Going to church has suddenly become so much more fulfilling. I have a renewed sense of peace and satisfaction.
What has changed? I am creature of habit so sit in the same pew. The music is as enthusiastic as ever, the sermon dependable and the companionship warm as we shake hands over the peace. We Anglicans don’t like challenge or change.
The only difference is that three weeks ago I retired at the church treasurer. I have no responsibilities any more.
I only took the job on as a favour to the vicar after the previous treasurer resigned unexpectedly. The vicar was all kitted up for service as a chaplain in Iraq and someone needed to step in. I was a safe pair of hands.
“That’s casting against type”, an old friend told me. He was right. Regular readers of this column will know I am a big picture man. I am not one for detail and application.
In researching a talk about small voluntary organisations, I discovered that the flower arranging fraternity has a rule that the treasurer’s job rotates every two years. They believe that jobs are best shared out – even if some of the post holders are not the most skilled for the purpose. We support them, I was told, because it stops one person being typecast and taken for granted.
How true. I used to be known as a friendly fun loving bloke in the church, always good for a laugh and often organising the social events before I became the Treasurer ten years ago.
A slow evolution from beauty to beast followed. I gnashed my teeth at the profligate purchase of candles at Christmas and grumbled that the cost of the telephone in the parish office. I frowned at the bright young enthusiast who wanted money for a parish pilgrimage and despaired of those kind hearted people who wanted to give our money away to support the latest disaster appeal.
I have become an increasingly forlorn and isolated figure in the church especially on those occasions when it has been my job to ask people to leave a few more pounds on the plate each week.
On those rare occasions when I am obliged to meet other treasurers to debate the endless question of our respective contributions to the diocesan coffers, I study my colleagues in awe of their calm and competent approach to these matters. Am I alone, I wonder, in burning the midnight oil at the end of the year to balance the books.? Should I confess to my struggles in the job in the manic manner of a self help group.
Of course, the Treasurer is a powerful person in the congregation. A key member of the church council, consulted on rebuilding plans and able to speak with authority at annual meetings where no one else is much bothered about the money.
It is also a safe stronghold from which to deflect requests to lead the prayers and to join house groups, because it appears to be such a time consuming activity. It even provides an excuse to opt out of those family outings and social occasions that I would rather avoid. “Id love to come” I say with a smile “but I must catch up with the church accounts”.
There are some satisfactions to look back on. People are generous and giving increased in our church by 10% last year. We have completed renovations to our Victorian buildings that leave then safe, warm and dry for the foreseeable future. My successor is a really likeable man, for now, and well qualified for the job.
In the miraculous way that there is always a message for you in the sermon if you listen closely enough, as I sat in the pew for the first time, without having to scurry around to pick up the collection or get the cheques signed, the vicar preached on Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians and which he exhorts young Christians, amongst other things, to seek a quiet life.
Discipleships can pull you in contrary ways. In the course of a week’s readings in Lent, I can be told to keep up the fight to bring about the kingdom ( see below) and to listen in prayer for the word of God. Volunteers are always needed in any church, club or charity to keep the show on the road. Research shows that people who volunteer live longer and more fulfilled lives. But after a long innings, I shall live dangerously and listen for a while. As the vicar helpfully explained, just for my benefit, quietness involves being attentive to what might be the next calling.
Lets keep it in the ground
Three cheers for the students at Oxford University campaigning to get their lords and masters to sell shares in fossil fuel producing companies. Boo to the Senate for putting off a decision which provoked a peaceful student sit in last week.
It is no good waiting for the world’s governments to reach agreement on climate change, the argument goes. It is more effective to target the companies whose assets in coal, gas and oil are still in the ground. They must stay there to save the planet.
There is a moral case to move money out of the fossil fuel producers as people like Desmond Tutu have long advocated. There is a tactical and pragmatic case, of which Mark Carney is ever more aware, that the business plans of companies like Shell, BP, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto will be undermined as alternative sources of energy gather pace and the idealists chip away at the share price. The shrewder fund managers will then start to dither and pull out too. Civilisation need not collapse if there is an orderly withdrawal.
Already some large endowment funds are divesting and others, like the Gates Foundation with an estimated £1bn invested in extraction, are petitioned to do so. Follow the campaign at #keepitintheground and send your degree back to Oxford in disgust.