The Gift of Discernment
At the end of June I had a conversation with a minister who is moving to another pastorate. This is an ‘Exit interview’. It is to help the minister reflect on their ministry, let go of the things that cannot be changed, celebrate the achievements and recognise and seek forgiveness for any failings. It is also to help the Moderator and Synod Pastoral Group to think about the future of the pastorate and to learn any lessons for the future policy and practice of the Synod. Like any conversation the gift of discernment is required – to understand what has been going on, what God has been doing, and to grasp what lies underneath the obvious. Words and body language communicate many things, but piecing together the evidence and making sense of it needs perception and wisdom. In this particular conversation there were issues to be explored and strong feelings about the ending of the ministry.
On Sunday at Boulevard URC the theme for the service was Discerning Love and Discerning Christ. We thought about Bible stories that depended on one of the senses as a critical feature, e.g. the sense of smell when Jesus was anointed by the woman with the expensive perfume. But discerning love is more than just being aware of our feelings; it is knowing whether the promptings to love are not just selfish, but a real concern for the loved one. We then thought about the search for the historical Jesus by Biblical scholars and the realisation that we will never really know what Jesus was like in terms of a biography, but we still need to struggle to discern how Jesus affects our lives. We celebrated communion, in which we are aware of the presence of Christ with us. One of the special features of the service was the presentation of the reading from Genesis – the search for Isaac’s wife, in the form of a ‘memo’ from the servant to Abraham, written by one of the elders of the church. It was very effective.
On Monday I shared in worship preparation for the service at Keyworth, where we tried to see the connections between the Bible readings and the current situation of the congregation. The parable of the wheat and weeds is the Gospel reading and we had different ideas of what it meant then and now. I went on to have lunch with the steering group of East Midlands Churches Forum – which is winding up because the regional government structures to which it related have changed – actually disappeared! We gave thanks for the service that been given to the churches and hope that in the future the Churches will still engage with political, social and economic policies of local and national government. In the office I talked with Peter, my successor and Hannah my P. A. about the up-coming Moderators’ meeting as part of his induction.
Tuesday to Thursday was the Moderators’ meeting – my last. We spent most of Tuesday afternoon sharing pastoral concerns for ministers and churches in our synods – offering support and encouragement to each other. In the evening we had a special meal together.
The Moderators need to have a gift of discernment to help the churches to face the future with a willingness to work with what God is doing around us. There are huge challenges facing the Church in this country and the United Reformed Church in particular. Trying to understand what we should be doing in responding to God’s mission is not easy.
Please pray for the gift of discernment for the Moderators and for the Church.