Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"You can't retire!" & I can still dream.

A cute old caravan we have purchased so that we can explore this lovely country when we retire.
We have a year to tidy it up.
"You won't retire!"   I have told my congregation's leaders and others that I am retiring at the end of 2013. (With my health difficulties I have been tempted to finish earlier.) I was, however, surprised when at a function last night the local MP said, "I heard you've had some bad health lately?" and followed it by, "And I heard that you are going to retire soon?" Now unless he reads my blog (which I doubt he would have time or interest to do) how did he know? I have met him only a few times? How come he is even interested? ... The thing that gets me though, is that time and again people say "You can't retire!", "You won't retire!", "Why are you retiring?" "I didn't think ministers ever retired!" or "You will be preaching somewhere!" I WILL retire from Church ministry.... I have done enough! I am looking forward to not having to stand up in front of people and bare my soul while they seem to look on indifferently. I am looking forward to not having to word funerals and stew on what to say. I am looking forward to breaking free from the baggage "Church" has with it. I will retire and will stop doing the upfront preachy stuff. "But you are so good at it?" people ooze... meaning something like, "You entertain me." I often want to yell, "I am allowed to retire!" I have other things I want to explore before I "kick the bucket"!
"It is easier to give birth than raise the dead!"  While I value all that the Church has brought into my life I am very much teetering on the edge of the church.  Even if I was not of retiring age, if I was true to myself and true to the people employing me, I no longer fit their expectations for "Church minister" and it would be wrong for me to continue.  I also value many of the lovely christian people I experience in Church. They are following their religion as best they are able. I have stuck with the Church and ministry when many of my contemporaries have moved on.  Tony Campollo has a sentence I identify with.  He says, "The Church is my mother but she is a whore."  I have, however, come to the conclusion that it is impossible to effect the change in the church that is needed. The people and the institution are held back by distorted, muddied concepts of what following Jesus is all about. It is so engrained in their thinking that it is impossible for people to jump the tracks and see different ways of being "Church".  (Many would probably argue that it is I who have the distortion) When people think of change in the Church they immediately ask the wrong questions. "How do we get more bums on pews?" "How do we get more modern worship/music to entertain?" etc. etc.  We slip back into imperialistic notions of the Church.  My own denomination in NZ is setting targets, "20,000 by 2020!"  Even in the secular world people have distorted notions of what Jesus and Church is all about. As far as they perceive it is about getting to heaven when you die. Or it is about not doing bad things and telling others not to do bad things.  Or it is about getting people in the door for our brand of religion! In today's world the restoration needed is much more profound than changing the styles of fulfilling traditional goals.  The very word "Church" has too much negative baggage in people's minds inside and outside the Church. The questions are; "What does it mean to follow Jesus?" "How does a group of people express the way of Jesus today?" "What does a real, relevant Jesus-centred spirituality look like today?"  We live in a multi-culural, pluralistic but very materialistic world. There are deep divisions, lots of suspicions and uncertain fearful people building walls around themselves and their "tribe". There is desperate loss of meaning, disconnection and lots of challenges for the human race. (Global warming - sustainability - economic systems - justice issues - adapting to new technology - lifestyles/ "family" )  Imperialistic "who's in and who's out" religion is more of a problem than a solution! It is not just irrelevant it is damaging! Religion that tries to drag the clock back to old cultural ways of being just tries to stop the relentless tide of change.  A "Christendom" religion that assumes an authority it hasn't earned is no longer life-enhancing.  I believe that most Churches, even those that are numerically "successful" are missing the point. We started Space2B at our Church. We have as a slogan, "Connecting people, celebrating diversity and engaging communities." To a little extent we have been successful.  There are some special times in Drop-in centre, Space2B, chaplaincies and with the community groups we engage with that are profound and deeply sacred. They burst through boundaries. They touch lives. People engage with people. There is something ultimately "right" about them. I see them as the heart of what Jesus would do today. But.... most of my lovely, well meaning Church people don't experience them. They are not part of the traditional way of doing "Church" so they see them as not being their business. They do not connect with their view of Christianity.   I will retire not because I am too old to work, but largely because I sense an inability (at least on my part) to change the church in the way I believe it needs to be changed.
Where will I go?  I was chatting with a Baptist minister on the edge of his denomination. He commented; "To have a resurrection you need a death first." and "It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead."  One of the big issues for me is where will I attend "church" when I retire? My current congregation at least allows me freedom to explore some things even if I find some stuff frustrating. Most other Churches I would find to be extremely irrelevant! Because "Church" for me has too much bad baggage, I am thinking that I need to explore new ways of being JC's helper apart from "the Church".  I am starting to dream. I may have to win Lotto to resource it, but how about a "Space2B" type place where people can come, share thoughts and dream of ways they can serve as Jesus served? - A place that does not necessarily have a "Christian" or "religious" label, but a place where people connect? - A place where people can share questions, link lives and express servanthood?  I keep encountering people who have given up on Church, but not necessarily given up on Jesus, spirituality or serving. Maybe a group of us "malcontents" could get together and do stuff?  I will retire from Church stuff, but I am not finished dreaming. Watch this space.


Linda Myers said...

I hear you, Dave.

I am not a church attender, but I try to walk in the footsteps of Christ. There are many paths, I have found. I hope your transition is exhilarating and rewarding.

Keith Harris said...

Maybe a group of us "malcontents" could get together and do stuff?

Count me in.