Saturday, 11 February 2017

Push-Bike Pastoring: Today's By The Way Column for The Medicine Hat News

We recently watched the first series of the BBC's new and excellent production based on GK Chesterton's Father Brown ecclesiastical mystery novels. We borrowed the DVD set from the Medicine Hat Public Library; one of hundreds of television series and movies available for borrowing for no more than the $5 annual library membership fee. What a deal! We figure we'll subscribe to Netflix when we run out of the library DVDs which, so far, doesn't look to happen any time soon. But I digress…

Watching Father Brown pedalling around his impossibly picturesque English village, black cassock flapping in the breeze of his passing, looked pretty good to me. No church growth strategies in those days (early '50s), just looking after his flock and celebrating Mass. Nothing but plain, old fashioned cure of souls.

I felt a bit of a pang about my days as an Anglican parish priest because of Father Brown. I find myself wishing I'd done more of that plain old fashioned push-bike pastoring; more "non-productive" time spent with ordinary folk just hanging out, listening, praying, drinking coffee (or even the occasional scotch), with no real measurable growth in mind, no getting things done; just being present through the mostly unmeasurable, slow, relational, often maddeningly imperceptible, process of folks working out their relationships with Jesus. I wish I had spent more time just pedalling beside them without worrying so much about how fast, or slow, we were going.

Envy is a sin, I know, but it's pretty close to what I felt as I watched Father Brown pedal hither and yon. I envied the fictitious Father and the days when Christianity was part of the warp and woof of everyday life, when priests and pastors were respected (or is that a fiction, too?), when pastoring was not about goals and objectives, in a place where you could pedal between visits, cassock flowing.

Except for the murders, of course. I don't envy Father Brown that. I've only ever had to preside at the funeral of one murder victim. A hard thing. And I had nothing whatsoever to do with the solving of that murder. O, and full disclosure, I should also mention (admit?) that the murder in the first episode takes place in the local Anglican church!