In 1965, Karl Rahner wrote his seminal work ‘Concern for the Church’, in which he made the now classic remark “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.”
Rahner, a Jesuit, predicted that in the not too distant future Christianity will become marginalized, and in many parts of the world would face persecution, or at least the loss of social prestige, that “there will be no earthly advantage in being a Christian,” and faith will be a matter of personal conviction rather than institutional affiliation.
Fifty years on, Rahner’s quote stays relevant I believe. In a church where the future seems uncertain, even dark in some ways in terms of understanding the way forward regarding numbers, finances and engagement, contemplative churches are needed if we are going to nurture a church that desires to be little and substantial; whose stability means it is confident to be here for the long haul; and a school of patience calling roots deeper into the life of God.
In 1993 I spent some weeks in a Benedictine lay community at Ealing Abbey, in West London. There were a number of us coming and going in those weeks across the Summer holidays, and one important memory in these formative days is of what’s called a ‘month day’.
In a monastery, a month day is a day off once a month when the usual daily routine is suspended and monks can do as they please. On this memorable occasion, Fr James (the monk coordinating this fresh monastic expression) took two of us to visit an East End parish and meet with a sister living a life of service and prayer in one of its districts.
I remember just brimming with life after this experience, hearing about her daily practice of contemplative prayer which inspired her urban ministry of love, witness and accompaniment. This seed has stayed with me, and germinated in my life, and whilst dormant for a while, is now pushing through the surface and dislodging some aspects, and insisting I make some changes it seems. I look forward to exploring some of this sense in the next few months.
Forthcoming Study Leave
As I have written about in some recent editions of Jottings, I have been given the opportunity to take three months Study Leave this year, which begins in just over two weeks, meaning I will be away from Hornsey Parish during August, September and October.
Often called a Sabbatical, a priest can take this time of leave every nine or ten years, and its purpose is threefold: to rest; to pray; to study. Following on from my recent writings about the aspect of rest and prayer that I will be looking forward to, in this Jottings I want to briefly describe something of the theme that I will be reading around, reflection upon, and I hope doing some writing about.
So often when we talk of mission in the church we think of the activity that we, as the church are involved in. This is not surprising of course, and activity has its important place, after all if we are the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ as St Teresa of Avial reminds us in her famous prayer, this is going to be about doing things.
Also important though, I would argue, is silence and solitude as ways for us to allow the presence of God to grow from within us, shaping and forming our response as we listen to God’s call to us as his followers in a certain place. And it is these two missiological themes of silence and solitude that I will be be spending time reflecting upon during this privileged time.
I will be visiting some places in the US, well known for their contribution to the deepening of the spiritual life, such as the Center for Contemplation and Actionfounded by the well known priest and writer Fr Richard Rohr OFM in Albuquerque in New Mexico.
Also the New Camaldoli Hermitage at Big Sur in California is a place where solitude is central to the mission of a Benedictine community, with monks living in community and as hermits.
I believe that Hornsey Parish Church, with its tradition of a wide range of missional activity nourished by deep spiritual roots, is well placed to navigate many of the challenges of the future, and I look forward very much to spending time reflecting on the way that aspects of my past have drawn me to see the prayerful life as a particular contribution I can make as a priest, and how this may shape the second half of my active full time ministry, that lays ahead, here and elsewhere.
I will value your prayers as I make my arrangements and plans, and especially ask you to pray for those who will be stepping up to fulfil my responsibilities while I am away.
With the assurance of my prayers
Wonderful Concert Coming up on Saturday 20th July: Hornsey Parish Church Choir performs sparkling romantic repertoire alongside professional soloists. Listen to Dvorak (Te Deum), Mendelssohn (Hear my Prayer) and Vaughan Williams (5 Mystical Songs). Tickets are available from Eventbrite. See below for more details.