Vicar's Blog ~ February 2020
Perhaps you saw the harrowing and shaming couple of programmes about Bishop Peter Ball and his high crimes and misdemeanours on television recently. They were not happy watching by any means, and it may only be small comfort to know that nowadays any appointment of any clergyman or woman is also accompanied by rigorous safeguarding checks and compliances. It is now part of all our callings, to whatever form of ministry we may be involved in, from coffee-makers to washers-up, to be vigilant, compliant and serious minded about Safeguarding. Whatever we may privately think about the merits of it all, the debate is over, the die is cast, and whether we know it or not, it is invariably the case that we know someone who has been on either side of the problem, or even both. Offences against young or vulnerable people are crimes, to be looked out for, detected, reported and punished. Risk must be identified and prevented as well as possible. Safeguarding is for everyone, and we all have a role to play, even if that is simply alerting someone else to anything that concerns us. But the story of the safeguarding scandals in the Church and elsewhere over the past few decades alert us to the fact that there cannot be a blind eye, a deaf ear or the thought that it is someone’s else problem, or that someone else will do something. If ever you have any concern, you must speak to me or David Bird. End of.
Admittedly, this all seems a long way from Galilee in 30 AD, when Jesus was gathering his ministry team (aka disciples). There was no process, paperwork or portfolio then, just the simple, ‘follow me’. It was an open-ended, unlimited, unrestricted, undefined, unprotected, unsafeguarded, unsafe even, invitation. By unsafe, I mean dangerous, and indeed it was. Most of them ended up dead within a few years. It’s another world from that of modern day recruitment, vocational discernment and training.
In the Church, that process is sometimes summed up with four C’s. That is to say that Calling can be considered in the context of three other Cs: A calling to a particular job can be all about competence, chemistry and character. Although it is quite possible that those first disciples whom Jesus called on the lake, had none of these things!
Competence is of course, about someone’s ability to actually do the job. Chemistry is all about how people get on with one another and character about how people can weather the storms of life, how resilient they are, how they handle stress, work-life balance and so forth. One of the teaching aids that some companies use for learning about conflict management involves creating a profile of someone that indicates how collaborative, forceful or controlling they are in two kinds of context, storm or calm. Some people for example, behave very differently when under stress, and it’s good to see that coming. And when we think about the character of the disciples, it is not obvious that they would have got through a selection process that examined character too closely. Add Chemistry and Competence back into the mix to determine their calling, and these chaps do not look like ideal candidates. Yet Jesus does call them, and not simply because they happened to be idling around when he passed by. Far from it – they were busy, working, literally, minding their business. Jesus knew what he was doing, even if his methodology does not conform to modern recruitment practice. He called people whose competence, chemistry and character were perhaps a little doubtful. Which is what made them ideal candidates.
For they grew into their roles, walked and talked with Jesus, followed him everywhere, even ultimately to his and their own deaths. Peter denied Jesus, but this does not mean he was a bad appointment back then. His mistakes, just like, more so even, than his successes, formed him. For being a disciple is not just about what you know, it’s about your experience. And of course, in the case of Christian discipleship it’s not just about what you know but who you know. They got to know Jesus very well indeed. And this is where we, two thousand years later can be like them, whatever our calling looks like, whatever we know or think. For the key thing is whether we know the Lord Jesus. Knowing Jesus and following him is the mark of true discipleship.
There isn’t a job description, role profile or anything to tell us what we are signing up for, where we are going and how easy or difficult the road will be. There is no wage packet, no contract, no working hours nor time off. And the call is one that is all encompassing, as we called to share our faith with others, to commit our time, our talents and our money to the great cause that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal resurrection life. I think we sometimes forget that – for while sharing our resources with the wider church – the family of God – is not buying salvation as such, it is a key dimension of the common life which we share, and which is characterised by the hope of resurrection in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this resurrection hope which characterises our faith. It is this hope which is the catalyst in the chemistry set of faith. And it is the mercy of God which makes all our faulting efforts to achieve anything, competent enough for salvation. So let these be the marks of our calling: Competence in that in Christ everything is possible. Character, that in Christ we are a new creation, redeemed in our very being. And Chemistry, that one day we shall all be blended as one with Christ in the sweet fragrance of the resurrection.