Once again, I find myself talking to people who used to be church members, or had a Christian upbringing, who want to explore faith again but have an entire Terminal 4 of baggage to wade through. I'm fed up with hearing the pleasant surprise of people who come to a wedding or baptism and find it much better, more friendly, relaxed and positive than the endurance feat they were expecting. I'm increasingly angered at the stumbling blocks placed between people and Jesus by the church - the 'Catholic upbringing' is the most common turn-off, but there's plenty of others.
A couple of Sundays ago, reflecting on Matthew 16, I said this in the sermon:
It’s the Romans who torture and crucify Jesus, but Jesus names the religious leades: elders, chief priests, teachers of the law as the agents of his suffering.
This hasn’t gone away. Child abuse scandals are the tip of the iceberg. About 25% of the population of this country, 1 in 4, used to be members of a local church at one point or another. And now they’re not. Some have drifted away, but many others have been hurt: by church leaders, by church members, they’ve got the message that they’re not welcome, or not important. E.g. one man, now a bishop, started attending a local church. After a couple of weeks a church warden asked him where he was from. On hearing the reply, the warden told him he was coming to the wrong church, as he lived in another parish, and that he should go somewhere else. I heard recently of a funeral where the vicar got the names wrong, another couple who were refused a church wedding in the 1950's and for 5years never came back.
So I’d like to apologise to anyone here this morning who’s suffered at the hands of the church and its leaders. We haven’t always been good shepherds of God’s flock. As a Christian community, we’ve not been as loving as we should have been. The church has hurt people, it’s hurt you, and I apologise on behalf of my fellow church leaders for what we’ve done. Please forgive us where by sin, insensitivity, pride or laziness we’ve been a stumbling block to your faith. No church leader, no church, will ever be perfect, but we can do better. Much better.
I'm a million miles from being the perfect vicar, and there are probably dozens of people dotted around Yeovil and Darlington who bear the scars of my 'ministry'. And there may never be the chance to apologise to them in person. I just hope there's another Christian out there who gets the chance to apologise to them on my behalf. Some of that baggage is my legacy too.
(for the uninitiated, the post title is a corruption of a Smiths lyric)