To Loiter with Intent

I cannot remember who it was that gave me this piece of advice as I started off in my journey of priestly ministry, but I have a suspicion that it was the bishop who ordained me to the priesthood.

No matter who it was, it has been advice that has stuck with me, and as such, has presented many unique opportunities to reach beyond the walls of the parish church.  A friend recently asked me why I write this blog.  I had to think about this, as I believe, my initial intentions for the blog have changed and developed overtime – an excellent time to reflect.

Many in the english speaking world will be familiar with George Herbert, a Church of England priest famous for just about everything under the sun, from poetry, The Country Parson, the look, feel and presence of an Anglican clergyman.  George is a favourite image of what a great many people hold as the stereotypical Church of England vicar.  I’ve had a rough go with the image that George portrays, and that stereotype, but I do admire his writing abilities.  Perhaps, the gentle idyllic reflections were what I initially hoped to capture for the blogging audience.

The world, and the purpose of my blog, are ever changing things, so much so that I do find it difficult to set time aside for any creative input.  Schedules, demands of an active parish, the loneliness of being geographically distant from neighbouring Anglican clergy, and even, the busy family demands, are completely foreign to the life of George Herbert, who in a sense, rented out the parish to other clergy so that he had the time to write and bumble along.

In 2009 I picked up a copy of a book with the exciting title: If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him, by Justin Lewis-Anthony.  The book proved to be a worthwhile read in that it helped to disprove the myth of the man, George Herbert, and of the myth of the  clergy role which many still hold on to and envision as the gold standard for all other forms of ministry.  If you want a taste of what the book is like, the Guardian article written by Lewis-Anthony summarizes it all very nicely. 9780826424204

As much as I have a dislike for the attitude set by many inside and outside the church with this fascination with George Herbert, I must say that some of what I feel to be my most creative ministry experiences are when I just bumble along as I imagine good old George having done.

Which brings me back to loitering with intent.  Occasionally…well, frequently…I found myself preparing sermons in different neighbourhood pubs.  Maybe the pint of beer helped with the creativity of the sermon writing process.  I’d almost always sit at the bar because it was uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable in that you really didn’t want to stay too long like you would if you had that nice seat at a table that was tucked away close to the wood fire on a cold winter day.  Uncomfortable also because it is usually the lonely people, or the ones with issues and great needs that sat at the bar.  So loiter with intent meant that in my clergy shirt, with a notepad and an open bible I would sit with one hand on the pint glass, and the other clutching a pen as I made my initial notes on the upcoming Sunday’s bible readings.

The man in black clericals at the end of the bar was to many people like a shiny fishing lure to the trout.  “I just gotta ask…”, or “My friends and I were curious…”, were the typical ‘pick-up lines’ of what would turn out to be some curious, and lonely people.

The best people, as I may have mentioned before in another post, were the bartenders themselves.  While there isn’t (to my knowledge) a book that is the bartenders equivalent to the clergy’s George Herbert; it is the standard belief that as people fill themselves with alcohol, they will eventually pour themselves out to the bartender.  So loitering with intent meant to avoid the easy joking conversation of a small clutch of tourists, or hardcore drinkers, that were at one end of the bar, and sit alone and wait for the bartender to unload the problems of the world in the sacred moment with the highly polished wood bar top, and brass taps separating us like the dutifully polished screen of the confessional in a Roman Catholic church.

In many ways, bumbling does not reproduce fantastic results in a culture – a church culture – that wishes to see the pews fill-up with new members.  However, the ministry always felt creative, vital and in some ways, maybe a little bit like a golden piece of poetry in amongst the commonness of ordinary life.

Looking back over time at what has been creative ministry, and in the case of this blog, some creative writing, it is on one-hand, an outlet, and on the other hand, a way that I, and others, may reflect on what I do, and how God is present – be it in Canada, or in Germany; be it in a church, or at the end of the bar.  While I highly doubt that my writing, either the content or the style, will ever be compared to George Herbert’s poetic prose, at least like the Country Parson I’ve got the name that fits the role.

 

via Daily Prompt: Bumble

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Framing the Picture

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View from within the Rathaus, Freiburg.

Typically this view shows tourists, people enjoying a coffee, and wedding parties.  The Rathaus is the place to see couples marry as they sign the necessary paperwork at the City Hall and then have small gatherings in the square to celebrate.  On a busy day you can see dozens of couples coming and going for their appointed meeting times.

While not the greatest of photographs with a phone camera I wanted to frame the shot that is the image of many couples when they leave the building.  The ironwork gate, the patterned cobblestones, and the birds both of iron and feather fill the scene.

Framing the scene is often a photographic technique to focus the eye and can create some interesting images.  When I sit down to do a puzzle it is often easiest for me to search through the box for the flat-edged pieces so that I may build the frame that will contain the picture, or the finished puzzle. What are those flat edged pieces in our own lives, in our marriages, and in our Church?  I think that in discovering the boundaries of our relationships we often set a ‘frame of reference’ that helps us to make sense, gather meaning and become purposeful.

It has been ten months time since moving to Germany with my family to begin ministry with an Anglican Church.  These ten months have been a time spent in setting the frame.  Getting to know people.  Searching out the flat bits from the puzzle box.  The community of the church represents a picture and there are many personalities that piece together.  Occasionally I find that one piece can link to several others if I’m not too careful and in doing so the puzzle doesn’t get done, or the picture is distorted.  The hard work of building the picture is set to begin.  Some of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto and British Columbia, Canada have an interest in a particular type of puzzle that seems challenging.  The puzzle is called a ‘Wasgij’, or Jigsaw written backwards.  The image on the box top is not the image that you need to piece together.  Rather, it is an image that when you look at it, you must imagine what it is the people in the picture are looking at, and it is that ‘imagined’ picture that is what one sets on building.  To use this example in the life of the Church now that some time has been spent on referencing the framework is both challenging and exciting.  We listen and pray about what God’s purpose is, but we have no solid blueprint, or box top design to follow.  In this way, each community and its parts have an aim, or a goal which we are trying to piece together.  What is the image of our church community that we are helping to bring about?

Alas, the picture will have many people, activities, events and occasions that I will perhaps get a glimpse of as I work away on things.  However, puzzles are best left done together as a family event.  The picture grows in an organic way as community members add to a section, or focus on a particular area.

The final product (that of building and of enjoying the picture) is also something less like a photograph, or puzzle picture and more akin to a painting.  A work of Art.