain some sort of ministry presence.
The main features of the parishes that I have been involved with, have been: rural, having several churches some distance apart, and each being poorly attended. Indeed it has not been unusual on a Sunday to conduct three or (sometimes) four services in different locations, travel two hundred kilometres, and see a total of twenty to thirty people.
Of course, ministry under those circumstances is largely designed to fail, because all the minister can do is to maintain the status quo. However, I have always worked on the basis that no matter how dire the circumstances, God can do great things. So when I was given an opportunity to give some advice to another struggling church, recently, I was in a good position to do so.
Now they weren’t quite at the stage that I’ve just described, but they were well on the way. The parish, of which they were a part, had been placed under review. And I’m sure they were looking for someone else to solve all their problems. As a consequence, I said to them:
Firstly, the only people who can solve the problems in this church are you. Not the committee of management, but you.
Secondly, if you want to stop the downward spiral, you will need to accept God’s help (and that will undoubtedly involve abandoning some of the things you love);
Thirdly, as you think of the future, remember that you are not the only church in this parish, and that you need at all times to consider the needs of the other congregation; and
Fourthly, when you provide care for the members of the parish, particularly remember the Rector, and his family.
Having been a Rector myself, I am well aware that it is a most difficult, lonely and unappreciated job. Clergy have to make decisions that are not always popular. As a consequence Clergymen and clergywomen are not normal members of the congregation. They cannot be your friends in the same way as other members of the congregation.
Of course, how well the message was received, only time will tell. But as someone who has constantly found themselves trying to pick up the pieces of churches who have continued the downward spiral to self-destruction, I can only hope.
Posted: 26th December 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis