Is it normal for retired people to look back over their working life and ask themselves, What was it all for, anyway? What did I actually achieve? Was it all worth it, after all?
Or is it just retired clergy who have that kind of problem? Perhaps it’s something to do with vicaring being the kind of calling where it’s very difficult to see and measure results. Some clergy can say, When I came to this parish there were only two old ladies and a cat, but now the Sunday attendance is over 800! But not many, I suspect. For most of us, it’s more like: I tried to love and minister faithfully to these people for 25 years, but really attendances declined over the years as people grew old and died and were not replaced… many people in the area knew and loved me, and valued me taking their family weddings or funerals, but mostly they had other things they preferred to do on Sundays, and indeed on every other day of the week, than have much to do with God.
And meanwhile… When you raise your eyes from the furrow you’ve been ploughing, and look around at the wider landscape1…
It suddenly seemed to me, as I reflected on that landscape at the weekend, that the Christianity which seems to be being believed by large numbers of people in the world, and the one that is perceived by many more, isn’t the religion that i believe in. It’s not that I’ve abandoned Christianity, but that what passes for Christianity has abandoned me. It’s become something dogmatic, bigoted, judgmental, death-dealing, joyless, trivial, irrelevant, narrow, exclusive. Not what I signed up for at all. So here I have been, toiling away for 37 years in the parish, trying to make the world a better place, and I look around and the world is a much much worse place than when I started. And ‘Christianity’ (please do note the inverted commas) must bear quite a bit of the blame, along with most other religions.
And here’s one of the really dismaying things: there are ‘Christians’ in some places who are happy that the world is a much worse place. Because it means that we really are in the kind of end times they wish for. When things have got bad enough, it’ll be the end of the world, and Jesus will return to make everything right.
It looks like it’s time for me to take a healthy dose of letting go and having faith (not in the Church any more, but in God) and trusting that everything will be all right. Where’s that Dame Julian when you need her? “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
- Yes I know this doesn’t work: if you want to plough a straight furrow you don’t look at the furrow, but the far end of the field that you’re making for. Just bear with me, I’m only a townie. ↩