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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, October 08, 2004
    You can see common sense from here
     
    Twenty-four hours and many, many words later I returned home from Sheffield tired on a crammed Central Trains chugger, having stood till Stockport, feeling out of sorts. After all those worthy words I'd spent all day soaking in, it was just one small sentence which restored me. I found that on the inside cover of the newly-arrived Howies catalogue. Superimposed onto a lovely picture of the wide open space of Cardigan Bay, tide splashing the empty, tan-tinted beach, it says, "On a clear day, you can see common sense from here." A typical slice of Howies wisdom. I looked at it in silence for some time. The soothing effect was almost as good as physically being there.

    A whole day of emerging church teaching from Aussie gurus Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost confirmed yesterday's feeling that by contrast the institution I'm in is submerging. Which isn't cheerful. But also, oddly, it seemed to suggest that we're actually not doing much wrong either. If mission is about proximity, presence, powerlessness and proclamation then that's all happening here already, out on the edge of this peripheral city. If leaders ought to be 'apostolic' then I think I'm correct in saying that's what was confirmed to me when the bishop put his hands on me head that day in 2001. If emerging churches feel like they're in a liminal state, then, hell, so do submerging ones, most of the time. Join the club. Truth is, there is no border between thrilling emerging church and struggling submerging church; they co-exist, deeply.

    I felt more thrilled and definitely more affirmed last night when I heard David Hope speak at Liverpool Hope. Mainly because, unlike Hirsch and Frost the Archbishop had the grace and the wisdom to acknowledge who was in his audience - at both events a high proportion of people who, like me, got ordained in good heart and with the best of intentions and who are now embroiled in all the grimness and glory of an often mundane ministry. Feeling sullied and shamed by failure to live up to others' expectations (among them people like Hirsch and Frost).

    The pastoral archbishop who is returning to an ordinary vicar's role soon, acknowledged all this because he knows it all very well himself. Said some very wise things about being in dialogue with the world, about interfaith dialogue, about raising people's religious literacy, about the value of faith-based schools. A man who served his curacy in the sixties just two miles from here, Hope encouraged us to enjoy all that the city of Liverpool offers as a way of engaging with God. Which I do, and I will continue to, gladly.

    Best of all, he reserved a specific word of affirmation to those who toil in faithful ministry on the city's outer estates. That's us. It meant a lot and encouraged us a lot to hear that, from a man who knows and cares about our stuttering attempts to try to bridge the gap between so-called emerging and alleged submerging. Who puts it in local context because only there can you begin to understand it all. Who helps me lift up my shamed head this evening, to look out across the shining dual carriageway and think, "You can see common sense from here".