The ‘Madness’ of Mercy – Pope Francis

The ‘Madness’ of Mercy

What’s at the Center of Francis’s Papacy?

When Hannah Arendt reviewed Pope John XXIII’s journals just over fifty years ago, she shared a question posed to her by a Roman chambermaid not long after he had died. “Madam,” the woman said, “this pope was a real Christian. How could that be? And how could it happen that a true Christian would sit on St. Peter’s chair?” Arendt took the comments to underscore the tension between the radical simplicity of Jesus’ call to “follow me” and the demands of the institutional church. After all, as the future pope scribbled in his notebook when he was only eighteen years old, taking that call seriously put one at risk of being “treated as a madman.”

Pope Francis, who declared John XXIII a saint and whose own pontificate draws frequent comparisons with that earlier pope, surely understands the truth of that observation. Francis has been described in similarly unfavorable terms by his critics; some have even compared him to a real madman, president-elect Donald Trump. And even a few of his admirers, especially in the mainstream press, sometimes seem disturbed by his words and deeds, surprised by a pope who seems not only to believe but to act as though the meek really will inherit the earth. Depending on the newspaper or magazine one reads, Francis is either too reckless or too conservative, a possible heretic or a false hope. His off-the-cuff pronouncements reliably stir controversy; his openness to reform generates theological sparring and debate. Meanwhile, the usual swirl of Vatican gossip and intrigue continues apace.

In the midst of all this, one could be forgiven for not remembering that Francis himself has told us what is at the center of his papacy, the thread that holds it all together: mercy. He took as his episcopal motto miserando atque eligendo—“by having mercy and choosing.” His apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, urges us never to stop seeking God’s forgiveness, never to despair of being beyond the reach of God’s mercy. And last year, Francis called an extraordinary jubilee—the Year of Mercy—which has just come to a close. The message could not be less subtle. It is worth stopping to reflect on what Francis has described as “the very foundation of the church’s life,” now, while the Year of Mercy remains fresh in our minds and Christmas is upon us.

We shouldn’t be surprised that such an emphasis on mercy has been misunderstood, willfully or otherwise, and left more than one of the church’s factions dissatisfied. Against a stringent conservatism, dwelling on mercy appears as a kind of antinomianism: a breakdown of rules and order in favor of freewheeling forgiveness, a weakening of morals and a soft-peddling of ethical demands. Against the more thinned-out versions of religious liberalism, it can seem too “existential,” too focused on the darker currents of our lives—the “wounds” we suffer from, which need to be healed. And while mercy should be joined to hope, it is neither naïvely optimistic nor ideologically progressive. It is costly love in the midst of pain and grief, not false cheer.

Mercy for Francis is never simply a matter for individuals, a kind of privatized consolation or a form of cheap grace. He wants nothing less than to build a “culture of mercy.” This can be seen vividly in the way Francis has asked us to understand Laudato si’: not as an encyclical that merely endorsed the scientific consensus on climate change, but as a call to conversion in how we relate to the resources we all share. “The object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces,” the pope reminds us. That includes our stewardship of creation, leading Francis to suggest “a complement” to the traditional sets of seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. “May the works of mercy also include care for our common home,” he said in September, going on to demand that we “break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” that afflicts our political and economic life and make mercy itself “felt in every action that seeks to build a better world.”

As the church struggles with its own divisions, and as the United States and the world enter dark political times, Francis’s message of mercy should be a light to our path. He has staked his papacy on that message, offering it as the only answer to our deepest questions and longings. In a world that “leaves so many men and women behind as it races on, breathlessly and aimlessly,” he recently said, “we need the oxygen of this gratuitous and life-giving love. We thirst for mercy and no technology can quench that thirst. We seek a love that endures beyond momentary pleasures, a safe harbor where we can end our restless wanderings, an infinite embrace that forgives and reconciles.”

The jubilee may be over now, but the need for mercy never ends. Neither does God’s offer of it. That should be at the heart of our attempts to understand this pope—and the source of our hope in the difficult days that may lie ahead.


‘COMMONWEAL’, the U.S. Roman Catholic publication, deserves to be read for its open discussion of contemporary theological views with the Church in the world of today. The following link gives links to articles about The Church and Same-Sex Relationships which is well worth reading:

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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R.C. Synod for Wellington Archdiocese

Wellington Archdiocese to have a Synod next year


Cardinal John Dew has announced that the fifth Synod for the Archdiocese of Wellington is to take place in 2017.

A diocesan synod helps to establish the ‘communion and mission’ of a diocesan community.

In the decree of convocation Dew said he was mindful of Pope Francis’ desire that we advance along the path of what he calls “a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are”.

The letter continues, “Pope Francis explains what he means by pastoral and missionary conversion when he writes ‘Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says, ‘We have always done it this way’”

“It means being bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in our Diocesan community with its various parish and ecclesial, religious and social communities.”

“Pope Francis is re-shaping our priorities and attitudes, and we need to respond at the grassroots level to his vision,” Dew said.

“The last two archdiocesan synods focused on liturgy, youth and young adults, family, welcoming communities, adult education, social justice.

“These are all essential parts of the life of the Church but are mostly internal matters with focus on ourselves rather than on our mission.

“The parish amalgamation process has required us to have a strong internal focus over the last few years. There is more work to be done within parishes to further the amalgamation at a practical level, and to deepen communion in our parishes.

“But that communion must extend further, because Pope Francis is challenging us strongly to ‘go out’.

“In both his words and actions, Pope Francis consistently challenges us to rethink our approach and priorities.

“He returns to certain themes again and again: the peripheries of society; our own peripheries; refugees and migrants; care for creation; ecumenism; interfaith relations; accompanying the young.

Cardinal Dew concludes by saying that now is the time for the Archdiocese to reflect on how we can be a Church that is at the service of the world around us.


Thanks to CATHNEWS N.Z. for this article.

This is obviously not just ‘business as usual’ for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Wellington. The convocation of a Wellington Arch-diocesan Synod in 2017 , by Cardinal John Dew, is a welcome sign of his willingness to follow in the way of his Chief Bishop, Pope Francis, in continuing the spirit of renewal in the local Roman Catholic Church.

Acknowledging the need for internal adjustments being made to accommodate the local amalgamation of parishes, Cardinal Dew also acknowledges the need to move on pastorally in order to bring the Good News of God’s love to the local neighbourhood and to the world outside of the Church.

Reflecting on recent moves made by Pope Francis to extend the concept of God’s mercy at work in the world beyond the borders of the Church – and into the real lives of ‘outsiders – one can only applaud this collaborative movement towards the recruitment of ‘all hands on deck’ in the convocation of a meeting that will harness the resources of the Church for Mission to the world around us.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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ADVENT in an Inclusive Church

An Advent Reflection from the Chair of Inclusive Church

Advent is upon us-a season of light and a season of darkness.  Christians use Advent to prepare to welcome the birth of Jesus of Nazareth- the light of the world- at Christmas.  But Advent is more than simply waiting for something else to happen. The whole season provides for an honest look at both the coming light and also the darkness of our world.  2016 has brought much darkness – the darkness of warfare and conflict, the darkness of prejudice and fear, the darkness of hatred.  At times the light has been hard to discern, but like the earliest dawning of sunrise it is there.  It is there when kindness and compassion meet pain and distress. It is there when those who are attacked simply for being who they are respond with grace and gritty determination.

The light is present in what Inclusive Church is able to facilitate each and every month.  With you and your support light has been brought into places where people feel isolated, light has been brought into discussions in churches and house groups, light has been brought into places of confusion about what inclusion means.  One of the most encouraging items on the agenda at each meeting of the Trustees is the list of churches who have indicated a desire to be part of our charity by signing up to the Inclusive Church statement.  Each of these churches represents a determination to bring light to their members and to the communities which they serve.  We have continued to develop resources to enable the light of love and inclusion to burn brightly in those places which may have appeared dark.  Thank you to everyone whose contribution has enabled this part of our work.

Advent reminds us that we must keep alert.  We must keep alert to the light in the midst of difficulty.  This is particularly challenging as we engage with, what feels to some, seismic shifts in our world, and in the approach to ‘others’.  Whether it is to those people who are different to us, or to ideologies which we don’t share, we must be determined to look for light and not allow darkness to have the final word.

It was into the darkness of night and despair that the light of the world was born.  This event of darkness is not just at Christmas but light breaks into darkness in a myriad of places if we can but see it.  The challenge to us who are members and supporters of Inclusive Church is to refuse the darkness more air-time than we give to the light.  This is part of our motivation to do what we do – to have those difficult discussions, to meet those painful issues, to sit with the stories of pain and distress, because eventually there is and will be light.  The light which is borne through the processes in which we engage will be an enduring light – just as is the light of Christmas.  This light banishes the darkness for good and it is this for which we work and wait.   This is the light of Christmas, slowing dawning during Advent, fanned into being by those who, like you, are determined to be light for others.

This journey isn’t easy, it isn’t without difficulty, but we undertake it together, strengthened by the knowledge that what we have in common is so much greater than anything which divides us.  Thank you for being part of the light of new life which we believe that Inclusive Church brings to the whole church.  May that great light of Christ shine strongly in your hearts as you journey through Advent and await the birth of our Saviour – who we love and serve.

Dianna Gwilliams. Dean of Guildford and Chair of Inclusive Church
            As an Associate of the U.K. ‘Inclusive Church’, I appreciate this ADVENT homily by Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford in the Church of England, and also the Chair of the U.K. organisation that seeks to open up the life, worship and ministry of the Church to all people – regardless of race, ethnic origins, gender or sexual orientation.
            Dianna’s insights into the ‘darkness and light’ along the pilgrim journey of the Church are a valuable reminder of the fact that we are called to be witness to The Light of Christ, whose redemptive love and openness to all people is at the heart of the Gospel we are called to proclaim.
            The Way is difficult but never impossible – except in those dark places of the world where God’s inclusive love is withheld. Wherever there is prejudice and criminal activity that darkens the lives of intrinsically ‘different’ people from ourselves, it can be a threat to those bearers of The Light who continue to press for openness to others.
            May Almighty God help us to support all who feel excluded from the Love and Light of Christ in our world; through the saving power of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen
            Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Trump and Reconstructionism in the U.S.A.


Evangelicals befuddled observers with their enthusiastic support for Donald Trump, despite his shocking disregard for the “traditional family values” that have been the religious right’s rallying cry for decades. Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of the Department of Education is a profound example of why they did so; it has (always) been all about power, not piety.

As Trump announces his executive appointments we see more clearly how the various factions of his coalition will shape policy in the coming years, and do so in ways that promote the political agenda of the religious right. Certainly, this will include court appointments likely to roll back reproductive rights, and various other appointees who will promote the primacy of evangelical Christianity both domestically and globally.

Education is arguably the most important front in the battle to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on contemporary culture. For the religious right, this means promoting alternatives to public schools including Christian schools, charter schools, and home schooling, with the longstanding goal of replacing the public education system with private Christian education. I wrote about the efforts back in a 2012 essay here on RDbut those efforts date as far back as the 1960s and the work of R.J. Rushdoony.

Framed as “school choice,” vouchers, charter schools, and tuition tax credit plans serve this goal by shifting public funds toward religious schools with little to no accountability to the public. In Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction I wrote about one such school in Florida that teaches creationism, dominionism, women’s submission, and so forth, with public money.

Opposition to public education for the religious right is rooted in a worldview in which education is solely the responsibility of families (and explicitly not the civil government), and in which there are no religiously neutral spheres of influence. There is no secular sphere that can function as a neutral space; only the Kingdom of God, and “the world” to be influenced by Christians for the Kingdom. (For our religion nerds this is Van Til and Kuyper, key architects of the Reformed tradition from which DeVos comes.) These views were popularized in the work of Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstructionists and became dominant in the religious right, which is not to say that everyone who holds them is a Christian Reconstructionist.

Indeed, while sharing theological foundations with Reconstructionists in the Reformed Tradition, DeVos comes from a broader conservative evangelical world. She supported John Kasich in the Republican primaries, for example. She has been a member and elder at a mainstream evangelical non-denominational church, and she enjoys support from Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute and Richard Mouw, former President of Fuller Seminary, neither of whom could be described as Reconstructionists. Sirico is decidedly libertarian without the theocratic influence of Reconstructionists, and Mouw has often been considered a progressive evangelical.

But it’s a mistake to think of these distinct movements with hard boundaries that prevent cross fertilization, particularly since Christian education as a replacement for public education is a place where this happens.

In a 2002 interview at “The Gathering,” for Conservative Christian philanthropists, Betsy DeVos and her husband, future candidate for Governor of Michigan, Richard DeVos, are clear that their charitable work is motivated by a desire to “confront the culture in which we live today to help advance God’s Kingdom.” And of course their track record is instructive, as they have focused on privatization and (mostly Christian) “choice.”

When asked: “Are you anti-public schools?” Betsy replied ambiguously: “We are for good education and for having every child have an opportunity for a good education.” She spoke about competition and fundamentally changing education but never asserted support for public schools. In fact, she drew a distinction between public education (educating the public) and what she called “government run schools” a distinction framed in language often found in Reconstructionist work.

Betsy DeVos has no training, background, experience, or expertise as an educator. Her singular qualification for this post is her longstanding work to privatize public education, a goal driven by her religious views that do not allow for a secular public sphere; views that divide the world into “The Kingdom of God” and every one else.


One problem that has already been foreseen in the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States is his tactical alliance with the ‘Religious Right’. This in no way can be related to ‘Right Religion’ – especially in heartland U.S.A., where religious fundamentalism is rife. Trump’s courting of Christian fundamentalists was highlit some time ago in the run-up to the election when he was featured, Bible in hand, being ‘prayed over’ by Pentecostal pastors who obviously admired his ability to make money and who were keen to become associated with Trump’s understanding of the ‘Prosperity Gospel’.

Already into his third marriage, Donald Trump has never been known to embrace a truly critical understanding of theology, but he has some idea of where the political power lies in the American heartland world of religious belief. His assumed views on such issues as abortion and more liberal gender and sexuality understandings have (despite his own position on the sanctity of marriage) aligned him with those Christian fundamentalists who are unhappy about the direction in which they see American society – under the Democrats – to be heading.

“As Trump announces his executive appointments we see more clearly how the various factions of his coalition will shape policy in the coming years, and do so in ways that promote the political agenda of the religious right.”

Trump’s mistrust of current immigration, trade and educational measures have already led him to make announcements of his intention to take new initiatives that will  look to dismantle the ongoing progressive policies of the Democrat’s regime under President Obama.   

In a multi-cultural country like the United States of America, immigration and world trade initiatives have provided a level of prosperity unmatched in most countries of the free world. These factors are now threatened by Donald Trump in his movement to isolate the USA from any foreign influence. His understanding of foreign policy would seem pretty negligible – especially since his confrontation with China, over his partisan approach to Taiwan over trade and relationships. This, surely, can be compared with the problems of those in the U.K. who have backed the ‘Brexit’ option to dismantle Britain’s ties with Europe. Isolationism, as a national policy, can never protect a country from the prospect of economic chaos. Not can it guarantee social cohesion.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Priesthood – a pastoral paradigm.


Understanding the Ministry of the Church Today: a lecture in honour of the late Rev’d Canon Dr Ian Tomlinson

The Rev’d Canon Dr Ian Tomlinson died peacefully at his home on Monday 31st October. He had asked the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, to deliver a lecture at his funeral, rather than the usual eulogy or sermon. It is reproduced here in its entirety:

Understanding the Ministry of the Church Today
The Very Rev’d Prof. Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

Ian Tomlinson, born in 1950, had been the Rector of Ragged Appleshaw benefice in the Diocese of Winchester since 1979.  He had also been an instrumental founder and overseer of the Diocesan Pastoral Care and Counselling Service, serving as Bishop’s Adviser for over fifteen years, and was a driving force on the Committee of the Andover Crisis Centre for over thirty years.  He had previously served curacies in Yorkshire.  There are many here today who mourn him: Caroline, his devoted wife; his three fine sons – Hugh, Ralph and James – of whom he was so proud; and parishioners, friends, colleagues near and far.  Many, many people are here to mourn his passing, reminisce over good times, as well as his deep and courageous last few years battling with cancer.  Ian, I can tell you, would have been embarrassed, and told us all to stop it at once.

Ian studied at London, the Open, Hull and Oxford Universities, and at the Richmond Fellowship College and the Tavistock Clinic, in London. He was a Professional Associate of the Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies and was a pioneer in using psychotherapy to inform understandings of ministry.  In his inimitable, hospitable manner, full of self-deprecation tempered with beautiful humility and rich insight, rose to become one of the most influential clergyman of his generation.  Always more of a ‘back room boy’, he preferred consultancy and counsel to the ecclesiastical limelight.  He was a remarkable priest, pastor, counsellor, consultant, scholar, wry observer, wit – and more besides.

Now, I need to explain to you that this is not a eulogy, or a conventional sermon for this kind of occasion.  Ian was very specific about what he wanted at his funeral, and expressly asked for a talk and reflection on ministry today.  Nothing more; nothing less.  And so that is what it will be.  I knew Ian as one of my doctoral students, and it was a rare privilege to supervise someone with such an effervescent mind.  He also had a fabulous sense of humour, and could be quite irreverent when discussing the diocesan hierarchy.  But he loved them too, and wouldn’t harm a fly.

So my starting point for this address is a poem he gave me. Unpublished, as it turns out, as it was supressed some forty years ago, and seen as too subversive.  But uncannily, more is said in this poem about the authentic nature of ministry than could be expressed in several thousand words of prose.  I don’t know who wrote this, but we know that the lines were intended to inspire vocations to ordained ministry. And the poem goes like this:

Give us a man of God
Father, to pray for us,
Longed for, and insignificant,
But excellent in mercy,
And ordain him
Someone who loves the mystery of the faith
Whose conversation seems
Credibly to come from heaven
A poor man, a hungry man
Whose hospitality is endless.

Give us a preaching man,
Father, who doesn’t know how to fake,
A free man, on holiday
In this parish, a still man
Good as an ikon
With a heart full of treasure;
Someone to talk to
When death comes here,
A fellow countryman of birth and death
And the dynasty of our family,
Whose eye has missed nothing.

Give us a man without sanctimony
Father, to handle what is eternal,
A private citizen among miracles
Not his, modest
Capable of silence
Someone who reminds us now and then
Of your own description
And another kingdom
By the righteousness of his judgement
Or some grace in what’s done
In laying down his life even
For his friends.

Reginald Askew, (source: Advisory Council for Church Ministry prayer card, Petertide, 1975).

Ian stands as an exemplar of our highest and finest traditions of devoted parish priests, who have served their communities, and God, with deep commitment and unswerving constancy. He spent over thirty-five years in one parish – a once unremarkable pattern of ministry that is almost unheard of in today’s Church of England.  His dedication to God, sense of virtue, and his profound compassion for his people marked him out as a truly great pastor and priest.

Like many doctoral students, supervisors tend to learn much from them, even as they supervise their project and mentor the person. Ian was no exception to this, and his blend of gentle, sharp, incisive, visionary reflective skills, together with his profound humanity – and through which the warm radiant grace of God was liberally poured – made both him and his project a joy to work with.

His capacity to reflect on himself, his ministry and community was always remarkable. His eye missed nothing. He was the quintessential participant observer and observing participant. Rather like a family therapist at a large celebratory wedding reception with their own kith and kin, he knew how to join in and enjoy himself; but also when to step back, muse and reflect. He prayed for his people; he visited graciously, but tended not to intrude. He counselled and consoled, yet understood the difference between empathy and compassion. He was but one sign of God’s kingdom in a small-ish English rural benefice – an unchanging symbol of God’s light, love and presence in a world that is distracted and busy.

But lest this sound like the burnishing of the memory of Ian, this same priest was utterly contemporary and professional in his work, with a methodology and practice of ministry that was responsively dynamic both in and to its environments. He read assiduously and discerningly. Ian blended the unchanging virtues, values, practices and behaviours of a faithful ministry, with all the very best theology, wisdom and work of a thoroughly modern minister. Yet his additional work as a counsellor for the diocese – and this over more than two decades – often struggled for recognition, despite its dynamic impact and a thoroughly contemporary, professional approach to ordained ministry.

When I think of Ian and his work, I am reminded of one of my (few) detective heroes, Peter Falk. He plays the TV character known as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. Lieutenant Columbo was a detective consistently underestimated by his suspects, who were initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech. Despite his unassuming appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he shrewdly solved his cases by marshalling and sifting all the piecemeal evidence.

Columbo’s work was distinguished by a formidable eye for detail and his dogged, dedicated approach. He appeared to be an unassuming man; he was very kind, and befriended everyone to get a better insight into what was really going on; he often pretended not to understand at all – in order to understand more and better; he shuffled around, rarely making eye contact, picking up evidence, stories and impressions, here and there, piecing together the broken bits of a much bigger picture; he used all his senses; he analysed; he tended to dress down; he finally made eye contact at a precise point of epiphany;  modest, he then shuffled off stage, and into the next episode.

Ian is a reminder of something currently lost to the church; indeed a church that has somehow become forgetful of itself, and so without a deep sense of constancy, has developed multiple addictions to change. But as Albert Einstein once opined, not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that is counted, counts. Counting ‘members’ or the hard, inner-core of congregational attendees does not tell the whole story; indeed, it does not even account for the half of it.

The mission of the church is a vocation to serve communities, not just convert individuals into members.  Partly for this reason, the church needs to become more cautious about recasting clerical and ministerial paradigms of leadership in apparently more successful secular moulds.  As one writer puts it:

What is happening to ministries that equip the saints for the work of service when we adopt the language and values of the corporate world and describe ministers as Chief Executive Officers, Heads of Staff, Executive Pastors, Directors of this and that? Why is it that ministers studies have become offices? (This) may be superficial evidences of the problem…[but it is what happens] when the values of the corporate world join with the values of the market place in the church…

The more the church is treated as an organisation, the more its mission becomes focussed on techniques designed to maximize output and productivity. We become obsessed with quantity instead of quality and where we have a care for quality, it is only to serve the larger goal of increasing quantity. The church moves to becoming a managed machine, with its managers judging their performance by growth-related metrics.

Invariably, the clergy and the congregations are made to collude with this – largely through the imposition of codes of compliance, in the name of ‘missional excellence’ or ‘healthy churches’. This can rob clergy and parishes of their distinctive local autonomy, and can also override the value of local knowledge. It turns partnerships and soft forms of association rooted in trust into hard forms of organisation and corporation. This can destroy the soul of the church, and the souls of the clergy who are seeking to serve their communities with compassion, and their congregations with zeal.

As two writers for The Economist note,

Professionals…value autonomy…[yet] there are many examples of professionals surrendering their autonomy in the face of managerial change agendas. It has happened in health care, as management systems have been imported from automobile manufacturing, to control the workflow of doctors. Now even priests are being sent on management training courses in business schools…

Ian had a wry, sharp sense of humour.  He knew it was all too easy to distil the mission of a church and your clergy into three handy tasks, and all beginning with ‘p’, to pick a letter at random: Prophetic, Pioneer and Passionate.  But he knew that such distillation sold the church well short of its roles and vision.  Ian’s Ian ministry embodied several quite different ‘p’s’: Pausing and Prayer; churches to be Pastoral, Present and Public; clergy to be Priestly and Prescient.

Ultimately, Ian knew that ministry is not really work, a profession, or labour; but to use an old fashioned word, it is, rather, an ‘occupation’.  A rather quaint word, granted; but an ‘occupation’ is something that consumes time, energy and lives, but is not paid or recognized as ‘work’ in the way that the secular world understands the term. Ministry is an uncommon ‘occupation’ – a sphere of activity where remuneration is not linked to the value of the endeavour (which in itself was hard to measure) – either for the priest or for the wider public.  This makes understandings of ministry more marginal, even though its symbolic and public functions remain public and at times highly visible.  The practice of being engaged in an occupation of this kind says something about the possibilities for different kinds of spaces in communities – social, pastoral, intellectual, spiritual, to name but a few.

So, what is ministry like today?  In some respects, it is rather like intentional parenting. That is to say, there are indeed plans and structures, and there is no getting away from the essential value of these for cultivating healthy individuals and relationships. A loving and cherishing home underlie this ecology.  But mature parenting is also about accepting that despite the intentionality of plans and structures, life, like ministry, is a constant stream of interruptions, disruptions and surprises – some of which are welcome, but not all of them.  Ministry, like parenting, is a relatively boundless occupation.

Theological education and formation – in both its highly formed and rather unformed states – prepares the minister for this world, and this type of occupation.  Which is why it is important that the structuring of training oscillates between the systematic and unsystematic, and the planned and the fluid: our wisdom is found in the spaces between these.

But Ian understood that our churches and theological landscape were often formed by wider cultural and political forces.  We often discussed this passage by Lesslie Newbigin:

Modern capitalism has created a world totally different from anything known before.  Previous ages have assumed that resources are limited and that economics – housekeeping – is about how to distribute them fairly. (Ian, I should add here, always felt that the institution the church was most like was the extended family – and so our leaders did not need MBA’s, but rather needed to learn how to be good parents…but I digress, and Newbiggin continues…). Since Adam Smith, we have learned to assume that exponential growth is the basic law of economics and that no limits can be set to it.  Growth is for the sake of growth and is not determined by any overarching social purpose.  And that, of course, is an exact account of the phenomenon which, when it occurs in the human body, is called cancer.

For Ian, this analogy was pertinent. Metastatic Cancer feeds off testosterone; and when it can’t find it, it makes its own. So the illness that claimed Ian was a perfect fit for Newbigin’s analogy.  Obsessed with growth, the church produces compensatory hormones and then continues to feeds off itself, until it is finally self-consumed.  This led us to talk about patterns of leadership being formed in various dioceses of the Church of England, and what they were like.  I must confess I don’t remember all the details of these conversations – though North Korea often cropped up: another cult of leadership that promises endless growth in return for unquestioning obedience.

So what are the clergy for?  Some theologies of ministry entertain romantic fantasies about distinctiveness; but it is in the tasks and life of ministry that clergy begin to find the correspondence between the Creator and the created.  The ‘set-apart-ness’ that guarantees both centrality and marginality in any community or parish is fundamental to the vocation.  Moreover, it is frequently in the marginality of life and death that the office and calling becomes apparent. One writer, Tom Lynch, a funeral director who constantly witnessed the ministry of clergy in death and bereavement, reflects upon this:

‘I remember the priest I called to bury one of our town’s homeless tramps – a man without family or friends or finances.  He, the grave- diggers, and I carried the casket to the grave.  The priest incensed the body, blessed it with holy water, and read from the liturgy for twenty minutes, then sang In Paradisum – that gorgeous Latin for “May the angels lead you into Paradise” – as we lowered the poor man’s body into the ground.  When I asked him why he’d gone to such trouble, he said these are the most important funerals – even if only God is watching – because it affirms the agreement between “all God’s children” that we will witness and remember and take care of each other’.

The same writer continues,

‘…in each case these holy people treated the bodies of the dead neither as a bother or embarrassment, nor an idol or icon, nor just a shell.  They treated the dead like one of our own, precious to the people who loved them, temples of the Holy Spirit, neighbours, family, fellow pilgrims.  They stand – these clergy, these local heroes, these saints and sinners, these men and women of God – in that difficult space between the living and the dead, between faith and fear, between humanity and Christianity and say out loud, “Behold, I show you a mystery.”

Clergy occupy that strange hinterland between the secular and sacred, the temporal and the eternal, acting as interpreters and mediators, embodying and signifying faith, hope and love.  They are both distant and immediate; remote, yet intimate.  And in occupying this most marginal and transitory ground, and sometimes helping to close the gaps between these worlds, they become humanly and spiritually necessary even as they live out their (party willed, partly imposed) social marginality.

It is nothing less than to follow the call of Jesus: to belong both to the wilderness, but also to the city.  To be a citizen of some place; but also of nowhere; of earth and of heaven.  To be of the people; but also for their sake, to be wholly, holy other.  I realize that this may be a deeply unfashionable note on which to end, but perhaps the most important thing about ministry is, after all, to be vested in the notion of occupation.

Our priests are to be occupied with God.  And then to be pre-occupied with all the people, places and parishes that are given by God into our care: to dwell amongst, care for and love those people and places as Christ would himself.

So I want to draw to a close with a small extract from one brief tribute of the many that have flooded in from colleagues of Ian.  Mark Bailey notes that an important part of Ian’s work, and indeed his legacy, was the setting up of a counselling service for use by clergy and their households within the Diocese of Winchester. So, Mark writes:

Ian was all too aware of the vulnerability and frailty of clergy and their need for psychological support at times of crisis. He cared very deeply about his fellow priests and knew from his own life’s experience how valuable, even vital, being able to share and off-load in a safe therapeutic setting could be. Ian had a big heart and a very good mind. He was dubbed by more than one as ‘the priest’s pastor’ and was much admired for this work by [all] who had the pleasure of working with him.

And so I return to that poem with which we started, and give thanks to God for Ian – his life, work and ministry:

Give us a preaching man…who doesn’t know how to fake,
A free man, on holiday in this parish,
a still man, good as an ikon with a heart full of treasure;
Someone to talk to when death comes here,
A fellow countryman of birth and death and the dynasty of our family,
Whose eye has missed nothing…

Today, it is God’s own eye that is fully on that man – Ian: one whom we have been blessed to know, and who in cherishing us, came to embody all that we affirm and recognise in good ministry.

So Ian, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.  Amen.


Thanks to ‘Thinking Anglicans’ for this theological tribute to an outstanding Anglican priest in the diocese of Winchester.

In a time of concentration on Church Growth in the Church of England, and consequent accent on professional ministry standards for the clergy; this reminder by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr. Martyn Percy, on what is required of its clergy in the current ‘Understanding of Ministry in the Church of today’ – a lecture delivered at his request by priest, Canon Ian Tomlinson, at his funeral – gives a message of what ministry is really all about – quality, not quantity.

“The more the church is treated as an organisation, the more its mission becomes focussed on techniques designed to maximize output and productivity. We become obsessed with quantity instead of quality and where we have a care for quality, it is only to serve the larger goal of increasing quantity. The church moves to becoming a managed machine, with its managers judging their performance by growth-related metrics.”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Burden of Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church


01 December 2016 | by Megan Cornwell

Catholic priests are feeling under pressure, and increasing numbers are suffering from depression and anxiety. But support for clergy with mental-health problems is patchy and piecemeal

In September a 65-year-old priest in Essex told his bishop he was unable to take on responsibility for another two parishes, after the elderly clergy looking after those communities had either retired or died. He felt overwhelmed. He was celebrating four Masses every weekend, providing support to local schools, hospitals and hospices, and there was no other priest in the diocese available to assist him.

The problem is not confined to England and Wales. In Ireland, the dwindling clergy numbers and the resulting malaise is so extreme that, according to the Association of Catholic Priests, suicide has claimed the lives of at least five priests in recent years.

Over the past few decades, Catholic priests have come under enormous psychological strain in Britain and Ireland. The fallout from the scandal of child sex abuse has certainly been a big factor, but the decline in church attendance, the collapse in vocations and the Church’s fading influence and prestige – the wearying effects of creeping secularisation common to all the Churches across Europe – have added to the sense of being embattled.
Parish priests are often arranging more funerals than baptisms or weddings; churches are closing; dioceses are being restructured; and bishops are spending more time on administration and less on pastoral care. Change management is difficult at the best of times and, sure enough, the cracks are starting to show.


I am indebted to the U.K.’s Roman Catholic newspaper the ‘TABLET’ for this sad indication of clergy burn-out amongst their parish clergy in the U.K.

In a national Church, mirroring that of the Institutional Church of England, the obvious decline in numbers and influence is making itself felt by the proliferation of the number of parish units being pastored by a single clergy-person – a situation not limited to the U.K., but perhaps more noticable in a Western democratic country that still claims to adhere  to basically Christian principles in its legal and social systems.

While the Church of England still struggles with matters of gender and sexuality; the local Roman Catholic Church struggles with a manpower problem (it does not ordain women) and if the situation continues for much longer, there may be a real crisis of management of the population and plant that survived from the past – never mind the prospect of building plant and congregations for the future.

The lack of sufficient priestly vocations in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.K. is replicated in most Western countries, where women’s emancipation has brought a new understanding of a woman’s true place of (near) equality in the community. Fortunately for the Church of England, women have now been given the first indication of their proper place amongst the clergy and bishops of the Church – a factor that has helped to counter the slowing down of male clergy vocations.

Fortunately for the Church of England (and also in Anglican Churches around the world), women have now been given recognition of their proper place amongst the clergy and bishops of the Church – a factor that has helped to counter the effect of a slowing down of male clergy vocations. This is now deemed, in most Anglican Churches, to be a proper reaction to the fact that “In Christ, there is neither male nor female” (cf. St.Paul). The priesthood of Christ, represented in the celebration of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, may no longer be considered to be a solely male provenance. But as Christ was ‘fully human’, he is fully representative of all humanity – not only the male of the species – and, therefore, can properly be represented by a woman in the celebration of the Mass.  

Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Roman Catholic Church seems not be suffering the same lack of parish clergy to service the needs of its congregations – due, mostly, to the ready recruitment of foreign clergy, many of them of Asian origin, where vocations seem to still be forthcoming. Here, as in the U.K., there is a shortage of local vocations to the R.C. clerical orders, but because of the ready access to overseas clergy, the gaps are being filled – but no without some difficulties with initial cultural, including language, barriers.

Another problem for Roman Catholics is the canonical requirement for clerical celibacy – a status that has not, so far, been able to be changed – even though a number of  married Anglican priests who moved into the Roman Catholic Church as a response to the ordination of women as priest in the Church of England, are now in positions of clerical responsibility in Roman Catholic parishes in the U.K. while still married.

At this time there seems to be no shortage of Anglican vocations, including among them a goodly proportion of women, who have equal access to clergy training and employment.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Anglican Initiatives for World Aids Day

Anglicans worldwide raise awareness on World Aids Day 2016

Posted on: December 1, 2016 3:41 PM

Hands Up for HIV Prevention – a painting created by St John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre as part of the UNAIDS global campaign.
Photo Credit: St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong

[Anglican Alliance] Anglicans across the Communion are marking World Aids Day on 1 December 2016 to raise awareness of HIV/Aids and help end the epidemic. Joining this year’s UNAIDS HIV prevention campaign, Anglicans have held events and church services, released videos and shared photos to bring attention to the need for further action to reach targets and eradicate HIV/Aids by 2030.

In a video message to the UN General Assembly in June this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke of the incredible progress that has been made – and the challenge that lies ahead in continuing to tackle HIV/Aids across the world.

Recognising progress in many countries, the Archbishop said: “The big challenge now is to eliminate HIV/Aids where it strikes most fiercely and most remorselessly – which is amongst the poor and those in places of great difficulty.”

Acknowledging the key role of faith responses, he said: “The Anglican Communion has been involved for decades in enabling communities to face the threat of Aids, to support the victims of Aids, families and others affected directly and indirectly. The clinical evidence is that it is through community-based initiatives, and the churches are among the best to do it, that it is tackled most efficiently and effectively.”

Reflecting on the stigmatising of people living with HIV, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “Faith based communities challenge that ostracism when they see in every single person someone made in the image of God, someone loved by God, and therefore someone who should be loved by each one of us.”

This is the time to make a great further step mobilising the political, financial, technical and clinical resources through communities around the world to challenge AIDS afresh . . . and to release communities from the fear that hangs over them.”

He praised all those working to end the epidemic and called for prayers that they may finally succeed.

World Aids Day has been observed annually since 1998 to remember those who have lost their lives to Aids, mark the progress made in responding to the epidemic, and recommit to efforts to meet the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals to end Aids by 2030.

Bishop Chad Gandiya from the diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe, recorded a video on a recent visit to the Anglican Alliance, in which he discusses the increasing rates of HIV/Aids in the region and the need for raised awareness to fight the spread of the disease.

St John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre in Hong Kong will be broadcasting a World Aids Day service on a local radio station, as well as hosting a youth night to raise awareness amongst young people.

An exhibition will also be held at the Cathedral Gardens to showcase the centre’s services and highlight the significance of World Aids Day. The centre, established in 1995, was the first faith-based initiative in Hong Kong to work on HIV prevention, with programmes for all parts of the community, particularly women, young people and ethnic minorities. It also fosters inter-faith collaboration on responding to HIV/Aids.

St John’s has also provided a liturgy that can be downloaded from the Anglican Alliance website and used in your church or community group.

The Revd Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, said: “The example St John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre in Hong Kong remains a beacon of inspiration to us all – the dynamic team there have remained committed to the issue of HIV/Aids and to the education and support of individuals for over 20 years.

“The Anglican Communion and other faith communities made a significant contribution in responding to HIV/Aids during the height of the crisis – but, as Archbishop Justin Welby and Bishop Chad Gandiya remind us, this focused work must be maintained to ensure that we do not lose the progress made and work together to see an end to the AIDS epidemic by 2030.”

Huge progress has been made since 2000 to increase access to antiretroviral drugs for those living with HIV and limit the number of new infections. But with 2.1 million new HIV infections recorded in 2015, more needs to be done to reach targets and end the epidemic by 2030.

A recent UNAIDS report found that young women aged 15-24 are at particular risk of contracting the disease, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, said: “Young women are facing a triple threat. They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more.”

  • Find out how you can get involved in World AIDS Day 2016 on the UNAIDS website.

  • Click here for the latest UN report: Fast-Track: the life-cycle approach to HIV.


HIV/AIDS, once described as ‘The Gay Disease’ has long since moved beyond the active homosexual scene – especially in the poorer countries of the world where it presence, diagnosis and treatment is often woefully misunderstood and, consequently, violently dealt with by governments that deny its growing threat to local populations. 

Basically, the out-dated attitudes towards issues of gender and sexuality are the root cause of ignorance and fear that the growth of AIDS/HIV in poorer countries has actually inhibited the proper treatment of its victims who, in the present situation, are more likely to be black, women and children. In a setting not unlike that of the ancient attitudes to lepers and the scourge of leprosy, certain countries, especially in continental Africa, are slow to recognise the benefit of efficient diagnosis and treatment of sufferers, whose families are often the subjects of deprivation and social stigma.

However, more recent understanding of the fact that HIV/AIDS is no longer a disease affecting homosexual men only, but has spread to heterosexual partners with the result that children are born with the disease; has become a growing factor in how the Third World especially is looking to stem the fear and ignorance associated with the disease and its sufferers. What is needed now is more international help with funding and medical expertise – such as that being advocated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop Chad Gandiya in the video links shown above.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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