Monday, May 27, 2013
I often detect religious snobbery around. I confess that I imbibe in it some times. I recall when I began my brewery chaplaincy I met an older guy there who did the newsletter for the firm - a retired chemist. (We have since become good friends) He of course was asking me questions about what I did and where I come from. He had told me he did not attend church but that his parents did. When I told him that I was a "Church of Christ minister" he replied, "My mother always said that you are an uneducated lot." Now I know that is true of a number of Church of Christ ministers, but certainly not all of us. I think that is the attitude that other clergy have of us often. We are, to them some sort of inferior country hick type of minister. This normally does not worry me because I am "me" and I would not want to be them.
I mention this because of the attitude displayed at the service on Sunday. When I was first asked to be preacher I asked about a lapel microphone. I was told that would be fine and that the Church folk were familiar with people leading the service from the front step. At the service, however, this microphone was not available and I was told in no uncertain terms, that I would be preaching from the high pulpit. I wondered if I was an Anglican, another Presbyterian or the local Catholic bishop if I would have been talked to in that sort of "teacher to pupil" tone of voice? I get these vibes from local Presbyterians who tend to see themselves as "the establishment Church" in Dunedin. But I get these vibes also from other mainline clergy, it feels like "We'll say hello, graciously include you in our meetings, but we don't really need to know your opinion." Even as some of the clergy thanked me for my sermon I sensed a patronising approach. My wife standing next to me suggested I should have been asking, "What in particular did you like about it?" I suspect the same perspectives come into play when it is my turn to host the ministers' meeting - in my experience it has always been the smallest meeting of the year - not that the host has any great sway in what happens. Our Church building is not seen as acceptable as a venue as the likes of the Anglican or Catholic Cathedral, First Church or the like. Now I have learned to live with it. I see them all dressed up in their robes and clerical collars and hear in their conversations the type of things they think are important, and I guess I express my own snobbery, by saying to myself things like, "Oh good grief! Get real!" I would not fit in their circles anyway. (Having said that - some are genuinely good guys whose company I enjoy) I have listened to their sermons. They are often detached sounding dissertations, with little passion, which use theological jargon that rolls off the average listener. They would often be OK theological articles to read, but not good as oral presentations. So many do not hit earth anywhere! Often preachers these days have lost the art of really connecting with people with decent illustrations, if they ever had it!
I happen to think my theological training is as robust as theirs. I trained for five years and I have since done training in social work. There was a breadth of perspective about the training I received and we had to think through the issues. Apart from the academic side of things we also had training and "apprenticeships" in the practice of ministry. (My years of training were extremely busy) I have also kept up with reading in the whole field of interpretation of scripture, current affairs and the latest theological thinking. So I am confident that I need not be embarrassed about my thinking, perspectives and skill levels. I have also earned my credibility by the impact I have had in the community. This deep down confidence (is it snobbery on my part?) enables me to withstand what feels like patronising attitudes by some clergy.
We really cannot afford the luxury of religious snobbery! On the news today there is discussion about the Catholic Church, child abuse, the various cover ups and lack of caring response in Australia. Among the people I mix with in my chaplaincies the Church (all denominations) is a joke, it has little credibility among the average New Zealand public. We, "the church" ought to be asking questions about how we can change that. We carry on in our denominations and congregations with "business as usual" and the public is increasingly ignoring us. In my view we need models of Church where the Church is in the world as servant, making a difference unable to be ignored. Otherwise we increasingly look like quaint old people going to quaint old buildings, doing quaint old things that don't really matter. A reformation is desperately needed and all followers of Jesus need to be included in the search for new ways of being Church. I bet there was very little snobbery among the officers of the Titanic as it sank!