Guest post by Revd Tom Brazier
Some things you cannot get by trying to get them; they are a by-product of something else. Love is a good example: you receive love as a by-product of loving others, not by seeking love. You cannot get love, you can only give it.
Some things you only get as a by-product of something else.
Jesus says something along these lines in this Sunday’s gospel reading, “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). This line comes immediately after one of those sayings of Jesus that we’d all, perhaps, rather forget. He’s just been saying “do not worry” and he points to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field: if God, the loving father, looks after these, how much more will he look after us, says Jesus. Do not worry, says Jesus, about what you will eat or drink or wear.
Well, I’m sorry Jesus, but if I don’t worry about those things, who will? Surely my first priority is to defend myself and my family against hunger and cold? And, also, by the way, I know just how short a life-span the lilies of the field have and I’ve buried plenty of birds of the air that the cat got. There seems to be plenty to worry about.
The strange thing is that the most saintly people I encounter do seem to just trust God. And they get along okay. And some of them tell wild stories of how God really has provided miraculously. I mean really wild stories, like large amounts of money being mysteriously dropped through the front door at just the moment when it was most needed. And then, also, some far less strange stories of provision, like God providing the right job at the right time.
And these saintly people often say that it’s about getting our priorities in the right order. Number one priority: God’s Kingdom. Worry first about that. Strive first for that. Then, oddly, all the other needs we worry about still seem to be met, one way or another.
One thing I worry about at the moment is diocesan funding. We, the diocese (i.e. you and me, all of us, we’re the diocese), don’t have enough money to continue paying all the priests we presently employ. In my deanery of 9 churches, we’ve been told we’ll need to have only 5½ paid posts by 2020.
Present me with numbers like this and I go straight into problem-solving mode. I start by thinking we need to get the word out to all the key financial decision makers in the diocese. That’s you and me, there’s about 16000 of us who are members of churches in Durham Diocese. We are the ones who set the diocesan budget because, ultimately, the vast bulk of diocesan income comes out of our pockets and the amount we each contribute is entirely up to us, individually, to decide. We’re the key decision makers. And I start calculating how much each of us needs to increase our contributions to allow us to keep our current head-count levels. (It’s less that a pound a week per person, by the way.)
But do you see what I’m doing? I am prioritising the numbers. But what if God doesn’t want us to have that many paid church leaders? Or, conversely, what if God wants us to have more of them? And, now we mention it, what if God doesn’t want them all to be priests? What if he wants us to pay lay people to fill full-time posts in some cases? And what, anyway, are all these people for? What is God’s mission for the church in this diocese at this time? In short, what does God’s kingdom look like at this time?
When my PCC was thinking about our parish share last year, we pondered what God might be trying to tell us. It could be, we thought, that God wants us all to contribute more money and that the ministry of the diocese would flourish in this way. On the other hand, we realised, maybe God was saying that some things need to die before there can be new life (that’s what resurrection is all about, isn’t it?) What if God doesn’t mind if we can’t afford as many full-time posts, but is promising that it will all come out okay in the end? In some ways, it takes more faith to trust God and let things die than to fish more money out from our pockets and trust God to ensure we will still have enough. Either way, though, we have to risk it.
I suppose, for all of us as a diocese, this comes down to three things: First, do we think “seeking God’s kingdom” means we need to keep paid clergy numbers the same? Or is it something else? Second, do we believe in the promise of Jesus that we only need to seek God’s kingdom? And, third, if we think the answer is yes to the last question, are we ready to risk it?
Here’s a prayer we can pray as we think about these things:
Loving heavenly Father, your son Jesus asked us to seek first your kingdom and everything else would follow. Please give us the faith to believe and trust in him. Please help us to know what seeking your kingdom in Durham Diocese looks like in 2017. And please help us to take a step of faith towards this. Amen.
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