From the Scriptures:
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10.7-10)
One of my bishops, when looking at all the extra bits and pieces that bishops had to have with them when leading worship, made the observation that the first qualification for being a bishop was to be elderly. Why else would Bishops need an extra candle on the altar than to help with their failing eyesight, a hat to wear to protect their balding head from the sun, and a stick to help with their walking?
Whichever ‘stick of office’ you may hold, with the possible exception of the snooker cue (!) all of them serve similar purposes: to lead, to guide, to protect, or to encourage. Each stick is a symbol of someone who has answered a call to care for part of the flock of God. Which is why we must pray for those who lead and serve us in our worship from crucifer to bishop, youth worker to verger.
All of them need to have eyes in the back of their head. The sheep of God are a notoriously wayward flock that have more than their fair share of woollen wanderers. Also God’s flock contains within it the new born lambs, some young in years some not, who, if they have no one to carefully shepherd them, will become worried by wolves and stolen by thieves.
Long ago the church recognised the danger of being in possession of more than one stick at a time. Holding more than one office in the church, often acquired through payment, falls under the ancient crime of simony, an act first legislated against in England in 1588. If convicted today simony could cost you up to £1000 fine. Mind you anyone who sets out, and is willing to pay for more than one ecclesiastical office at a time probably deserves them!
Seriously though, much damage can be done to the Body of Christ if, as members of it, we think we serve it best by becoming the ‘parochial keeper of sticks’. As today’s cartoon reminds us, the person who has a large collection of assorted sticks may be best characterised as a thief.
The sadness in church life is that, because we want to protect the flock of God, and because we are the ‘only’ ones who ‘really’ understand what is going on and needs to be done, instead of handing out sticks to others we hold on to them ourselves. Waht this means is that the sticks are well cared for but the flock becomes scattered or drifts away. Good, godly people do not set out to be thieves but the temptation to simony is strong as we all need to feel needed.
In some groups to which I have belonged (such as Cursillo, Happening and the Third Order of the Society of St Francis) the holding of many sticks (multiple offices) is actively discouraged. In the Church of England Churchwardens, elected for one year at a time, are expected to take a break after six terms of office, and Church Council members must be re-elected, at the very least, every three years. The Church does this because she recognises that ‘too many sticks spoil the church’. As Jesus warned Martha when she was over busy;
‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. (Luke 10.41-42)
If we are in places of leadership for too long, if we do not occasionally exchange one stick for another, the temptation will be to start a ‘stick collection’ and, instead of imitating the life-giving Good Shepherd we become death-dealing thieves.
How do we resist the temptation to start a ‘stick’ collection? For, regardless of the number of rules we put in place people who are obsessive about ‘stick’ will simply arrange for other people to do their collecting for them.
Philip Keller’s small book ‘Lessons from a Sheepdog’, gives many helpful clues to remind those of us who carry and collect sticks for a living, to keep our eyes fixed on The Good Shepherd instead of whichever stick collection we are making. If you get a chance read a copy (ISBN 9780849917653) it will change the way you look at caring for the flock of God whether you are, crucifer or bishop, youth worker or verger.
We should beware, I am not saying it is an impossible task, whenever we pick up more than one ‘stick’. If we find ourselves in such a place we should aim to share as much of the task as possible and always, but always, be in the business of looking for the person to whom we should hand one of the sticks we are holding. After all best friends always ‘stick’ together.
Father in heaven,
give our beloved leaders
your judgement and your justice.
Teach the leaders of our church and nation
to govern your people rightly
and bring justice to the oppressed.
(Revd Eston Dickson Pembamoyo, Malawi)
- If you are a ‘stick’ holder, count how many ‘sticks’ you hold and pray about which ones to give away and to whom they should be given.
- If you find yourself with no ‘sticks’ in your hand offer to hold someone else’s for a while. You may be the answer to their prayer.
All Cartoons are copyright © Dave Walker. Please visit http://www.cartoonchurch.com if you would like to laugh even more J
Prayers are from the collection ‘Praying with the World Church’ compiled by USPG.
Please support their work by visiting http://www.uspg.org.uk
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Did You Hear the One About…’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2017