I have been working on a project to build a three-legged lamp stand for our lounge room. They are the fashion these days. Well a three legged lamp stand looked easy, until I started to work out that they have to meet at a certain angle at the top, and that three pieces of square wood have to meet together each at an angle of 120 degrees, and that they have to be dowelled together for strength and that the legs have to be tapered!
I spent nearly a whole day making models, working out if I could cut the wood with my compound docking saw, or the band saw and working out how to make the dowel holes go in straight, so that they would fit. So much work and brain power.
Now I tell you all this because recently we have had a lot to do with ‘Tradies’. We have been getting quotes for a kitchen, and painting and have had lots of contact with them in the process.
I have been in admiration of their skill, just watching them work, even in the relatively simple job of getting a quote. It seemed to me that apart from the skill involved in their trade, (which I found out about in making the lamp stand!) each trades person needs also to be a quantity surveyor, a personnel manager, a project manager, a public relations manager, and an accountant! There is a lot that I can do myself, but in watching these people work, there is a lot that I do not know about!
So here is my paean of praise to the skill of the tradies.
It made me ask the question as to whether there is a skill in being a Christian. As a professional Christian, I am aware of all of the implicit knowledge that I carry about what has to happen when, how church should go, how to prepare funerals, weddings and how to prepare people for Christian initiation.
I remember that in the 1662 book the role of the priest is to ‘read the common prayers’. This job represents the skill of reading in a largely illiterate age. But these days, if a priest is to be relied upon there is a lot more that has to be known about than just being able to read.
The other thing that comes to me as important about the ‘trade’ of being a professional religious person is the ‘sensibility’ that goes into how a priest or their congregation might respond to events in he community.
Here I am particularly thinking about two kinds of meditative events that were the idea of Michelle Wood. In Yea she offered a series of meditations on Leonard Cohen’s last album ‘You Want It Darker’ for Good Friday evening. There was lots of silence, candlelight and ceremony. The Church was packed! Michelle has also held a vigil for the Children on Naru in her congregation.
The ‘sense of things’ that gives rise to these forms of Church seems to me too to be part of the implicit ‘personhood’ of what it means to be a priest. Michelle knows what is in the ‘kit bag’, she knows how to put the pieces together to make a lovely piece of liturgical furniture!
I learned some of this from my mentor David. On a Sunday morning there was a lot going on as we worked together. Knowing what can be changed, when to be informal and when to stick to the rules is an implicit skill that all priests need to have, if they are going to be able to be the ‘midwives of people’s connection with God.
Are Christians who are not priests expected to have any skills? I think so.
In the epistle of Peter, he says ‘Always be ready to have an answer for the hope that is in you to those who ask.’ I think this is vital, because in the living of life the ‘back and forth’ of conversation is the place where what it means to be a Christian person is demonstrated. If a Christian ‘stands out’ in any way, because they say grace at meals, or because they take time to pray, or because they may not be present at certain events because of heir religious observance, then it is important that they be able to give an account of what is important to them, in such a way as to invite the approval or admiration perhaps of those who ask.
The other thing that the Bible encourages us to do is to be hospitable to strangers. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of this, and that in doing sop we may be ‘entertaining angels unawares.’
I know people who are better at this skill than I am. I stand in awe of their ability to invite people into their home, and to provide a place of refuge, or comfort, or listening. Often great dinner parties are times for bringing very different kinds of people together. Those who have this skill are also ‘Christian tradies’ in the art of hospitality
So I think all Christians are ‘tradies. I can recognise in myself, though in a different sphere, the skill and implicit knowledge that goes into being a ‘tradie’. I think too that Christians who are not necessarily priests need also to be accomplished representatives of the faith: particularly in the realms of being able to give an account of their faith, and in offering hospitality.