Saturday, 1 September 2012

the shark that bit: a dubious metaphor for change

So, there you are, minding your own business, going about your everyday life.  Seeing something that catches your interest, you wander on over to have a closer look.  Suddenly your world is turned upside down and you find yourself being dragged unwillingly to somewhere unknown: everything you've known has changed.  Life in the way you've understood it has been utterly transformed.  Finding yourself in a strange, hostile environment, being pulled and poked at and prodded, wondering where you are and how you ended up here, you're quite naturally disconcerted, very probably frightened, and really rather a tad upset about your situation.
Naturally, you lash out.

No, this is not a reaction to a change of hymn book, or the ripping out of pews, or of congregations being blended to form a united charge.... Although it could be.  It's the story of one poor shark - who I have decided to name 'Bruce' - up in the Hebrides doing what sharks do: swimming about, sizing up the occasional seal for lunch, just getting on with his life aquatic.  Out of nowhere, a fisherman decides he's going to catch and tag this shark.  Which is all very well, but I am left somewhat bemused by the fact that the fisherman is taken by surprise at the shark's reaction.

Pondering this, I wonder about the story as a metaphor for change in the church....
In light of the way in which society has so rapidly changed over the last several decades, and given the way in which the institutional church has progressively moved from a more prominent place to the margins, the training of those called to be ministers has had to change.  We are exposed to new ways of being and doing church as well as considering the traditional patterns of ministry.  Filled with lots of new ideas, combined with the hope of somehow making a difference, [although, sometimes the way we make a difference is not in the way we actually anticipate - scary thought] we finish our training and then head off to unsuspecting parishes.

Some of these parishes are very up to the minute, au fait with this or that latest thing, looking outwards, are aware and of a mind that things might need to change.  But mostly, I suspect, parishes are just getting on with their way of doing things in the way they always have done, in the way most groups of humans, whoever and wherever they are, have done: people living their lives and used to a routine.  We shiny bright new ministers then come in and, a little like the fisherman in the above story, bring with us the capacity to upturn everything.

Moral of the story for me?
It is a useful and salutary thought to remind oneself that ministers are not indispensable and that ministers come and ministers go; the stability or sense of permanence is the congregation who have had a history prior to your arrival and will have a future that will not have you in it at some point.
Concerning change: sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can see that changes are needed, but sometimes we can get caught up with change that underneath may be just for change-sake - or because we ourselves are just slightly bored.  How then do we step back and discern that which is appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to change?  And how do we prepare and not be too surprised by the inevitable reactions that come with change?
I am writing a rather big note to self on parish life and change:
learn the story/stories of the community that you care for;
go gently;
be patient;
don't be dismissive of groups of people;
be mindful of fear and loss - and that this is both writ in the large and in the small;
find the equivalent of steel-capped boots and don't be too surprised when you occasionally get bitten... :)  

1 comment:

Mrs Gerbil said...

And remember, though a new broom sweeps clean, it might just be sweeping everything out of the way, rather than thinking why and how something happens.

This also reminds me of high heid yins in my former place of work. They'd come and change things without knowing why they were done in a certain way (I mean, it was just a legal requirement, but sure, we don't really need to do it that way!) and really messing things up. Or trying to change things to look good, but it actually not being something new and not listening when others tried to explain why it had been tried before and didn't work. Like minister, management comes and goes - many employees and members of congregations are in with the bricks. We ministry trainees (as a collective) forget that at our peril.

(Remember too, fish are friends!)