The Church hates the word ‘change’, it raises hackles before an individual even knows what the change might be, whether it is the cups used for coffee after a service or women becoming bishops, change sits uncomfortably in many a pew (don’t change the pews).
As someone who considers myself open to change I know that even for me there can be things which make me stop and say; ‘Okay Kirstin do you have a reason for not wanting that change or are you just in a comfortable familiar place that you would rather remain in because it doesn’t challenge you?’ I went through a spell of trying to avoid using the word change, I used transform or spoke about development. However, by the time those words had got from the hearer’s ear to their brains they heard change, so I no longer avoid the word for in avoiding I think we also avoid the issue. For despite not all change being bad, just as not all change is good, the very word change can strike fear into the essence of who someone is, yet not changing can be a death knell.
We live our lives constantly changing, most of us in this country no longer have to lay a fire each morning out of necessity (some lucky individuals can do it out of choice). Our bodies are very different from the ones we were born with and every day there are minute, sometimes massive, changes in them as we head towards our deaths. Our understanding changes as we read and learn and listen to others, even watching the TV influences what we think and how we react to things (if this wasn’t the case companies would spend millions every week on advertising). If you watch ‘Call the Midwife‘ on the Beeb you will no doubt be constantly struck, as I am, by the way not only the doctors and nurses smoke but encourage others to do so, because it was once thought to be a helpful thing to do. We have changes in medicine, in industry and commerce, we have planes and mobile phones which we hold in the palm of our hand and have more processing power than computers that took up whole buildings a couple of generations ago. It can be easy to look at these changes and say from this side of them, they were good changes, they were things that were supposed to happen they have improved lives, (although the jury is still out with regard to smart phones in my opinion) but God, God is changeless. Don’t mess with the church, don’t mess with its doctrines. Oh dear, how far we have slipped.
God is changeless, yes, but our understanding of God is vastly different from the understanding our forebears had. One of my favourite verses in the Bible comes from Paul writing to the Corinthians:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I Corinthians 13:12
Everytime I am confronted with change I get great comfort from this verses, for through it I remind myself that I don’t know it all and in making that change, however uncomfortable it may be, I am hopefully a little nearer to knowing God better.
We no longer say that the colour of someones skin means they are a lesser person, we no longer say that God made some people to be slaves to the rich and powerful, we no longer say that it is only if you can understand Latin you can understand God, we no longer say that being born out of wedlock bars you from entering a church, we no longer say a whole host of things that those who have gone before us would have held as dear and true. The Church has changed down through the centuries, its understanding of how God wants us to treat others has changed and if the Church is ever to fulfill its primary purpose of bringing in God’s Kingdom it needs to continue to change. For the Church isn’t omnipotent it is but a dim reflection of the awesomeness of God and the Church has to keep trying to make that reflection a bit brighter and truer. Now I think that there are very few in the Church who would claim that the Church was perfect, however, and here we hit the crux of the matter, there are those who would oppose change by saying the Church shouldn’t become like the world, those who see any change as conforming to the world rather than changing the world in which we live.
We are indeed called to change the world, to challenge those who oppress others, to challenge those who treat others unjustly, to challenge those who seek power for self at the cost of others lives and freedom. We are also called to bring light into the dark places, to bring hope to those who feel lost, to bring comfort to those suffering, to bring peace to those in turmoil, to love those who feel loveless. Yet, the Church is also called to change itself, not to become more worldly, but to become more godly. The Church should challenge those things within its walls as well as outwith them. The Church needs to change to ensure all people can find security, saftey and peace within it, to ensure all people are welcomed and accepted even if we are different from them, to ensure that when we are trying to change the world we aren’t, rightly, labeled as hypocrites who do not practice the love and justice we preach.
On Saturday a group of us gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow for a Eucharist for Change, we heard some courageous stories, some painful stories, some harrowing stories which the church has played a part in, and not a good part. The Church needs to change, to become more godly, to offer protection and safety, to encourage and support people in their lives, to challenge injustice and to show love as God shows, unconditionally.
Many in society and the media, say that is that the Church has no relevance to the world, that it is self seeking and outdated and indeed we are in grave danger of playing into their hands and conforming to that worldview if we refuse to change. Change not for changes sake, not because we are out of step with society, but because God calls us to change, to become more godlike even if it means we end up in an uncomfortable place for awhile.
It is okay I can hear you from here; ‘Be patient.’ you are saying, ‘these things take time.’ Well I know that, I happen to be a woman priest so boy do I know that. There are still those within churches who don’t recognise me as someone who is ordained even as someone who should be allowed to preach, these things do indeed take time, sometimes it takes generations for opinions to move. I suspect that it will be centuries before my successors don’t get someone whispering to them; ‘I don’t agree with women priests, nothing personal.’ something I still hear often enough (a surprising percentage of them from people who have just received the Eucharist from me). Yet, the Church said yes we will ordain women, the church, in its wisdom didn’t say we will wait until everyone is in agreement, instead it said there is no reason for this not to happen, women are equal in God’s eyes, women are just as capable, women have their own gifts and talents to bring, a woman priest can reflect Christ at an altar as well as a man can, it would be unjust to keep the priesthood closed to them. Okay it didn’t say this next bit out loud but it is implicit in passing the relevant legislation, and some people did say this of women; women are not unclean and unfit to serve God as priests.
This isn’t about a lack of patience, it is about justice. This isn’t about the Church becoming more worldly, it is about the Church becoming more godly. This isn’t about changing for the sake of change, this is about changing because we are called to change.
I pray that the Church will find the courage to change were change is needed; that it will live the hope it proclaims; that it will love justice and work tirelessly for it; that it will be more gracious and accepting of people regardless of gender, race, colour, status or sexual orientation; that it will stop labeling people and start treating everyone as equal before God; that it will continue to allow itself to be transformed into God’s likeness and in doing so will become better equipped to change the world and bring in God’s Kingdom.