Another skill they didn’t teach in theological school.
Well, actually, that’s a lie. I did an awful lot of winging it during my training. Last minute essays. Last minute sermons (nothing’s changed there). Last minute presentations.
But that’s ok. Because when it comes to writing — especially writing within the safe confines of an academic setting — I can wing it. Thank goodness. But in other areas, not so much.
I was catching up on some blog reading this morning and came across this description of ministers over at Beauty Tips for Ministers. I normally shy away from this kind of thing because it it can make us sound all terribly self-important. But, as I’ve discovered especially over the last few months, there is such truth to it.
I don’t quite know how it happened, but I have had so many meetings, events, services, gatherings recently where my understanding of the topic is about at this level:
And then I arrive, and the discussion is more like this:
In the past, I would have allowed my self-perceived ignorance to lead me to a diffident silence. Before speaking, I want to know everything. I want to weigh up all possibilities. I want to choose my words carefully.
But I have heard over and over and over in recent weeks in so many different contexts: ‘We want to know what the Church thinks about [Palestine/foodbanks/religious extremism/the General Election — you fill in the blank]. Don’t you know your voice matters? Why, why do you not say anything?’
It is humbling to be asked (at times, humiliating to be asked, because I feel so out of my depth). And I can’t claim to speak on behalf of The Church. I can’t even speak on behalf of the Scottish Episcopal Church. I don’t actually know the mind of the SEC on these issues because, while individuals are interested and speak passionately in meetings, very little of this interest and passion appears in traditional or social media.
I googled ‘Scottish Episcopal Church Palestine’ the other night just to double check that I hadn’t totally blagged my way through an ecumenical meeting with a former diplomat and given incorrect information about my church’s corporate silence on the issue. What came up first? This:
(To be fair, we do have individuals working alongside Christian Aid and other faith groups, but again, little of this is evident online.)
It’s been fascinating to hear this plea for the Church’s prophetic voice, especially in a time when we hear so much about increased secularisation and the growing irrelevance of the Church. It’s been encouraging to see articles like Will Hutton’s piece in the Guardian: Don’t condemn the Church. Who else argues for the common good?
It’s been discouraging that these pleas are largely met with public silence within my own tradition.
I’m slowly learning that I don’t need to be — I can’t be — an expert on everything. And though I need to choose my words carefully (more carefully than I have recently when I’ve been tired and emotional), sometimes, just showing that someone from the Church cares and is willing to listen and learn and then go away and speak to others matters a lot.
And social media plays such an important role in this. Gone — long gone — are the days when it’s enough simply to preach a sermon, write a newsletter or newspaper article, or even post something on a website. All of those approaches assume that people will come to you, are already listening out for what you might want to say. When all they have heard to this point is the sound of silence, they will look elsewhere. We must go ourselves to the places where the debate is happening. And, my friends, we have no choice but to go online and engage there.
I still feel like I’m winging it a lot of the time. But I’m of the mind at the moment that, on certain issues, winging it is better than silence. Because, though I will no doubt make multiple public mistakes along the way, at least I can show that I care.