Befriending the elephant
Acts 2:43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. KJV
Many are the elephants in church meeting rooms.
The big beasties, staring us in the face, that won’t go away. That, if they chose, could mess everything up. Some of them have been around much longer than I have. If you choose to notice them, you can, perhaps, befriend them. If not, they remain a threat.
There’s one such mammoth, in whose desperate obscuring I have long been wilfully complicit as a grassroots pastor.
But the other day, it popped out and stood in my way. Not yet trumpeting or charging, but it looked me in the eye, and there was no way round it.
The Eco-Chaplain experience of encountering the habits of churches is nerve-racking and disquieting.
When the otherwise good, wholesome and faithful life of churches makes no provision to acknowledge the environmental crisis, or perhaps sidelines it under another heading, it now feels like singing a hymn to the Trinity, with only two verses. Like Advent or Lent with a week missing.
These are Good Things, though lacking, and therefore less equipped for challenge, or for “trial”.
I find encouragement in the Lord’s Prayer as used within the Iona Community. The line ‘save us in the time of trial’ chooses the realistic option: acknowledging the bad things that do happen. It’s in the awareness of these trials, and , being honest, the associated discomfort, that we cry out for help. And become more ready to receive it.
There are many schemes and programmes, generating resources, which you can take or leave. Ideas which provide positive encouragement for community development. If you’re doing them, don’t stop now.
The ‘Five Marks of Mission’ originating in the Anglican Communion, and adopted or acknowledged by many others, leaves it to (the near afterthought) of number five to include ‘care for creation’, but at least it’s there and clear.
With Holy Habits, (book 2016) which has the backing of my own Church, it’s nowhere, initially, to be seen’. The programme is based on the Holy Habits of the Early Church, as seen in Acts 2: biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, giving, service, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship and the making of more disciples.
I’m not simply going to suggest just tagging on ‘Care for Creation’, and thereby risk it being ‘just another module’.
Every single one of those Holy Habits’ is being actively transformed by our context, not least ‘the making of more disciples’, for a church which is realistic about climate challenge, is an attractive spiritual home.
The ‘gap’ in that list, is actually the omission of something present in Acts 2, which I have struggled to own up to as a part of my faith, namely ‘fear’, which can, of course be toned down and tamed as ‘awe’.
Throughout my ministry, I have worked to promote ‘awe’ and wonder at the works of God, certainly convinced that this is a ‘Holy Habit’, transforming and nourishing of life and faith. But awe and wonder is allowed for in Acts 2:43. Fear is also still there.
So today, I find courage - or foolishness - recognising, in the same helpful way that “it’s all right not to be all right” that appropriate fear, not of God, but of our planet’s prospects, is indeed a ‘Holy Habit’.
Holy, because we can be honest about it before God, and in Christian Community.Like that other activist's Holy Habit of anger, (cf Ephesians 4:26) it's there to move things on, not to be permanent. It has its place. It can be befriended, transformed, lived with. But not denied.
Prayer is the opposite of denial.
In our alertness to the state of the planet, God help us acknowledge, and work through, the Holy Habit of Fear.