Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007

Continuing my meanderings through C of E history and expanding my rather odd but increasingly extensive library of ecclesiastical biography, autobiography and memoir, I am in the middle of Launcelot Fleming: A Portrait (Canterbury, 2003) by Giles Hunt. Fleming was at various times Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Bishop of Portsmouth and then Norwich before becoming Dean of St. George’s, Windsor (An interesting place) I remember hearing him speak and preach when I was a schoolboy. Like the author, Giles Hunt (who had been one of his chaplains) I do not remember his sermons as much as the man. I do however remember his talks about arctic exploration. He was also a geologist who went on some of the last exploratory expeditions of his age and even had a glacier named for him and his talking about those expeditions I do remember.

He makes a comment in his standard sermon to ordinands on their pre-ordination retreat that sheds some light on why some sense of mission is curiously absent in many of these accounts of the institution of the Church of England. He tells these (mostly young) men that they are not to be about “keeping the machinery of the C of E going”. Instead, he says: “You are to be builders of the Kingdom, by proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and so leading people to worship God as Christ reveals him, and so win people from waywardness and timidity and worldliness to fullness of life s Children of God and inheritors of heaven.” (p.131f.) He sees the priestly, pastoral and teaching roles of the clergy first in terms of leading people in worship and then pastoral work which he opines “Probably this is what first led you to think of ordination.” Last he talks of preaching and teaching urging these men “Never allow yourself to whittle God down in your teaching for the sake of simplicity.”

That is how mission is understood in a fundamentally Christian nation. Whether or not we are moving into something called post-Christendom, we are certainly moving out of Christendom, and we no longer have the luxury of understanding leadership in the Church solely in terms of leading worship, doing pastoral work, preaching and teaching. What else is there we may ask? I think it has to do with learning something about how distinctive communities are built and nurtured in the Holy Spirit. This is quite different than assuming that the ‘wider community’ is basically Christian and we are simply about some distinctive aspects of that community.

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