11/11/2011

Lord Carey and the encouragement of clergy.

In the mid 90's I was one of eight persons interviewed for a position having to do with Anglican Communion affairs by then Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.  It was a fascinating experience and one I look back on with some delight. During the interview with Archbishop Carey he asked what I thought he ought to be about when he visited various churches in the Communion. I responded that I believed many Anglican clergy and congregations felt isolated and wondered sometimes if they were alone. So I recommended that when possible he give words of encouragement.  "People," I said (or something like this), "don't need to be told what to do or worse what not to do.  What they need is encouragement to be what they are trying to be - faithful people of God."  

The Archbishop to chose someone else which was at the time a disappointment, but it turned out to be just fine.  Still, I was interested to see in The Living Church online the following:

"Carey knows that the enormities of the Anglican Communion can wear on priests. His advice: ' Don’t spend all your time worrying about the wider issues. Don’t look at the huge picture. Look at the picture you have. You are the rector here. Spend your time on that and don’t go darting about trying to solve national issues. Teach the Scriptures and be proud of our church.'"

Lord Carey got that mostly right. "Look at the picture you have. Teach the Scriptures and be proud of our church."  Those are words of encouragement.  As for the rest, "Don't spend all your time worrying about the wider issues. Don't look at the huge picture. Don't go darting about trying to solve national issues," I think he fell into telling folk what not to do. 

I wonder if, "don't go darting about trying to solve national issues..." is advice that grows from a particular understanding of polity in the church? (I know, I'm on a rant about all that these days.)  One might suppose that the Archbishop believes the work involving "the huge picture" is for others elsewhere on the "subsidiarity" chain.  It seems a scolding: as in, "it's not your job to deal with, question or even pay attention to big picture concerns." 

In American polity - both ecclesiastical and civil - it is precisely those with their hearts and minds into the tending of local gardens, teaching and all that, who individually and collectively are expected to contribute to the solution of the huge issues, for the good of the nation and the whole church. Granted we often make a mess of things because the strangest sorts of people end up having a voice on a national level, but we do believe that there is a place for the voice for the rector or curate, the lay woman or man, in the highest reaches of decision making in the church. 

Perhaps we might more charitably think on his precise words, "don't spend ALL your time..."  In that he is right. But that cautionary truth is not only for the lowly curate and the faithful lay person, it is also true for the heads of Churches as well.  Which is why it is of some value to ask those in high places to remember their calling is always local.


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