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Mike's Manse Message

August 2020
"Tradition or Ash worshipping?"
Dear friends

Whilst I've been in hospital and then at home I seem to have done a lot of reading and program watching. Of the latter I have followed a program about the Principality of Monaco, its lifestyle and riches etc.

A quote was made that intrigued me, by Princess Caroline of Monaco. She said (based on the subject of culture), "Tradition is the transmission of fire and not worshipping of ashes". In my mind I keep returning to this quote and it has really set me thinking within the context of life and in particular the Church.

Why do we keep doing the same things over and over again and hide it behind the excuse of "tradition"? Probably a wide variety of reasons; comfortability, lack of imagination, habit, a genuine belief that it's the only way. I suggest that all of these reasons are involved and no doubt many more that I haven't thought of.

Perhaps another question that we need to ask ourselves is why we don't seem to like change and again the answers would be similar but this time we might add in reasons such as being out of control, uncertainty, fear of going wrong or of lack of success etc.

I was in the second year group of students when I was at college as our particular college had only begun in the previous year with 4 students and then 5 more (our year) were added. As we approached my first February in college one of the first group said that it was a college tradition for a first year to buy single red roses for every girl in the college (5) and I was deputised to do this. I can still remember standing in the florists in a black clerical shirt asking for 5 single red roses, individually wrapped, and adding to the potential scandal by saying "oh, and I'd better get one for my wife as well!" In my rush to carry out a college tradition I didn't stop to think that it had only been "a tradition" by one year and nor did I stop to think about its purpose. I was simply determined to carry out the tradition.

Sadly, we can be like that in Church life and it leads to splits straight down the middle taking away the beauty and potential for growth with the Church of Jesus, unless there can be graciousness and magnanimity between believers. As I look around often Churchmanship (styles, ways of doing things, instruments, hymns) depend on our own personal likes and dislikes. As a young Minister (and I was once) faith could be easily divided between evangelicals, charismatics, conservative Christians; between whether you liked guitars or organ playing, clapping or not, reflective or loud pumping dance music; your faith depended upon your taste in music. Rarely does it emerge out of a deeply held theology, in my view.

So how're we to hold it all together, especially at a time like this when the covid-19 and lockdown seem to have conspired to create such tensions that folk are beginning to take sides? “Lets get back to Church” say some while others are saying "God's not only in a building". Some are saying "we need communion" whilst others are saying "why? surely every meal shared with and in remembrance of Jesus is communion in itself". Some are saying what about our good Methodist traditions such as "hymn singing", coffee after fellowship and endless meetings/talking shops. At the moment many in Church life are fraught with the tension of how to move forward in this time of crisis.

Surely the way forward has to involve various things: Firstly it has to involve a recognition that all may have a valid point of view and no one should bully others into their way of thinking. Secondly, we are in a time of unprecedented crisis in the world and in the Church. No one was trained for this time and so some decisions will be right and some wrong, we'll agree with those that suit us (or our preconceived ideas) and disagree with those that don't–learn to live graciously with them.

Thirdly, and most importantly we must seek Jesus as our model and our way forward. You see, to my mind, simply doing what we have always done and declaring it to be tradition is often (note I say often, not always) acting without thought, and an avoidance of truly seeking the will of Jesus. This is an important point as Jesus is just as powerfully at work in Catholic traditions as he is at work in protestant traditions etc. It's neither one nor the other but it's about finding Jesus as the driving force within it. When tradition is simply continuing what we've always done then it's like worshipping the ashes in a burnt-out BBQ. They can't be relit, no matter how much we'd like them to be, they're gone so why hang onto them. I much prefer the idea of tradition being like the fire that raged on Pentecost, that rages today, and the passing on of that fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit herself.

We need to recapture that fire and let it take us to where God wants us and his Church to be, instead of hanging onto the pre Covid ashes, but of course the big question remains………. HOW? how can we move on when many are simply wanting to get back to the comfortability of tradition or the security of the walls within which they've always worshipped, avoiding the fear of stepping out into the unknown. Simply one way. In the words of the old Gospel hymn “put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea”

Are you seeking the hand of the one who pulled Peter from the waters and brought him to the safety of the boat?

Are you worshipping tradition with all is fire and heat or are you simply blowing on the embers of the dying flame?

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© 2021  Reverend Michael Redshaw