Ministering in Babylon? (Will Cookson)

Wednesday, 9 November, 2011

Will CooksonWill Cookson wonders whether he is ministering in Babylon.

Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgment has come.
Revelation 18.10

What a mess. The world financial markets are in a near state of collapse and protestors camp out on streets around the world. In London, the story of the St Paul's camp is well documented. Initial plans were to occupy the London Stock Exchange (hence the protestors' hashtag on twitter is #olsx), but the demonstrators end up on the cathedral's steps.

The mighty doors are closed for a period and the resignations follow of Canon Giles Fraser and the Dean, Graeme Knowles. The Church of England becomes a laughing stock, with political commentator Guido Fawkes tweeting: 'So #OccupyLSX score so far: Evil Capitalist Bankers Defeated – Nil, Wishy Washy Anglicans Resigned 2.'

As a drama, Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes couldn't have done better.

But what has all this to do with fresh expressions? Well, I want to suggest that all of us - whether in a cathedral, inherited church or fresh expression of church like mine - can simply try too hard to get things right while in the eye of the storm. That can leave us in a terrible mess, just as it did for St Paul's.

When expectations are off the scale, it is all too easy to feel obliged to make a decision - any decision - to look bold and in command. That is when mistakes are made but, as Bishop Chartres said in a Radio 4 interview, 'Christians are very used to near-death experiences; they're also used to resurrections.'

Fewer decisions by us and more listening may reach deeper into our communities than we can ever imagine

What I think we are seeing now is something that many others find difficult to do, namely to bring people together who would not otherwise engage in dialogue or discussion. The church in London is becoming increasingly involved in talks between protestors and bankers and is playing a leading role in reflecting on the morality of the financial systems and markets.

Now I don't think this means that we dictate the solutions (and mostly when we do, they come out as naïve and just headline grabbing). However, what we are well placed to do is help them to search for common ground in order to hear and be heard. We believe in a triune God, a God who in his very being is relational. Therefore we must realise that everything is relational and everyone is called into relationship. At our best, we recognise that and allow space for all.

We got off to a bad start at St Paul's. Maybe, just maybe, we are starting to see what the church does best - namely to sit in the gap and start a real dialogue. When we do the same in our own communities then we can find beautiful examples of people from very different backgrounds sitting down together and listening to one another and learning from one another. They may even become friends.

We may, or may not, be in Babylon, but the reality is that we are still called to serve all those who come our way. Fewer decisions by us and more listening may reach deeper into our communities than we can ever imagine.

About the author: 

Will Cookson is minister of Springfield Church, Wallington, Surrey.


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