Letters from a Minister in her 1st appointment to her Aunt Hetty

This correspondence, written in July this year (2005), has just come to light:

Dear Anna,

I am so sorry that I haven’t been in touch with you for such a long time.  I am writing now because I am conscious that you are completing your first five years as a Methodist Minister.  Have you enjoyed the experience?

Love From Aunt Hetty

 

Dear Aunt Hetty,

How lovely to hear from you!  And what an interesting question!  I am not sure that ‘enjoyed’ is the right word.  The five years have certainly been challenging and fulfilling; often frustrating and difficult.  Of course, I knew something of the joys and sorrows of Methodist ministry from growing up in the manse, but, nowadays, there seem to be even more pressures and tensions.  I’ll tell you more if you are interested!

Love Anna     

 

Dear Anna,

Of course I am interested!   What exactly are the increased pressures of 21st century ministry?

Looking forward to your reply, Aunt Hetty

 

Dear Aunt Hetty,

I don’t want you to feel as though you have opened a can of worms!  But, if you really are interested, I’ll try and gather my thoughts and put them into some sort of sensible order.

Being a minister was never an easy job.  I knew from my father’s experience that so many expectations were placed upon one person – expectations of time, of availability, of modelling Christian discipleship, of leadership, of being good at a whole range of practical and spiritual tasks.  These continue.  There are some interesting tensions: people want you to be their special friend but yet they don’t want you to show favouritism.  People want you to be there for them whenever they need you but they also want you to exercise sensible time management and have time for yourself.  People want you to be strong but they want to know that you are human and that you can be vulnerable.  People recognise that you (like everyone else!) have your own particular gifts, your own strengths and weaknesses, yet they want you to be an excellent pastor, preacher, administrator, leader and manager (of both people and buildings) all at once! 

On top of these pressures, there are several things about the current cultural, ecclesiastical and ecumenical situation that can lead the average minister to sometimes feel that it is all too much.  In no particular order:

  1. The administrative burden is greatly increased.  Although modern technology can help, it can also be responsible for generating much of the constant requests for statistics, information, opinions that come from both secular and church sources.  Publicity comes from an ever increasing number of other organisations including other Methodist as well as other denominational churches.  Usually arriving on the minister’s doormat are posters, notices, leaflets – all to be sorted as to their relevance and importance and then distributed or actioned.  When the post is always bringing matters that demand some action, it is very difficult with a busy diary (and no secretary) to keep on top of it.

2.   This is related to the last – the whole area of Child Protection (so essential and important) – creates
an enormous burden of administrative work for the minister.  Working out who needs to do what,
getting the right people to sign the right forms, checking and verifying police disclosure forms and
constructing and implementing a child protection policy can be very time consuming.  Add to this,
raising awareness in the church, educating people on guidelines and dealing with any problems or
issues that arise and you have a major area of consumption of time and energy.

  1. There is a major people crisis in many of our churches.  The older age profile and the reluctance of
    ‘younger’ people (under 70!) to take on jobs and commitments (because they are working, because
    they have done too much for the church before, because they have family commitments, because
    they just want to enjoy their leisure time) can give the minister a huge headache.  It means precious
    time is used in trying to find people for jobs, picking up the pieces when someone leaves suddenly or
    everything becomes too much, filling in when there is no-one else available.  One example of this for
    me has been the fact that I have had to be a youth leader for 5 years because, once the previous
    leaders left, there was no-one else to do the job.  Several young people are still in the church and
    have grown and developed as Christians – very fulfilling and rewarding – but a lot of my time and
    energy has been used up in the process. 
  1. The ecumenical dimension to church life is another area that has always been important but where
    activity and energy has expanded greatly in recent times.  Working with other Christians has, of
    course, always been a biblical imperative but, it is becoming more and more necessary in a cultural situation where we need each other in so many ways.  Where church leaders get on well, where there is good collaboration and joint activity, where there is a combined sense of mission to the local community, we have much to be thankful for – but the investment of considerable time, energy, commitment, giving of self, are all required.
  1. It has become an obvious point that the church of today is faced by the major challenge of how to
    relate to our rapidly changing culture.  We can continue to do what has worked in the past but which
    works no longer and just try harder at it, or, we can seek to find ways of being culturally relevant
    whilst holding fast to unchanging convictions about Jesus and the Gospel.  Both of these options are
    hard work!  Obviously, I believe in the second option, but this means having the time to read, to
    attend conferences, to think and to reflect.  To start implementing change in a congregation means
    awareness raising, seeking the way forward, developing new ways of being the church and new ways
    of serving the local community and of witnessing to it. 
     
  2. Following on from the last point is the need to be culturally aware and relevant in one’s teaching and
    preaching.  A Minister needs to be soaked in the same cultural milieu as the people she serves in
    order to understand how people are living, in order to use examples relevant to ordinary life, in order
    to find the right framework for communication.  But this means having time to watch television,
    listen to the radio, read newspapers, view films, meet ordinary people in ordinary situations.
  1. A further point related to the fact that our culture has changed so quickly and with such impact over
    the last 50 years is that the congregation now consists of so many different cultural groups.  Of      
    ourse, there have always been different age groups, but now people born at different times and have       been brought up with completely different cultural outlooks and, within the more recent generations,       there are several different cultural groupings.  Society is not monochrome anymore if it ever was!        This means that trying to please all the people all the time is impossible and there are serious       questions about whether one worship service can enable people of all ages and cultural groups to       worship together.  Older people who have been in the church a long time need understanding,       patience and pastoring.  Existing church members who want to the church to move forward in       different ways need hearing and permission to explore.  People on the fringe need engaging with,       befriending and the gospel presented in ways that don’t put them off.  Those completely outside the
    church need… well!  It is us that need to discern the ways God wants us to reach them.   
  1. Exploring and experimenting with different styles of worship and the use of modern technologies has
    become a given for any church leader wanting to take their church forward in the 21st century.  This   
    means giving time to exploring different styles of prayer and worship: learning about Taize, Iona,       labyrinths, 24/7 prayer, alternative worship, etc etc.  It also means learning how to use powerpoint, a
    video projector, and the integration of slides, videos and dvds into worship. 
  1. Contemporary society produces an overabundance of choices, activities, issues and concerns.  The
    media and the internet ensure that nothing that happens around the world is missed.  So the      
    concerned Christian finds her or himself being encouraged to take action on world poverty, the arms       trade, war situations, the drug problem, the environment, disability, personal lifestyle, domestic and       child abuse, I could go on for a long time!  The concerned minister has to decide and implement their
    own personal action on all these things as well as to help guide church members in these areas as
    well as to consider collective action by the church as a whole.
  1. Reading through the above 9 points has left me feeling exhausted!  And where is God in all this? 
    Perhaps this is the most important point of all.  Dealing with the pastoral, administrative, worship life
    of the church, complicated by all the above matters, leaves very little room for personal prayer,       modelling a contemporary spirituality or for seeking God’s heart and purpose for oneself or for the       churches one serves.  Perhaps if I had been able to prioritise my own spiritual life and growth, the       rest would have fallen into place but I was so quickly swamped as a probationer with the demands of
    probation as well as everything else that I very soon lost spiritual discipline. 

I haven’t even mentioned my family!  That says something in itself.  Am running out of paper so will bring this to an end.

Lots of love, Anna

 

Dear Anna,

Thank you so much for your long letter about the contemporary situation for the Methodist Minister.  I shall have to give it considerable time and thought!  Will be in touch again once I have.

Love From, Aunt Hetty