Talking of being in Christ as the gateway to radical new inclusivity

‘In Christ’ is one of the most beautiful of all New Testament phrases. All Christians should delight at being ‘in Christ.’

John Stott, in his 1983  address at the Leadership Lunch following the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. said that  the expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone.’  ‘In Christ’ is a vitally important and deeply sacred theological concept, yet it is one that is often used indiscriminately and with pastoral insensitivity. Sadly, it is sometimes used to knockdown and exclude rather than to build up and affirm.

For St. Paul being in Christ clearly trumped all other temporal identity markers, but that is a very long way from suggesting that he believed that being ‘in Christ’ rendered all other identity markers superfluous or irrelevant.

And yet, in today’s church, in Christ’ is frequently deployed theo-politically. It is often used to suggest that all our other human characteristics and relationships are worth nothing because the only really important thing is that we are ‘in Christ.’  

When ‘in Christ’ is deployed in this way it is often done from a position of significant privilege and moral certainty.  Of course the irony is that sometimes those who use ‘in Christ’ in this way are frequently keen to highlight the nature of their own temporal identity markers and relationships.

The term ‘in Christ’ is, I think, so special, so sacred, that we all need to exercise extreme care when using it. It should never be used to suggest that past hurts and pains don’t matter, or even worse in some ways, weren’t real. It should also never be used to rank, diminish or establish hierarchies of (human) being; ‘in Christ’ is the great equalizer. ‘In Christ’ always seeks to include, not exclude.

‘In Christ’ is an expression of divine hospitality. ‘In Christ’ includes and raises up the hitherto excluded, marginalized and ostracized whilst asking the privileged to acknowledge their status. ‘In Christ’ is the gift to the many rather than the prerogative of a self-elected few.

‘In Christ’ is a doorway, or Gate, to the acceptance of greater diversity and ‘radical new Christian inclusivity in the life of the Church.’ ‘In Christ’ is the chalice that holds all who commit to love God and neighbour irrespective of difference. ‘In Christ’ is the sacred word animating the sacramental action of a radically inclusive God.

‘In Christ’ celebrates God’s creativity and the infinite and glorious diversity inherent in creation. In Christ doesn’t mean nothing else matters. It means that everything else matters.

The most famous ‘In Christ’  verse is probably Galatians 3, 28: in which we read that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ 

To borrow a phrase from the Three Musketeers surely this means that the spirit of ‘in Christ’ is ‘all for one and one for all?’ Commitment, as John Stott suggested, to God, and to each other, is the glue that ultimately binds us together ‘in Christ.’

In Christ doesn’t diminish our differences, temporal identities, and experiences but instead receives them, blesses them, and distributes them in, through, and beyond the Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Talking of wisdom

It is perhaps slightly presumptuous to talk about wisdom, yet I suspect that a large dose of healthy wisdom is something that the world badly needs.

On Sunday the church celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany; St. Matthew’s  wisdom story. The heroes of the story are of course the Wise Men, the villain is Herod. The story is a real and meaningful story, in that it accurately depicts the dark side of human nature; the desire to acquire and hang on to power. The story, irrespective of whether it is a historically accurate account of a drama that took place all those years ago, has real parabolic and contemporary meaning, for surely we continue to live in a world where all manner of people are, perhaps literally, conditioned by a desire to acquire and hang on to power?

As I was considering the Epiphany story last week the thought began to emerge that maybe the long-term antidote to abusive and tyrannical manifestations of power is wisdom? Maybe wisdom is the animating virtue that ultimately allows those who have acquired it to make life’s pilgrimage along ‘another route.’ Maybe we need to become a little less prissy and self-conscious when it comes to wisdom?

Sure, to claim that we have achieved great wisdom is arrogant in the extreme, but to commit to developing our reservoirs of wisdom is simply to commit to growing into the likeness of the Logos, Christ, which is, in large part, our Christian calling?

I am seriously wondering whether a commitment to the development of wisdom should be the church’s new year resolution? It’s the sort of resolution people will mock and scoff at, but if we are going to learn to walk by ‘another road’……….

Huge tomes have, of course, been written on wisdom, but perhaps the most concise piece of New Testament wisdom literature available to us is St. Matthew’s Epiphany story (2, 1-12). The Wise Men are depicted, in contrast to Herod, as being concerned with finding the real source of truth, and ultimately power. On route to finding the Messiah they listen to what Herod has to say whilst remaining  open to what God has to say. When they find the child they are filled with joy and pay him homage (worship), and then they make their choice to go home ‘by another road.’I wonder whether the fruit of wisdom is in being able to make the choice to walk by ‘another (better, more Godly) road?’

Wisdom, it seems, can be boiled down to this: seeing as God would have us see, hearing as God would have us hear, feeling as God would have us feel, worshiping as God would have us worship, and choosing as God would have us choose.

Maybe the development of (Christian) wisdom is the only real long-term antidote to the abuse of power? Maybe a commitment to becoming increasingly wise, so that we demonstrably walk by ‘another road,’  should be the church’s New Year resolution? Maybe our prayer for the year could be:

‘Teach us, dear Lord to number our days; that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Oh, satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all of our days. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish Thou the work of our hands. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish Thou the work of our hands dear Lord,’ (Psalm 90, 12 & 17))

(taken from the Northumbria Community Midday Prayer)

 

 

 

Talking of Living in Love and Faith

‘Difficult issues not kicked into the long grass.’

The article by Paul Handley in the Church Times surveying the progress to date by the various groups working towards the final compilation of the pedagogical document to be used by the Church of England, and specifically her bishops, in discerning the way (or ways) ahead in relation to what we used to call ‘Issues in Human Sexuality,’ made for extremely interesting reading.

Of course some will remain deeply cynical, despite the assurance that difficult issues are not being kicked into the long grass. For my part I am gently, and cautiously, encouraged.

I am (cautiously) encouraged because it feels as though the idea that there can be a straightforward binary answers to the questions raised already appears to have been rejected. The report, we are told, will not pronounce on the ‘rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage.’ Am I reading too much into this, or does it look like the report is edging towards a very real acknowledgment that there are divergent theologies of marriage; each possessing their own integrity? (Not that I am expecting equal marriage any time soon!)

I was also encouraged by the Bishop of Coventry’s statement that: ‘I would hope that as we articulate and explain different views, that they would be framed in such a way that people can see the Christian reasoning behind them, so that they can be seen in their truest Christian light.’  The language here is again in the plural: ‘different views’ which may be ‘seen in their truest Christian light.’ Is it possible that the report will lead to the acceptance of difference, the affirmation of different integrities, and the possibility of good disagreement? I hope so.

Of course, as the Bishop again rightly points out, ‘there’s still a judgement to be made on validity,’ but intriguingly he again suggests that validity isn’t necessarily binary, for as he states and then asks: ‘there are all sorts of positions that I don’t necessarily agree with, but can we see what’s driving them theologically, can we discern in them a Christian character, can we see what is of the gospel in them?’ 

 Could it be that the Bishop of Coventry is suggesting that an individual bishop’s own view isn’t of paramount or primary importance, or that the bishop isn’t the sole arbiter of validity? Are we moving to a position where (possibly limited) subsidiarity might become the ecclesial norm? Could it be that Bishop Christopher is suggesting that bishops will have to learn to live with, accommodate, and maybe even foster difference (not only at the theoretical level but within pastoral and liturgical practice)? Maybe the ability to live with different theological integrities is becoming the hallmark of ‘Christian character?’

My hope for the Church of England, for it is the only way that any form of unity will be preserved, is that ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ alike will, at least, acknowledge that different views can possess real theological integrity and, ‘Christian character.’

I have one final source of encouragement and, somewhat bizarrely, it is to be found in the intended Learning Outcomes, where it is stated that a deeper ‘understanding of the Church’s inherited teaching on Christian living in love and faith, especially with regard to marriage and singleness, and of the emergent views and Christian reasoning behind them………….must be treated with proper attention to scripture, the church’s theological tradition, and pastoral and (crucially) liturgical practice.’ Is this an acknowledgment that for Anglicans doctrines must be underpinned by liturgy if they are to have any real meaning? Liturgy is the litmus test for both doctrine and character; for us Anglicans there really can be no other way.

It feels to me as though the Church of England has already traveled a long way from the dark days of February 2017. The road ahead will be difficult and, for sure, some will decide that they can travel no further (and we shouldn’t be afraid of this) but overall  I do feel that there are grounds to remain cautiously optimistic: it appears that difficult issues haven’t been kicked into the long grass and, that the future may be plural.

 

 

 

Talking of £30k

I don’t know how you reacted when you heard that plans are being put in place to ‘welcome’ E.U. residents into the U.K. who are able to earn more than £30,000 p.a.?

For my part I felt distinctly queasy, for it seems that ‘welcome’ and ‘hospitality’ are now subject to a precise, numerical, calculation.

Actually, it feels worse than that: it feels as though the government is saying that if you want to be someone, if you want to be considered worthwhile, regarded as a contributor, then you jolly well better earn at least £30,000. Are those of us on less than £30,000 now deemed to be just a cost?

As a Christian I find the idea of human value being the subject of a plucked out of the sky number quite hard to stomach. I find the notions of hospitality and welcome, and even the answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour,’ being the one who earns a minimum of £30,000 p.a. just a little bid crude and mercenary. Presumably in the overall scheme of things, with £30,000 as a mere baseline, what we are now being encouraged to think and believe is that the more someone earns, the more they are entitled to what Jose Mourinho described as ‘respect?’

The idea that human beings, on the basis of salary, can be placed into one of two categories, worthy or unworthy (of respect, esteem, welcome and hospitality) simply doesn’t work theologically. It might work politically, although I doubt it, but it doesn’t work economically or theologically. Writing in a book I edited called Theonomics Bishop Alan Wilson and Canon Rosie Harper nail this point;

‘Jesus cuts across all assumptions the rich may make about their own value. A banker is no more a wealth-creator than the nurse who saves his life in Casualty, and no less. Nobody needs to beggar their neighbour in order to achieve sufficiency. The idea that somehow you deserve ludicrously more than you could ever spend is not a sign of blessing, as some practitioners of the so-called prosperity gospel might imply, because it is not based on true wealth, but an absurd accumulations of the specie that betokens pathological spiritual bankruptcy.’ 

So there you have it someone who earns less than £30,000 is potentially just as much a wealth creator as someone who earns top-whack.

Today I kept a rough and ready count of the number of European immigrants who helped me, or put another way, added value to my ministry: My day started by meeting a junior doctor (a locum) to discuss a person with serious and immediate mental health needs, I then went to visit a dying parishioner in a nursing home, I was then driven into Oxford by bus where I met a great friend (and fellow priest) for lunch.

The doctor, the healthcare worker, the bus driver and the waiters who served me all added value to my work. They are all Europeans. They all earn less than £30,000 p.a.

 

 

Talking of management and theology

‘Leadership, not theology’ in today’s C of E.

It’s a good, attention grabbing, headline (Church Times 30th November) for a report of a sermon given by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev’d Andrew Nunn, at a memorial service for a former Dean of Southwark: David Edwards.

In the sermon Andrew Nunn is said to have argued that the Church of England has jettisoned theology in the belief that the exercise of  management (and leadership) is the route to ‘success.’ The Church Times reports Dean Nunn as reflecting that:  ‘It’s leadership and governance and management and financial reporting and targets that are the skill set of the Church today; it’s evaluation and peer review, that set the standards for what we do. There is little space or time for theology, and especially not academic theology – not the kind of stuff that David gave his life to – and certainly not on the bench of bishops, and increasingly amongst the deans.’ Dean Nunn’s criticism is stinging and I am not sure how his ‘senior’ colleagues have received it. To be told that ‘you are not a theologian’ presumably cuts quite deep?

So the question that must be asked is whether Dean Nunn is correct. My suspicion is that he is, but only up to a point.

I do believe that the Church of England needs to value theology and that rigorous theological inquiry and debate is the only real way through which the Church of England can confront our most divisive issues. I also believe that good theology, prophetic and diaconal theology, are intrinsic to mission and evangelism. Good theology must inform our preaching, nurturing and pastoral practice. I don’t think that there is any credibility in arguing that management (and leadership) can replace theology, or that management (and leadership) skills and techniques can, devoid of good theology, sing salvation’s song. So I have a lot of sympathy with the ‘Southwark critique.’

But, I also have concerns! My primary concern is this: I do not necessarily accept that management and theology belong in separate categories. I think I would want to argue that how the Church manages and governs her affairs and exercises stewardship over her assets, is an exegesis of her theology. How the Church treats people through its HR processes is also surely an exegesis of her theology?

This certainly seems to be the view that St. Benedict took some 1,500 years ago. In his rule Benedict prescribes how the monastery should be managed and governed. Benedict offers a distinctive approach to the election and appointment of seniors, corporate decision-making (‘good practice’), discipline and grievance, the use of the tools and assets belonging to the monastery and so forth. For Benedict governance and management can be, no should be, practiced theologically. In the Church management is, and should be, an exercise in practical theology.  In Benedict’s scheme the treatment of people, goods and assets are all signatories to how we treat God. Governance and management are, in other words, sub sets of theology. In my view the Church of England has suffered, like many institutions, from poor management and governance.

When I taught in a business school (in a highly secular university) we introduced the Rule of Benedict into the MBA curriculum. It was well received. We also looked at some of Gregory’s Pastoral Dialogues. I hope that sources such as these are taught on the Senior Management Course? Colleagues in the university were surprised, amazed and in some cases delighted to find out that theology – ‘the Queen of Sciences’ – had treasures of her own; offerings to make to the wider management curriculum. My hope is that the Church of England doesn’t throw away these treasures at the altar of the new, shiny and largely untested. Professor Minztberg, one of the most highly regarded ‘management scientists’ and Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the McGill University, who incidentally refuses to teach on his universities MBA program, puts it like this:

‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature towards the current, the latest,the hottest. This does a disservice towards, not only to all those wonderful old writers, but especially to the readers who all too infrequently are offered the trivial new instead of the significant old;’ a sobering thought!

It also feels to me that the Church of England is reserving her management training for those identified for ‘senior’ leadership positions. I worry about this. Surely all office holders would benefit from some basic skills in areas such as finance and governance? What the Church of England needs to make sure is that it provides as Mintzberg puts it ‘the right training, to the right people, directed towards the right ends.’ We need to make sure that this takes place at all levels of the body. If the Church of England waits until people have been identified for ‘senior’ positions it will have waited too long.

Where I do have an awful lot of sympathy with Dean Nunn is in the relentless desire to develop ‘leaders’:

‘Nowadays, deans are sent off to Cambridge – not to be deepened in theological skills, but in leadership, in which we are encouraged to look across the river from here: not for inspiration from the many steeples and towers, that extend our vision heavenwards, but from the glass and steel towers and corporate headquarters that are crowding them out.’

This desire to develop leaders has, in many ‘sectors,’ including the church, come at a great cost. It has come at a great cost to the more boring, prosaic and necessary practice of management (business administration). This, again, is one of Mintzberg’s points.

In the study of Business Administration there is a tendency to look towards ‘the glass and steel towers,’ without recognizing their tendency to mimic Babel. In the Church it is often assumed that real leadership, leadership worth mimicking (and even idolizing) happens over there; in the glass and steel towers (or in various sporting arenas). I worked in those glass and steel towers for seventeen years (the last seven at board level) and they are not oasis of calm where every strategic thought results in an accretion to an ongoing pattern of success. They are often high-octane places of panic where decisions are made on the hoof. They are also places that experience little in the way of kairos and where the requirement for  sabbath is a form of heresy. Like elite sports clubs they are places where talent exists to be bought and sold. In the run up to the financial crises the phrase ‘economic rent’ began to replace salary.

The study of, and fascination with, leadership borders on the cultish. Nowadays everyone wants to be a leader, or even a ‘leader of leaders.’ Nobody wants to be a manager. Management, the prudent stewardship of assets combined with concern for those who work in the organization, has been largely slain on the altar dedicated to leadership and strategy and we are all the worst for it.

All institutions, perhaps especially the Church, need to ask themselves a question: ‘has the aggregate stock of leadership and the results that might be expected to follow risen in line with the fascination with, and growth in, the study of leadership?’  I suspect the answer is not. In fact, paradoxically, I would suggest that fixating on leadership – and all that this implies in terms of the need to feed an insatiable appetite for growth  –  might actually undermine leadership!

I enjoyed Dean Nunn’s sermon, but I think he is only half right. Management and theology aren’t binary choices and what the Church of England needs (as St. Benedict understood) is an approach to governance and management which is in itself an exegesis of theology.

Oh, and by the way, we need to sit far more lightly to the notion of leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking of bullying

Earlier this week I listened to a radio program about female teenage age self harm. It made for deeply unpleasant listening. All of the expert contributors stressed that bullying, real bullying, is frequently a catalyst for self-harm. The expert contributors were also unified in their belief that the scars from bullying, sometimes physical, but always mental, last for life. Anyone who has been bullied knows this.

One of the reasons why the scars run so deep, sapping the very soul, is that we humans often believe the things we are told. Humans, it seems, are hard-wired to believe; we are credal beings. We also find it incredibly difficult to let go of the ‘former things.’  At a very deep level I suspect that the bullies know this. They know the damage that they cause and they know that their taunts run deep.

Bullies understand, just like people of faith, that repetition is the tool that turns creeds from proposition to belief. Bullies know that the popular wisdom which suggests that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me,’ is the worst kind of myth.

Bullies, the worst of bullies, are happy using all the tricks of the trade: sticks and stones, words, whatever has the most impact, whatever causes the deepest pain, whatever facilitates the possibility of self-loathing and self-harm. The ultimate genius of the bully is, you see, to deflect blame and attention away from themselves. This is their great deceit. If the bully can facilitate self-destructive patterns of behaviour in their victims then voila, they have been successful in using their power to shift the blame. It’s a strategy perfect in its wickedness.

Bullies are, philosophically, critical realists. They understand – fully understand – their victims areas of weakness and vulnerability. They know where their victim feels uncomfortable and exposed and direct their critique towards maximizing discomfort, in the hope that discomfort will mutate into self-loathing. Bullies also understand how to turn vulnerability into fear. Bullies know how to get people to turn in on themselves. They are experts in diminishing horizons and undermining community. Bullies also know that various types of people are inherently more vulnerable and they therefore attack their easy pray. Its all incredibly ugly.

Bullies clothe themselves in a variety of different robes. Sometimes they dress for war, their intent out there, on public display, for all to see. Sometimes the pattern of bullying is more nuanced, sly, seemingly clever, less obvious and implicit. ‘Good’ bullies know that the constant drip, drip, drip, of causticity can reap real long-term harm. They also know that the drip, drip,drip of carefully rehearsed and choreographed harm is less likely to be seen and called out. And it’s not just individuals that bully its groups.

Sometimes these groups are referred to as gangs; sometimes they are referred to as institutions.  Institutions and gangs often start to bully as a form of protection when they perceive a potential cost to their freedom, power, status or autonomy. Both gangs and institutions have their own way of doing things, their own rituals, their own procedures. Gangland and institutional bullies hide within the collective and either crudely, or subtly, use the rituals and policies at their disposal for their ugly and demeaning ends. The rituals and policies at their disposal often allow the bullies to withhold the freedom of the target of their behaviour to stake their case on equal terms. Is this the sort of bullying we have seen in the Christ Church saga where it appears that the Dean has had the rights associated with natural and procedural justice withheld?

Gangs and institutions frequently stigmatize, victimize and ostracize.  It happens. Victims frequently report that they have been offered little in the way of institutional support and whistle-blowers are often consigned to the HR file called ‘trouble-maker.’ Institutions often collude in the facilitation of abusive forms of behaviour.  Victims and whistle-blowers, whatever the PR rhetoric, are frequently considered to be problems.

Bullies refuse to accept that each and every human being deserves to be treated with decency and respect. Theologically bullying starts with a dismissal of the sentiment expressed in Genesis 1, 26 where are told that ‘God said let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’  The ‘successful’ bully can never dare to take this foundational scripture at face value, for the bullies task is to erase equality, parity, and dignity. For the bully justice and love have little value, for their consequences stand contrary to the bullies destructive ends. The other, quite sickening, skill that bullies employ is role reversal. When it looks like they might not be able to secure their ends bullies are adept at saying ‘look at me, I am the real victim.’

The bullies ultimate aim is to get their victim to believe, truly believe, that they are not made in the very likeness of God, that they are somehow less, and what the bully knows is this: that if they can get their victim to feel that they are some lesser form of human being the result will be this: self-harm.

The church has a moral obligation to be a model institution. Bullying and abuse should never be countenanced in the church. Policies, (and even doctrine), should never be hidden behind, or worse still used, in such a way as to make people feel less than fully human.  The church should always ensure that its own house in order, that it is a place and community where ‘all may flourish and none need fear.’ The church should never allow that most corrosive of behaviors, group-think (even where it masquerades as catholicity and unity) to take hold. The church should always seek to be on the side of the marginalized, stigmatized and the ostracized. Surely this is a basic biblical imperative?

The Church should always speak truth to power.

 

 

 

 

Talking of mission, poverty, isolation and mental health

Last week I took the saddest funeral I have ever taken. It’s a funeral that was entirely preventable. If I was the Registrar of Deaths I think I might have been tempted to write just two words under ’cause of death:’ poverty and isolation.

I minister in a decidedly Middle England market town parish and yet over the last couple of years I have ministered time and again into the effects of real and damaging poverty. Poverty in our market town is largely dispersed and hidden but it’s there. Whatever the politicians say poverty really is in our midst. It might be disguised, it might be hidden, but it’s there and its awful. Real poverty, as I have learned to my shame, costs lives.

The poor of middle England tend to be dispersed, isolated, even forgotten. This came home to me last week at my ‘saddest funeral.’ Normally I prefer to go and visit the family of the bereaved in their home. On this occasion one of the daughters, a daughter who lived in the family home, said she would prefer to come and see me, with her sister. The reason was simple and straightforward: in the family home there was only one chair. The family home is on a 1960’s development and is surrounded by what might be thought of as Middle England semis and bungalows. The deceased had fallen into hard times when her husband had left her thirty odd years ago. For thirty years she had tried to eek out some form of living as a cleaner and had lived with anorexia. She had lived in our very midst and as one of the eight people who attended the funeral said ‘we had simply forgotten about her.’ To die forgotten must be about as sad as it gets. How many poor and  forgotten people are in our midst? I suppose the only honest answer must be that we have literally no idea.

Recently we hosted a service to help live ‘with, through and beyond depression, fear and anxiety.’ The service was well attended and largely by people I don’t know. I can think of only two other occasions (apart from the occasional offices) when its likely that I might not recognise a large proportion of the congregation: Christmas and Easter. And, yet at the mental health service I didn’t recognise at least 50% of those who attended. I still know nothing of their stories, the reasons for their attendance, or the reality of their daily lives. But, I do know this, struggling to live with poor  mental health, like poverty, is endemic.  I also know that poor mental health is a growing reality and is no respecter of age, gender, social class or any other human identity marker. Poor mental health is, furthermore, contagious, inter-generational and ‘viral,’ and isolating. The loneliness of poor mental health has to be experienced to be understood, and the sickening perversity is that sufferers can feel totally alone even when they are living alongside others. Oh, and one more thing: like poverty it takes route and sometimes hides right in the midst of us.

What has become clear to me over the last few years is that experiencing isolation isn’t necessarily a function of geography. The isolated, marginalized, alienated and forgotten are often to be found right under our noses, in our neighborhoods, in our very midst. Which brings me on to mission.

Last week I attended two diocesan events: Bishop Steven’s day on renewing catechesis (his favorite word!) and the Oxford Diocesan Synod at which we discussed the role out of the diocesan strategic investment plan. I appreciated the discussions that were held at both events. I deeply support (but not without a few reservations) both initiatives. In my own context I take the notion of growth in number and in holiness extremely seriously.

In our table top discussion at diocesan synod several people talked with passion and lamentation about the apparent inability of the church to connect with young adults. I happen to share this worry. However, I also worry that the Church of England is spending too much time worrying about demographics as opposed to the conditions that affect, for the worse, every demographic. Poverty, isolation and mental health are, for sure, no respecter of straightforward demographics. Could it be that by concentrating on the universal we arrive at the particular?

The gospel time and again ask us to take seriously the claims of the poor and the sick. Jesus mandated his disciples to make sure that they invited those who have no capacity to issue a return invitation to the wedding banquet (Luke 14, 7-14). He also told his disciples to search for banquet guests in the hedgerows (Luke 14, 23). The pursuit of justice for the poor and marginalized is a consistent and major biblical theme. The healing miracles always seem to me to be as much about restoration, the re-incorporation into community life, as they are about physical healing.

If we are serious, as a church, about mission and evangelism my hunch is that we do well to spend less time worrying about demographics and refocus our energies on being the gospel to the poor, sick, marginalized, alienated and forgotten.

Where do we find them? As I have learnt (to my shame) in our very midst.