September 29, 2014 by Worship, Community, Formation
I was reminded today of the dismay with which many clergy regard their congregations.
Attending a day workshop on Mission and Ministry in Multifaith Parishes, I was a lay person amongst parish priests, and I couldn’t help noticing how very far through the day we got, before anyone wondered about the role of the congregation, rather than the priest alone, in parish interfaith work. When the question was posed, the first response came from a priest who described how impossible it would be to engage her congregation in such a thing.
The impossiblity of getting anything good from a congregation is a refrain I have heard from other priests at other times, on other subjects. It hurts. Not because I am a lay person, but because I need my priests to have faith in what they are about.
‘Oh ye of little faith.’ To believe that shaping the congregation is impossible is also to disbelieve in the liturgy, the very liturgy which is the unique task of the clergy. If we do not think that liturgy is the working of the people, what are we doing? If we do not believe that we come together to become the body of Christ, why do we come together at all?
When I get stuck in my faith – several times a day – there are a few places in scripture I go back to. One is the closing line of 1 Corinthians 13: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.’ It’s a great place for me because it makes things simple. In that sentence, every vestige of understanding, of wisdom, or even of justice; every fragment of choice is removed. These are the things to fall back on when it’s all too confusing.
Normally, I return to that line to reboot my own faith; to remind myself what I am meant to be practicing. Today I find in it a plea from the laity to the clergy. Treat us with faith, hope and love. Don’t give up on us. Have more faith than we have in ourselves. Have more hope for us than we have for ourselves. And love us. Which means treating us the way we need to be treated, not the way we say we want to be treated.