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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Going Slow: organisational time or God's time?

So the name of the next archbishop of Canterbury has not been announced this week after all.  It was promised, though I thought at the time it was ‘courageous’ (in Sir Humphrey speak) to think the appointment could be done and dusted so speedily. It seems that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) wasn’t able after all to agree on whom it wanted to recommend as its first choice and runner-up. That’s what been reported anyway.  Who knows how long it will take?

Predictably the airwaves and cyberspace were full of chatter.  A lot of it sounded frustrated in tone, raking over the flaws in the process, re-running pros and cons of the (putative) candidates.  Questions abounded.  Why haven’t they decided? What has gone wrong? Who is blocking whose candidacy? Who is still in the race? Who is not? 

In my counter-suggestible way, I thought (as my friend Stephen Cherry would put it) there has to be another angle.  What if this long wait was not a problem but an opportunity?

So I tweeted (a trifle disingenuously perhaps) that maybe the CNC simply needed time to say its prayers.  What if the realisation had suddenly struck its members that discernment of vocation won’t and can’t be hurried?  That too quick an announcement would smack more of appointing the chief executive of a bank than of recognising someone’s God-given call to occupy St Augustine’s chair? 

In a process-driven church, it shouldn’t surprise us if there sometimes turns out to be some dissonance between organisational time and God’s time. I have been ordained nearly 40 years, but I remember vividly (and thankfully) the painstaking journey of discernment by which the church tested my inward vocation to become a priest. It took years, not months let alone weeks.  My motives, needed to be scrutinised and understood, especially by me.  There needed to be theological and spiritual reflection with others making the same journey to elicit the meanings of ordination.  I needed skilled accompaniment and wise guidance.  And when I was ordained, this was only the beginning.  It takes a lifetime to inhabit a vocation, make it authentically your own under God, just as it takes a lifetime to inhabit a marriage.

So I’m not sure I altogether trust vocational processes that happen too quickly, that are driven by organisational time. God’s time happens at a different pace. Perhaps it is more like the hidden, barely perceptible processes like the leavening of dough or fermenting of must.  Jesus presumably chose the image of yeast for a reason.  The spiritual tradition teaches us that the Deity is more often a ‘three mile-an-hour god’ than a high-speed divinity.

Slow is good.  Its outcomes take time, but allow space for prayer, listening, discernment.  No doubt the job of being an archbishop of Canterbury is truly impossible.  If so, the discernment of the one who is called to carry its heavy burdens desperately needs not to be done in haste.  Or, in God’s time, festina lente. That way, the decision will carry proper integrity, and the next archbishop will have the reassurance he very much needs that he truly was and is not only the CNC’s man but God’s.


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