It’s a Mess

Church Newsletter article for 27th November 2011

One of my favourite TV comedies of recent years is on again tonight, BBC2’s Rev. It’s the only TV drama I’ve come across that ‘get’s’ the Church.

At first sight, it’s not a great advert for the church. The vicar, Adam, smokes, is full of doubts, has a low self-esteem and struggles with all sorts of temptations, including having taken a liking to the local Headteacher despite being very happily married. His congregation is also a mixed bag. There’s Adoha, well-known as a cassock-chaser (very much obsessed by whoever is the current incumbent), the seasonal migration of attendees who are looking to get their child into the church school, and Colin. Colin is the local drunk; scruffy, heretical, with all sorts of addictions and social issues. There’s also Mick, the local crackhead, who turns up to ask for £20 to go visit his dying mother in Southend who’s died three times in the last month already. As the BBC website describes it, ‘Every day throws up a moral conflict for our vicar. Adam’s door must always be open to urban sophisticates with ulterior motives, the chronically lonely, the lost, the homeless, the poor and the insane. All are welcome at St Saviour’s and Adam can’t turn any of them away. Even if they’re clearly lying, mad or just very annoying. ’

Theologically, the church is a disaster. In terms of image and branding, hopeless. Church growth and mission are distant dreams. It’s a mess.

So why do I love it so much? I guess as a minister I can relate to the challenges that Adam faces, if maybe not in such a stark way (no, I’m not saying that the congregation at Wormley is the same as the congregation at St. Saviour’s). More than that, I believe that this is the way church is meant to be. We’re called to what Mike Yaconelli once called ‘Messy Spirituality’. Our faith does not call us out of this world, nor does it take away our temptations and fallenness. No, instead it calls us to love and serve God and our neighbours where we’re at to the best of our ability. Think of Jesus and the disciples. Jesus had his doubts and the disciples were far from perfect, and yet they muddled through, and in their muddling through God was revealed and lives were turned around – because of their humanity and service, not despite it.

Rev has moments that make me despair of the Church, but alongside that it has times when God is revealed in our most human moments. Last week Colin was baptized. This drunken lay-about was accepted into God’s family. Where else would this happen? How else could this happen? Surely this is what the incarnation we’re about to celebrate is all about.

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