It’s been nice to have positive items about the church in the news recently. After all the controversies in the Roman Catholic Church the election of Pope Francis has been very warmly received. After all the argument in the Church of England over Women Bishops Justin Welby has largely had very good press as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Last week both of them officially started in their new role. Neither man has an easy task ahead of them. Whilst the Church proclaims a God of love and reconciliation it is full of flawed individuals who often get it wrong. The Church (and here I mean the universal, “Holy Catholic Church” not just the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church) is called by God but is still a human response to God’s perfect love. The divisions within the church often disappoint me and of course the church would be a much better institution if everyone agreed, especially if they agreed with me!
Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis (and any other church leader) face a great many difficult situations. Many people will be very disappointed if there are not major reforms and changes and yet others will see almost any change as a betrayal. I am encouraged that both men seem to have taken on this role reluctantly. It has always seemed to me that the person least suited to a leadership role is the one who most wants it.
Power can be very seductive but real power is very elusive. We often feel frustrated by those in authority over us, either because they impose bad decisions on us or frustrate our own ideas. My own experience in politics as well as in church (I was a councillor on Salford City Council for 10 years) is that whenever you move to a more “senior” position the same frustrations are there. There are always other people constraining our decisions, whether they be those in authority over us, the workers/electors/congregation who we need support from or outside influences. I’m quite sure that Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis will often feel unable to make the changes they would want. I hope and pray though that they will be able to help us all to find where God is calling us. We need leaders who are able to challenge us about what we are doing, to facilitate the right kind of changes in all of us.
This Week we remember the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. For Christians our model of leadership is an unusual one. Our leader confronted the “powers and authorities” with self-giving love and was cruelly killed. There will be some who came to church on Sunday to remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then will come back next Sunday to remember the Risen Jesus. There was a difficult journey in between, which we also need to remember. Ron Redshaw is a talented amateur artist who has become a prolific painter in retirement. Last year he was angered when he went into his local supermarket in January to find the Easter Eggs were already on sale. Although he’s not a churchgoer he felt it wrong that we were moving from Christmas to Easter so quickly so he started painting some “Stations of the Cross” to engage with the pain that is in our world. We currently have his Stations up in Sacred Trinity. They are a strong reminder of the cruelty that human beings are capable of. They are a reminder of the potential cost of following Jesus. They remind us that the way of love is not easy.
On Sunday we celebrate new life bursting from the tomb, the victory of love over hate, the triumph of good over evil but it is a victory that comes through a difficult journey. I pray that all of us will persevere and work for a world where hope triumphs and all find that they are valued as children of God.
Article published in the Manchester evening News on 26/03/2013