From the Sanctuary
“How much should I put up with bullying and criticism before I walk away?” This was a question that I was recently exploring with a pastoral supervisee in the context of a pastoral supervision session. My supervisee was a priest of considerable experience, integrity and ability, but who was feeling emotionally and spiritually worn down by some toxic folks in his congregation, for whom he couldn’t do anything right. As I facilitated the supervision session, I was struck by how being a Christian sometimes keeps us in unhealthy situations through an unhealthy sense of vocation and Christian ‘rightness’.
I have been blessed that, in my ministry, such folks have been relatively few and far between. However, when they have existed, they have tended to tarnish and demoralise the life of the Minister, and often the life of the congregation. It is like having a group of twenty students defined by the one difficult student who takes up all of the emotional energy and reflection time. Yet, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that it is only one person who is challenging, and not all twenty students – which is a difficult perspective to maintain when one is ‘in’ the situation.
Whilst it is sometimes beneficial for the greater good to ‘tough out’ a situation, self-respect and the valuing-of-one’s-self must also be a consideration. When should vocation and a ‘sense of the greater good’ override self-respect, and when should self-respect override the ‘wrongness’ and degradation of bullying and toxicity? These are difficult questions to discern, and the same is true of any relationship. When is it ‘right’ to endure an unhealthy marriage, and when is it better to let it go?
In my experience, Christians have a tendency to think that walking away from anyone, or letting anyone walk away from them, is a failure. Yet, in Matthew 10: 14, Jesus encourages us to wipe the dust from our feet of those who ‘do not receive you, or hear your words’. Jesus, himself, walked away from toxic people, and let them walk away from Him. For, we cannot fix every broken person that we encounter, and sometimes walking away is the only way to defend the good work that God is calling us to do. Indeed, in Gary Thomas’ book, ‘When to walk away: Finding freedom from toxic people’, Thomas lists 41 times when Jesus walked away, and let others walk away from Him.
So, may we discern when to stay and when to leave; and may we treat ourselves with the same compassion that we would like to give to everyone, but realistically can’t. For although our faith requires us to transcend the limitations of our humanity, wisdom is in knowing when it is no longer God’s Will for us to continue to be poisoned by another’s toxicity.
With God’s blessing,
The highlight of the month, of course, is the coronation of our new King Charles III and Queen Camilla, and going back in my own dim and distant past, I vaguely remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Anyone younger than me will only have seen old black and white footage of the day, so 6th May will surely be a day to remember.
Everlasting God, we pray for our new King. Bless his reign and the life of our nation. Help us to work together so that truth and justice, harmony and fairness flourish among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Closer to home, we have our Whit Sunday service on 28th of this month. This will again take the form again of an act of worship at Old Chapel Church and will be led by our own church. The banners of each church will be displayed as last year and we hope that as many of us as possible will attend the service at 10.30 a.m. There will be refreshments served afterwards and please note that there will be no service at our church that day.
1st May: Philip, the apostle with common sense
Is there someone in church whom you respect for their spirituality and common sense combined? Someone you feel easy about approaching to ask questions? That person’s patron saint should be Philip.
Philip came from Bethsaida and was a disciple of Jesus from early on. He knew how to lead others to Jesus; he brought Nathanael (or Bartholomew) to Him in a calm, kindly way. He knew how to do some financial forecasting: at the feeding of the 5,000 it was he who pointed out that without divine help, even 200 pennyworth of bread wasn’t going to feed that crowd. He was the one whom the Greeks approached when they wanted to ask Jesus to show them the Father, but didn’t quite have the nerve to approach Jesus directly. People had confidence in Philip’s spirituality, common sense and kindliness. Such a person is a gift to any church! In art, the Apostle Philip has been represented either with a cross, or with loaves of bread.
Do good, be blessed
When we do good, even when others are doing wrong – God will bless us. That does not mean God will always bless us in material ways, although at times this is the case. But God will always bless you spiritually for your faithfulness.
If you have committed your life to God, let your life reflect His love for those around you. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). By your daily actions and your daily words to friends, colleagues and family, you can be a witness to those you meet every day, and God will honour your witness for Him.
Have you ever been just sitting there, and all of a sudden, you feel like doing something really nice for someone else? That could well be God, prompting you through the Holy Spirit.
Thought of the Month
It is not our responsibility ‘to make people Christians’ and get them baptised into a particular denomination, but rather to help people decide to follow Jesus and His radical message. Maybe this is why the New Testament writers only use ‘Christian’ three times, but use ‘disciple’ on 269 occasions! – Tom Getman, World Vision International