Part of the Body

“Even the rectum is part of the body…”
In an exercise early on in the 2013 conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland, we were looking at Paul’s image of the body of Christ, and I scribbled the statement above on the front of the notebook we had kindly been given to record our thoughts. It clearly was a redacted form of what I actually thought, but that is what I wrote down…
A colleague sitting behind me later said, “Forgive me looking over your shoulder, but I saw what you wrote, and I laughed because I know what you mean…”
I was glad he wasn’t shocked or appalled, but actually, I suspect he didn’t actually know what I meant… Because I wasn’t actually referring to anyone else as a “rectum” but reflecting on how I felt about my own place in the body of Christ and particularly the Methodist Church in Ireland
Frankly, there are times when I feel that I am one of those bits of the body to be treated with “special modesty” as the NIV puts it… Out of sight, out of mind… We all go to the toilet (if the body is healthy) but we don’t talk about it in polite company, and we certainly don’t parade the products…
It wasn’t always thus – there was a time when it seemed I was the flavour of the month (an unfortunate mixed metaphor if you carry over the analogy from earlier on, but we’ll go with it all the same)… I was asked to chair this, convene that, speak at this, be on this, that and the other committee… And because I was flattered to be asked I often said yes. But two or three years ago I began to feel that I no longer had the energy or enthusiasm to do all of that… It was taking serious toll on my physical, mental and spiritual well-being, so I started to say “No” more frequently and to resign from some of the things that I was doing… And clearly the message got around because very soon I didn’t have to say no, because I stopped being asked to do anything…
Mind you, when I think back over the years of wider service, generally it was, however, in spheres that, while I am good at, are not those that I am best at and enjoy most… My professional background is in theatre, yet in the 23 years since I walked away from that in response to the call of God into ordained Methodist ministry, I have only ONCE been asked to exercise those particular gifts in service to the wider Methodist church (and for those who think they remember that event, it WASN’T the event at conference in Dublin 9 whole years ago – I volunteered for that, it was actually the production of Hopes and Dreams 5 years previous to that again). I suppose this is partly a function of us undervaluing the arts in Christian ministry… or should I say, some of the arts… If you can play a musical instrument or sing in Methodism you are right at home – Methodism was born and continues to thrive in song… but not in theatre… Sadly… Even in this year's "special" conference there was little dramatic content, with the notable exception of one comedy sketch video ripped from the internet without the royalties being paid!
There is also the fact that, frankly, I can also be a bit of a rectum… I am not always the cheeriest, most upbeat of people… I tend to think in shades of grey rather than either black and white, or bright Technicolor hues that seem to be the default palates of many others in the church… I, personally, think that is a gift from God, if an uncomfortable one at times, (indeed, as one colleague who read this before I posted it said, the rectum is essential for the healthy functioning of the rest of the body)  but it doesn’t tend to endear me to people… I also have difficulty in hiding my frustration, nay, anger at times, which again, I am sure can be wearing for others…
We read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and his analogy of the church as a body. We affirm that not every bit is an eye, or an ear… But there are times when I’m not sure that we believe it. We actually DO want every other bit of the body to be like us… A weird mutant body only made up of cheesy smiles… twinkly eyes… or muscular biceps. I am at least aware that a body made up solely of people like me would not be desirable or attractive.
Which means that often, to tweak the analogy slightly, I feel like a slightly dislocated limb at times (see above x-ray)… For those who have been privy to the Campton saga over the past year you will be aware of the travails of my eldest son, who first experienced a rugby scrum collapse on him last year then a fall down a mountain three months later which combined to leave him with a shoulder that just wouldn’t stay in place… Over a period of 5 months he had over 10 episodes of either full posterior dislocation or subluxation, which is effectively where it isn’t quite out and isn’t quite in… He was in theatre 5 times during that period (including once to get his tonsils out, but that is another story) and finally had emergency reconstructive surgery at the beginning of October… Well, I say finally… he then fell in the run up to Christmas (in Tesco through slipping in a puddle of blood – you couldn’t make it up) and this has dislodged one of the screws they had put in to secure a bone graft from his hip… The head of this screw is now lodged in the shoulder socket, causing chronic pain and repeated spasms, and necessitating surgery in a fortnight’s time (prayer appreciated).
So I know a wee bit about shoulder dislocations and the pain and upset they cause… And at times in recent years I have felt wholly or partly dislocated from Christ’s body, the church – It could be worse… the arm could be amputated and lost to the body… The body would live on but the arm would not… So feeling dislocated is better than that – although having lived with the nagging pain and the feeling that because I am “out of joint” I cannot function as I was created to, there are times when I have considered amputation… And I have been frustrated, nay bitter at a church which prides itself on its connectedness or “connexion”, to use the archaic term, that there has been little recognition of that. A few individual friends and colleagues have been there and have helped, particularly in the darkest times, and I am grateful to God for them, but not sure that I have felt as important to the wider connexion while in pain as I did when firing on all cylinders. And I don’t believe that I am alone in that.I have witnessed it among some clergy who don’t quite fit the expected norms, and at times among individuals in local congregations... Indeed I can recognise it in some people among the bit of the body I am supposed to minister to… And in the light of this reflection, I hope they will forgive me where I have not adequately addressed that experience of dislocation.
However, I believe that this conference has the possibility of being the beginning of healing, not just for me but for many within the connexion. Radical surgery may still be needed as well as the prayer that has been such a prominent and welcome part of this conference, but this has been a good few days, despite difficult debates and, in my humble opinion, wrong-headed decisions. Not just the agenda, but the tone and emphasis… with pastoral and missional perspectives running through the whole thing, has made all the difference… That is partly down to the gifts, personality and perspectives of our new president Rev. Dr. Heather Morris, but also the planning and prayer of the organising committee and others, and MUST be carried on beyond this conference and Heather’s presidency…
So thank you to all who have prayerfully prepared this conference, and to those who have prayed for and with me in it…(particularly the younger members of conference… your role in this conference will long be remembered). Your prayers have been and are being answered…
However, I fully expect to remain a rectum…

Shalom

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