Being on holidays gives me the chance to observe the family life of my friends (not having children of my own). Let me tell you this story. We were playing the game that I know as ‘Sorry’. This game consists of moving counters around a board till one gets ‘home’ again, passing the ‘home’ squares of other players. If another player lands on your ‘tor’ then you have to go back home again, when the other player says ‘Sorry!’
So we were playing with my friend’s seven year old daughter. Sally. At one point in the game Sally had landed on the square where my tors were to go to begin the circuit of the board, once I had thrown a six. I did, and laded on her, sending her back to ‘home’. But this was not her interpretation of the rules. She said ‘If I am on your spot, you cannot come out till I move on!’ “No, I said, otherwise, you could just sit there and prevent me from moving at all. You have to go back home .’We duly consulted the rules, and found out that they agreed with me.
Sally then lost control of her emotions. She upset the board, and for the rest of the day would not talk to anyone.
I was reminded of me a bit. I have trouble with ‘the rules’ at airports. All I want to know is what I have to do to get through the metal detector machine without it’s going ‘bing!’ and have my bag pass the x ray with our being stopped. This time I had some trouble in customs because, you guessed it, they had changed the rules without telling me! When it came to customs, I was confronted with a whole new scenario that I had not known before, and I had difficulty controlling my emotions there too.
It reminds me of being in a congregation too. Some people say ‘Now I signed up for one set of ‘rules’ for this congregation, and one set of power relationships. I liked it. Now I find that the Chaplaincy Council is making changes, and it looks to me like the rules of the game are different! The question is, what does a Christian do?
The first step is the one that we took in the game ‘Sorry’: to consult the rules! We have a representation act, and during our period of sanctioned experiment, we invited members of the congregation to make their contribution, and we evaluated it. This is all possible within the ‘rules’ of the game.
When I got back to Switzerland I contacted the Customs Department to ask them ‘What are the rules of the game so that I can get through customs without trouble in the future.’ I am awaiting a reply. So the consultation of an agreed way to proceed is the first step in resolving conflicts about ‘the rules’.
But the fact remains that the most important thing in this story was the power of the emotions that Sally expressed. How do I deal with that as a Christian. This is the most difficult thing for me. Being a volatile type it is very hard not just to let the adrenaline flow have its way, and to ‘react’. Some people in congregations do the same. They say ‘I am taking my ball and going home, and I am going to try to upset the game as it is now played too!’ Just as I do not think that this way of being is constructive for me, so I do not think it is constructive for them either.
Do you remember, when I asked for people to fill in the feedback forms, I asked people to address the issues that we were trying to attend to by the experiment. We are wanting more participation by members of the congregation who are not in the choir. We are trying to make our Sunday mornings our ‘front door’ so that visitors and potential new members will feel welcome. Now I and the Chaplaincy Council are ‘for’ these changes because we hope that they will address some of these new issues that have been put onto our radar screen: chiefly the question ‘How do we become a missionary congregation?’ What I asked for feedback about was ‘How do we address these issues if not by means of our ‘experiment’ ?
This is a deeper form of ‘changing the rules’ because it invites people to address questions beyond the one of ‘What do I like?’ to asking the question ‘How do we become a missionary congregation?’ This too creates resistance and emotion.
Recently, with the help of a book that I have been reading I have found a form of words that helps me to control my emotions in public. It is these “Let me think about that, I’ll get back to you in due course.’ This worked for me about the timing of the Christmas Services. I have always presided at an 11.30 pm Eucharist on Christmas Eve. When I was asked to make it earlier I thought at first ‘No! This is the thin end of the wedge! We can’t keep accommodating ourselves to the ‘world’. But I actually said ‘Let me think about it, I’ll get back to you!’ So now we had Eucharist at 8.30 on Christmas Eve. No one died! It was not my preferred option, but it was something I could do to respond positively to a request that had been made . I can live with the decision (though it is not my preferred option), I did not get reactive, and I acceded to a request from the congregation. Winners all round. That is my best shot at a model for dealing with a situation when I think that some one has changed the rules on my and I really feel like throwing a tantrum, upsetting the board game and going home.
The last word on this story ought to go to my friend, whose daughter proved so instructive. He said ‘Sooner or later she’ll come around. The need for relationship overtops the need to be angry’. Admitting my need for relationship involves a climbing down, and as adults, there must be ways of saving face while this is happening. But it ought to be possible in the Church were belonging and forgiveness overtop our need to upset the game and ruin it for others too.
Sometimes it is not possible. This is what we have also found with our sanctioned experiment. Some have found it necessary to withdraw and to support other places. This is sad, but it represents a genuine limit on our being together as adults. Children are different, they need to find ways of ‘climbing down’ because they need others to feed and clothe them. When this is not the case, I guess we have to accept some parting of the ways when a new set of questions is placed on the agenda.