Talking of mission and finance in challenging times

The world, of which the church is a part, likes big strategic plans.

For the last few years, perhaps decades even, we have inhabited a world where big, macro, generic strategies have held sway. In the world of business this approach was popularised by Michael Porter, a charismatic professor at the Harvard Business School. I think that it is fair to say that Porteresque theories have managed to crowd out insights from other, more relational, more emergent, strategic thinkers. Models and generic strategies are, after all, fairly easy to understand; they are easy to have faith in.

Now to be clear generic strategies have their part to play. From a Church of England perspective such top down generic strategies as Resourcing Churches, Plants, Grafts and Fresh Expressions all have a part, maybe a significant part, to play in the building of the Kingdom ‘here on earth.’ But, what generic strategies should never be is the sum total of the strategic output. God, I think, cannot be easily contained within the generic, for God is equally content in the incremental (J.B. Quinn) and the emergent (Mintzberg). And, anyway, doesn’t God go ahead of us in mission?

The new set of circumstances we find ourselves in talks deeply to the nature of mission and evangelism as relational, emergent and embedded in community.

In the new set of circumstances generic models might be something that need to be gently set aside for a season. It is hard to build a new congregation or plant a resource church in periods of self isolation. Self isolation isn’t however the major point for at some, as yet unspecified time it, alongside social distancing, will presumably come to and end. Money, cash, finance and the potential return on missional assets employed is the major issue.

It is and will remain hard to fund generic models (because generic models rely on significant funding), if we are to be a substantially poorer church over the longer-term. Generic strategies by their nature are costly strategies. The rewards can be substantial, but the losses when they go wrong are truly frightening. To invest the majority of missional assets in volatile and uncertain times in generic models really is to bet the farm.

As we gaze into an uncertain future we can only ‘see through a glass darkly,’ (1 Corinthians 13, 12), but we can, I think, make some basic assumptions and begin to ask some searching questions. One basic assumption that I would make is that the church (and her parishioners) are going to be substantially poorer. I don’t think we are facing a blip or a shortfall in revenue but a potential catastrophe.

The temptation for the Church (and other institutions) will be to plan on the basis of a short fall in revenue of say between 25 and 40% over a six month period. My own view is that this a hopelessly optimistic hypothesis. If I am correct then the ongoing commitment to cash consuming generic strategies should surely be called into question. We need to ask ourselves, as the church, whether our collective faith in such approaches might be now misplaced.

One of the things that I have learnt in the current crisis is that people – non church people – have expectations of the church. Let me illustrate: For several years we have operated a small scale food cupboard scheme. It works like this. We retain a small stock of non perishable goods. When we receive a referral from the school or health centre we contact the family, discuss their needs, and supplement our existing stock with fresh produce which we buy in. Several weeks ago a number of individuals and civic institutions contacted us asking if they could provide us with cash and produce so we could scale up our offering. Other people of goodwill provided us with a timely reminder that part of our mandate is to ‘feed my people.’

Due to the generosity of others we are now able to provide food and other staple products to a relatively large number of families and individuals who would by now be living below the bread-line. Yesterday a local Indian Takeaway contacted us to say that they were going to give a percentage of their takings in April and May to the St. Laurence Food Cupboard Scheme.

St. Laurence was a deacon of the church and an early martyr. Before his death is reputed to have said that ‘these (the poor) are the treasures of the church.’ In my context it feels as though we are being nudged back to pursuing an increasingly diaconal form of ministry, where ‘responding to human need through loving service’ is at the heart of what we do and who we are.

In telling our story I am not seeking to promote yet another generic, do what we are doing, form of strategy. I am simply suggesting that the local church, embedded in the local community, should listen to the community and its expectations of the church.

At the institutional level I do wonder whether the Church of England should gently place aside (maybe only for a season, maybe for a longer period of time) the preference for generic strategies and think afresh about how assets and reserves are deployed?

Do we need to relinquish some of our faith in the generic and instead have a little more faith in the relational, incremental, authentically parochial, and emergent?

Just a few questions!

Talking of coronavirus,church, continuation and concomitance

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

The vocation of the Church of England, as the established church, is to be the church for the whole nation – whatever the creeds and beliefs, or even non beliefs of its citizens – irrespective of the political and civic temperature. We exist, in part, to hold the nation before God, in the words of the preface to the marriage service ‘in good times and in bad.’ Part of our mandate must surely be to ‘enrich society and strengthen community?’ We are both a national church and a communal church.

In these current ‘worst of times’ our mandate, duty and responsibility, strange as it may sound, is to follow the coronavirus where ever it may lead us so that we can reach out with open hands to the poor and needy neighbour in our land (Dueteronomy 15, 11 – our benefice verse for the year).

Of course in following the virus we shouldn’t be foolhardy or negligent. We shouldn’t put ourselves or others at risk, but neither should we be rendered impotent by fear for at a very basic level we have a responsibility to continue praying and to keep communing. Praying and communing are, after all, the very things that equip us to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ through acts of loving service to ‘the poor and neddy in the land;’ especially the poor, the sick, the dying and the vulnerable. We go to church so that we can be fed through word and sacrament to make a difference. An unhealthy nation needs a healthy church, even if it maybe temporarily a smaller gathered church.

When we go to church we should also be mindful of the fact that we should expect to encounter and be fed by the ‘Lord (who truly) is here.’ The fact that the Eucharist is for the time being to be received in one kind (bread) shouldn’t in any way diminish the efficacy of the sacrament. Christ is fully present in the Eucharist in both bread and wine. The fancy name for this is concomitance. For sure it might be desirable that both the priest and the people receive communion in both kinds (this being the spirit of Article XXX of the Articles of Religion), but where this is not possible it doesn’t diminish the power and the potency of the sacrament; where Christ is present He is fully present and when we are fed we are fully fed.

So having prayed and having been fed how can we go ‘in peace to love and serve the Lord’ following where Coronavirus leads?

Here are just a few suggestions; suggestions that have sprung up from within the church and the community:

How about gathering a list of names of people who are happy (subject to their own health) to shop and collect prescriptions for the vulnerable and the isolated?

Or maybe creating a network of telephone and virtual friends?

What about a prayer or reflection for the day or week ahead on the parish website, Facebook Page, or Twitter feed?

Earlier this week I was delighted to receive a request from one of the town’s civic organisations to partner (in our existing scheme) to help those facing food-poverty. Would your local Rotary, Lions or other clubs and organisations be interested in partnering with your church as you seek, in a spirit of mutual cooperation to ‘strengthen community?’ If you don’t ask, you won’t know!

We maybe in approaching the ‘worst of times’ but, perhaps, just perhaps, the opportunity exists for the concomitant church to work with others of good will to enrich society and strengthen community by reaching out, through acts of loving service, to the poor and needy neighbour in our land. The church should go where coronavirus leads.

Talking of trust, mission, leadership and governance

I can’t say that I am particularly looking forward to next week’s General Synod.

For all the entirely necessary discussions, workshops, break-out sessions, and debates it feels as though one subject will cast a shadow over the entirety of synod: that pastoral communication or, as it is now being referred to, ‘statement.’

The archbishops and bishops are right to acknowledge that trust has been broken and that hurt has been caused. I hope, and believe, that trust can, over time, be restored, and that hurts can be, to some extent, healed. In fact it is necessary that they are if the phrase ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’ is to have any future currency. When trust has been broken what is left? When trust has been broken what can it mean to be episcopally led; for trust is the greatest of intangible assets. Without trust there can be no longer-term sustainable and effective leadership; no real authentic polity.

The bigger problem with the original statement and subsequent apology, alongside as the failure to withdraw the offending (and offensive) ‘statement’ is not so much the breakdown of trust, for this is concerned with inter-church relationships, but the significant collateral damage to the mission of the church.

It is a sobering thought that the actions of the bishops has damaged, significantly damaged, the mission of the church. Put simply many on the pews, on the edges of church, and in our civic communities think that, through the office of her bishops, the church has lost the plot.

People, ordinary people, don’t in reality spend much time listening to the bishops, but not this time. The words and actions of the bishops has caused much conversation both inside and outside the walls of my church buildings. Nobody that I have spoken to has been in any way supportive or sympathetic; quite the reverse in fact. The mission of the church has been significantly damaged by her most ‘senior’ leaders.

Part of the reason for the breakdown in trust and the damage to the mission of the church may well be the way that the bishops exercise governance. The affairs of the College and the House of Bishops seems to be clothed in darkness, undue secrecy and a desire to act and speak in concert as some form of C of E Magisterium. This has led to a cacophony of noise rather than a symphony of sound. We also know that various members of the orchestra are being drowned out. The subtle notes, the nuanced voices, are simply not being heard such is the desire to pursue a misguided theology of collegiality.

Rowan Williams has recently written that ‘the bureaucratic urge to homogenize is one which Christians have every reason to resist.’ This must surely apply to ‘in house discussions’ in the church and within the College and House of Bishops, for homogenization can only, ultimately, lead to lowest common denominator decisions.

The misguided desire to present a theology of collegiality and homogeneity also poses a risk to the entirety of the governance system. If the bishops are determined to speak with one voice, and to vote in one direction, on substantive issues then the notion of synodical governance ceases to exist with the Church of England becoming both episcopally led and episcopally governed. Is this what we want? Homogeneity deriving from a shallow theology of collegiality is the last thing that a missionally minded church needs.

I am never quite sure I understand why meetings of the bishops are so secretive. Nor do I understand why sensitive issues relating to sexuality (or even just sex) and gender are categorised as ‘deemed business.’ Deemed business is normally listed at the end of an agenda, when fatigue has set in and members want to go home (some will have gone home!) Sensitive, missionally important issues, should surely never be categorised as ‘deemed business?’

So where do we go from here? My hope that there is something good that can come out of the debacle of the last couple of weeks: a renewed commitment to engaging with the widest possible range of views and perspectives, the ending of the shroud of secrecy in all things bishopy (it really isn’t necessary) and a rejection of shallow theologies of (Episcopal) collegiality and homogeneity. The Church of England has tried such approaches and all they have led to is the erosion of trust, the diminution of mission and significant hurt and pain.

Let me finish with another quote from ++Rowan, one I wholeheartedly agree with:

‘Good governance and government is always about an engagement with the other, a developing relation that is neither static confrontation nor competition but an interaction producing some form of common language and vision that could not have been defined in advance of the encounter.’

If the Church of England is serious about leadership, mission, governance and the genuine possibility for a ‘radical new inclusion in the life of the church’ then it is imperative that our bishops take their governance responsibilities seriously. In fact it is the only way to restore trust and enhance mission.

Leadership, real and sustainable leadership, is forged not through strap lines, or the desire to control through the ‘careful’ management of an agenda, but through the sometimes painful, usually frustrating, but always deep and engaging processes of governance.

Talking of safety in church

Just before Christmas one of my daughters messaged me to ask if I knew a church she could attend for a Midnight Mass; a church where she would ‘feel safe.’

My daughter is both gay and disabled and was staying with her partner for Christmas. Their’s, to borrow a phrase from Archbishop Justin, is a relationship of ‘stunning quality.’ It is a relationship built on mutual care and companionship. I rejoice in their love for each other and would like nothing more than to liturgically bless it; why wouldn’t I?

But, I am troubled that my daughter should feel the need to ask if I knew of a church where she would ‘feel safe.’

Let’s pause and think for a second or two: can it really be the case that there are churches where people might not feel safe, where they might feel marginalised and ostracized?

Sadly, it appears, it is. What an awful and appalling indictment of the Church of England, and to be honest, her leadership.

There is, however, just a nugget, or sliver, of the miraculous in her question for it reveals an appreciation that the Christian story is bigger, more powerful, more attractive story than the one that is frequently told by the institutional church and her clerics. But ‘do you know a church where I can feel safe’ it is still a question that nobody should ever have to ask, or indeed answer. It is a horrible question, a dirty question and a sordid question, but one that, sadly, many need to ask. The Church of England should be a safe place for all, end of, full stop; for if any members of the body feels marginalised and ostracized then the entirety of the Body of Christ becomes weaker, insular and impotent.

To help answer her question I contacted a friend, an archdeacon no less, who initially sent me a list of churches that my daughter would do well to steer clear of. Again let’s pause to think about this: churches exist, really exist, where a young gay women, in a wheelchair, and her partner might not feel welcome, let alone safe. What an appalling indictment on the church and her leadership.

My friend did send me a list of churches where my daughter and her partner would be truly, properly, welcomed and I am glad to say that they went to MidNight Mass and were made to feel very much at home, as though they belonged. The vicar spoke to them, shared the peace with them, and fed them through word and sacrament. He made them feel safe and secure as members of the Body of Christ. For this, as a dad and a priest, I am truly grateful.

My daughter’s story reminds me of two things: First, that the Christian story is bigger than any one of us, and secondly, and tragically, that for many people the church is not experienced as a safe, loving, and pastoral place. Although the story is bigger the church is perfectly capable of hiding its light and majesty under a bushel; a bushel of inhospitable and exclusive relational ethics.

In my benefice we won’t always get it right but what I hope is that we will always truly strive to create an environment – no a community – where all, yes all, are truly welcome. In time I hope that such a welcome will include the ability to liturgically affirm all those who wish to enter into a monogamous, faithful, life-long and coventanted relationship; full stop, end-of. The church should always stand alongside, in (liturgical) solidarity, those who wish to pledge themselves to another human being and who wish to vow to undertake the life-long, hard, and nitty-gritty work of love.

It will take time for the church to get there, to that place of ‘liturgical solidarity,’ (and equality) but in the meantime would it be too much to ask that our ‘leaders’ really do pledge to making sure that each and every church is genuinely a safe place for all?

As a priest and as a dad I never (again) want to worry about whether my daughter is safe in church.

Speaking of ministerial training; what did full time training do for anyone?

How best to train and equip ordinands for ministry is without doubt a complex question. If there was one easy and straightforward way things would be so much easier! Training and formation is, however, neither easy or straightforward. In fact I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who said their experience of the pilgrimage towards the laying on of hands by the bishop in the cathedral had been struggle free. Formation without struggle is something I simply can’t imagine.

For me training, which I did full time (for 2 years), on top of that hill just outside Oxford, was both the ‘best of times’ and ‘the worst of times.’ But, I am glad that I trained full time, in a college. I wouldn’t, looking back, have had it any other way. In fact I don’t think I would have got through it any other way. I have huge respect for those who train part time (even though I suspect that they don’t do this in reality, because training for ordination is a full time pre-occupation), because i know that I couldn’t have done it.

Training full time was the ‘best of times’ in that it provided me with the opportunity to be completely absorbed in preparing for an uncertain future. I enjoyed the academic side of my training and was fortunate to study for a M.A. I also made some wonderful friends and met lots of ‘interesting people.’ In many ways full time training allowed me to find my spiritual anchor and identity. For this I will always be truly grateful. Looking back I think that full time training graced me with two significant gifts that I am not sure that I would have been able to receive so readily on another pathway. These gifts, or graces, were an appreciation and love of liturgy and an emerging sense of stability.

On the ‘Holy Hill’ our lives, and I would say education, were very much shaped through the liturgies of the church. Morning Prayer was said, in community, every day. The Eucharist was also celebrated every. I was introduced to gospel processions, acclamations and the occaisional smell of incense. Evening Prayer was chanted before supper and Compline was sung (occasionally said), every night; feast days and festivals were observed. It was a rich, and for me deeply enriching, experience. We were also given the opportunity to lead ‘creative worship’ (100 things you can do with pebbles, water, post it notes and T lights) and contemporary worship. Through our Sunday placements we were given the opportunity to experience different types of church. As I say it was a rich, and enriching, liturgical experience. Engaging with and studying liturgy is something I equate with the ‘best of times’ and there is no doubt that such a saturation in the liturgies of the church has benefited me greatly in my ongoing ministry.

In may ways just being in a full time college was the ‘worst of times.’ To arrive in a college, as a weekly border, at the age of forty-five was a bizarre and weird experience. But, there again, ministering in the church is a bizarre and weird experience! I found full time training to be a hugely intense experience; an, at times, overly intense experience. Being surrounded by a large number of people, all of whom seemed to be preoccupied with their own sense of calling and the search for God, meant that it was sometimes hard to breathe. And of course in communities characterised by intensity of feeling the potential for hurting self and others is never far away.

The paradox of full time training, for me, and with hindsight is simply this: that ‘the worst of times,’ turned out to the ‘the best of times,’ for it was through the worst of times that a sense of stability slowly started to emerge. In my first year at college it sometimes felt that my whole world was collapsing around me and the second year wasn’t much better!

At Cuddesdon I had to learn to trust; to trust the college, the system and the people around me. At college for the first time in my adult life I had no defences and no props. It was through trusting the college, the system and the people around me that something truly amazing started to happen: an increase in trust in God.

Stability isn’t, however, reduciable to grim trust; the ability to hang on in there by our very finger nails. I think that stability’s real concern is the development of the ability to be ourselves, and to let others be themselves, within the norms and constraints of communal life. Stability is a commitment to people, practice and place. And, isn’t this what ministry is about at heart: commitment to people, practice and place? Again, with hindsight, I now believe that all true formation must include growth in trust and growth in (personal) stability.

At Cuddesdon I met, studied with and prayed alongside people who I naturally liked, respected and clicked with, but there were also others who I didn’t naturally like and whose company I found difficult. Cuddesdon, it appears, in this sense, was no different to most other Christian communities! For sure it was possibly more intense, full on, and full time but that’s all.

Rowan Williams has recently written that ‘life together is the solid foundation for growth into intimacy with God, into what people call the mystical,’ and that ‘unless you have got yourself accustomed to the toolbox of daily attention to the awkward reality of human others, the search for deeper intimacy with God will lead to destructive illusion.’

If ++Rowan is correct, and I think he is, full time residential training is one way that growth in stability, which must surely be the bedrock of all true formation (thus speaks a Benedictine oblate!), may be nurtured and developed.

I am not ideologically committed to the notion of full time residential training, for there are clearly a large number of wonderful clergy who have trained part time and on courses, but I do have two worries: to what extent is part time training able to foster a love for and appreciation of the liturgies of the church, and is so much of training now focused on mission and evangelism, techniques and strategy, that growth in the virtues and graces that must necessarily underpin all ministry, such as stability, are necessarily crowded out? Put another way: is there a danger that too much emphasis is nowadays placed on training (perhaps even on the job training) at the expense of formation?

Speaking of Renewal and Reform; money, numbers, and growth

Just to be clear and upfront: I am a big fan of Renewal and Reform.

Fanship is an interesting concept for it implies loyalty and support, in good times and in bad. Fans are supporters, friends and members of whatever it is (normally a sports team), but also critics and lobbyists. Fans can also be agents for change.

In my fanship of Renewal and Reform I hope I am, and will remain, a critical friend; an ardent supporter who wants the best possible set of outcomes. Fans can of course be unrealistic -seeking to gorge themselves on an ongoing pattern of short-term success – but I suspect that the majority of fans are in it for the long-term, ‘in good times and in bad,’ ‘for better for worse.’

I am a fan of Renewal and Reform for the very simple reason, that like Bishop Paul Bayes,’ I want to see ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’ I also think that Renewal and Reform is a way of honouring the Great Commission.

My critique, not criticism, of Renewal and Reform is that it has thus far been too Reform focused. I think and believe that, during the next stage, far greater attention needs to be given to the much harder subject of Renewal. But, here is the good news: this is happening. It may not be obvious that it is happening, because renewal is less obvious, less ‘in your face’ than Reform, but it is happening.

In the early days of Renewal and Reform, it felt as though the entirety of the conversation (and the the flow of funds) was dominated by two models of church: Plants (and grafts) and New Congregations. These can be thought of as new forms – or reforms – of Church. Now there is nothing wrong with starting with these models for they are tried and tested. A fairly robust operational model exists that means it is reasonably likely that these approaches will be ‘successful.’ Success for such models of reformed church is quantifiable; numerically so. And just to repeat, I have no problem with numbers: ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’

But, and its a big and perhaps controversial but, I think that these models whilst being perhaps obvious ones to start with will, over the long-term, be smaller scale contributors to the overall ‘success’ of Renewal and Reform.

Yes, they are currently seen as the ‘successful,’ models of how to do and be church, but as any fan will tell you success comes and goes. Very few clubs are able to achieve a never ending ongoing pattern of short-term success. In the world of both sport and business today’s success is tomorrow’s not quite success (let’s not use the word failure!).

In the world of both business and sport very few entities flourish over the long-term. It’s a simple fact of organisational life. If you doubt me why not do a simple google search and compare the constituency of the FTSE 100 index when it was launched in 1982 with its make up now. Comparing the make up of the Premier League in both football and rugby (my sport) at their launches with now is also revealing.

At the other end of the scale very few small businesses, or small sports teams, ever achieve the heady heights of the FTSE 100 Index or Premier League. Conclusion: it is the destiny of most entities to spend the majority of their corporate lives as either medium or small sized concerns.

This is to my mind a basic, very basic, fact of organisational life. If this is true looking to the big to make the biggest difference is, as a long-term strategy, predestined to fail. (The ability of large entities to spawn other entities which survive beyond the life of the ‘founding entity’ should not, however, be discounted. RACAL Electronics, for example , which no longer exists is said to have created more ‘shareholder value’ than any other listed company).

If my thesis is correct then far more attention needs to be focused on, and strategic funds directed towards, initiatives that seek to renew the that which already exists. In many cases this will mean medium sized churches. We need to make sure our medium sized churches first sustain and then grow. To my mind this should be a significant priority. The trouble for strategists is that sustaining and growing the medium sized (and other forms of church which are crying out for renewal) is hard-work, long-term, and difficult to quantify. Renewal is the nitty-gritty of strategy and in the long-term will be both the engine of sustainability and growth.

I have enjoyed reading the recent Church Times appraisal of the Renewal and Reform initiative, but I can’t wholeheartedly agree with the last week’s ‘Leader,’ which seemed to criticise the decision makers for ‘the splashing of large amounts of cash on a relatively few projects.’ This would be fair if this was all that Renewal and Reform is doing, but it isn’t, for there are a great many renewal focused conversations looking at, for instance, outer estates, coastal towns, market towns, and medium sized churches more generally.

Where I think the Church Times is correct is in identifying that such churches ‘simply need a lot more money;’ not that money is the be all and end all. Churches in such contexts for sure require money, or the very least alleviation from parish share schemes that appear to be exercises in pure Reaganomics, combined with good leadership, diocesan support, and stacks of enthusiasm. What these churches also desperately need is long-term and stable support (from the central church and the diocese) combined with an acceptance that numerical growth doesn’t happen overnight. In fact overnight numerical growth could be a stimulus for concern.

I am currently enjoying reading Andrew Bradstock’s biography of David Sheppard (Batting for the Poor) and was struck by the nature of the mandate he received from Bishop Hugh Gough for the renewal of the Mayflower Centre. Bishop Gough believed that building a congregation was a thirty year job! Maybe he was right? After ten years the Sunday congregation at the Mayflower Centre numbered between 100 and 150, so maybe Bishop Gough was too cautious? But the one thing that Bishop Gough was not concerned about, even with his super star priest, was short-term, or overnight, success.

Renewal is harder than reform. It requires support, commitment and patience. But ultimately it is through Renewal that the church will sustain and grow. The architects of the SDF need to ensure that they are as committed to renewal as they are to reform; the evidence is that they are.

Speaking of faith in troubling times

Earlier this week I had lunch with a very good friend and, a quite remarkable priest. Life has been difficult, worrying, and tough for my friend recently. Over the course of lunch we were able to share experiences of being worried parents; not simply worried in the normal sense of the term (whatever this means) but, worried in the sense of carrying gut wrenching anxiety over an unknown and fragile future.

My friend asked me what faith means to me in the midst of trial and tribulation; in those times when all seems bleak. In some ways my answer and the ensuing conversation surprised me. I am grateful to my friend for creating the space to allow me to say what I really think, and yes, feel. Friendship, spiritual friendship, is a priceless gift. To be tended to and to tend to another is a very real expression of love (John 21, 15-18).

I found myself saying that over the last few years I have found myself expecting less and less of my faith. Now this might sound shocking, it might even sound like I have a very weak faith; certainly not the strength of faith capable of moving mountains (Mark 11, 23). But, could it mean something else? Could it mean that although my faith is less it is, paradoxically, more? Could it be that a lesser faith is a more sustaining faith? Now I don’t want to curtail God, neither do a want to dismiss the possibility of the miraculous and supernatural but, I think, hope, pray, that my faith isn’t contingent on God pulling off a biggy, and somehow making all things right again.

I also don’t want to prescribe what faith is for others, but for me faith is the precious jewel that affords me the possibility of living, and maybe even living well, with, through and beyond the life events that drag me down and sometimes make me feel that all is conspiring against me. Faith is the the jewel that prevents me from being captive to events and episodes. Faith doesn’t necessarily change things, but it can (and does) change me (and, for sure, not always quickly in in linear progression). Faith’s concern is reality: past reality, present reality, and future reality. Faith is the virtue that is capable of redeeming the past, holding the present, and transforming the future. Faith is the virtue that allows me to live with, through and beyond.

Christain faith cannot, of course, be disaggregated from hope and love. My friend through her questioning reminded me of this. Her question to me was asked from a place of love; love for Jesus and love for me. I hope my answer was given from a place of love; love for Jesus and love for her. Hope, I think, talks to the notion of living beyond those things that bear so heavily on our souls.

Hope is the antidote to a passive Christianised stoicism. Hope doesn’t (for me) mean believing that all will be well, but it does mean that my response to situations might be better. Hope also means believing that whatever happens, we will be graced with glimpses of goodness and glory, that we will, in time, see something of the ‘goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,’ (Psalm 27, 13). Hope also means a belief in the great beyond; that time and place when tears and pain will be no more (Revelation 21, 4).

I somewhat surprised myself in saying that I expected less and less of my faith and whether, by expecting less, worried that I had succumbed to some form of fatalistic Christian Stoicism, so I was delighted to read the following in Roderick Strange’s book ‘Newman; the Heart of Holiness;’

‘It (faith) calls for more than stubborn endurance. It must rather encourage a readiness to plant generosuly the tree of the cross in our own hearts so as to let it put down deep roots……..Fidelity is the key, by embracing hardship generosuly and remaining faithful as Newman did, we may discover and bear witness to the way disaster may be turned into triumph.’

Life is very often painful, deeply so, but (speaking personally) stripped of faith, even a lesser faith, I simply wouldn’t have what it takes to live, and occasionally live well, with, through and beyond pain, worry and anxiety.

O Lord grant me a lesser faith, a deeper love, and a surer hope.