I have been invited to offer an insight each month for Wel-Com on something I see in the pastoral life of the local Church. That is, how we minister, live our faith, pray and worship. It is a wide brief and a hard one to tie down. It has been something of a challenge to write this first offering.
I want to start in this first effort with the most common issue I see and hear when meeting our committees, parish life, and relationships in the Church.
‘The Musicians did this…’, ‘The Parish Secretary does that…’, ‘Father did this…’, and… ‘I think it is wrong and want you, or the PP, or the Bishop, to do something about it’.
This is often accompanied by a very ‘Christian-sounding’ phrase, such as ‘I wouldn’t want to hurt them’, or ‘we need to give them the benefit of the doubt’, or ‘a second chance’, or ‘maybe they were…’ and almost always, ‘Don’t let it be known I have said anything!’
What I have seen in just about all these cases and events is that the person has been hurt, offended, upset, got angry, and often many times they only speak up when it has become unbearable. I have also seen it frequently leads to them being distanced from the Church or, because they have let it continue, the same behaviour has carried on and affects many others.
Experience is telling me the first step to healing and building Christian community is naming what is happening in our community. It is seeing and identifying clearly, and without excuse, the core issues that are hurting, especially for those in greatest need.
This is not new. I found my way back to Matthew’s gospel and realise this is what he is talking about when he writes in chapter 18: 15-17 about dealing with the same kind of issue. He also offers us a way through it. I have paraphrased it.
‘If your brother or sister upsets you, hurts you or another, bullies or dominates, is unjust or just plain rude or lazy, go and point out their fault just between the two of you (or if you don’t feel safe take someone else with you). If they listen to you, you have won them over.
‘But if they will not listen to you, take one or two others along (while being careful to ensure they feel safe; so take someone you trust or someone you know will have a careful and honest approach and response) so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”.
‘If the person who is giving offence still refuses to listen, or continues in their behaviour, tell it to the Church (the parish priest, the parish council and if it is the parish priest or someone employed by the Church, take it to the Bishop). If they refuse to listen even to the Church, then it will become clear what to do and how to lead the community forward.’
I think we need to look at the issues we face in the community, parish, marae, college or school – the place where we try to live as the Body of Christ.
How many times have we seen and known there have been behaviours and events that have hurt, upset, been inappropriate, and we have remained silent?
Matthew calls us to stand up and take responsibility for the life of the community, and that is normally by calling injustice, wrong, or hurt for what it is and seeking ways to bring those involved back into community with the Lord.
Mark Richards is Manager Pastoral Services, Palmerston North Diocese.