During a recent Tuesday evening Eucharist, the gospel lesson was taken from Mark 1: 14-20. It tells how Jesus called His first disciples when walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee. First He called Peter and Andrew who were in their boat, casting their fishing net and they came. Then He found James and John, mending their fishing nets and called them: they also left their father and their boat and followed Him.
So far, so familiar. It was the next aspects that I found intriguing. Peter and Andrew were actively fishing: they were out on the water, casting their nets. They had to continue casting the nets until they had a sufficient catch to be worth landing; they then had to bring the boat to the shore, and land the catch. The point however was that they were actively fishing.
James and John were ashore mending their nets, which had to be washed, dried out, cleaned, inspected, and then repaired before being stored away and furled ready for use. This was a work of maintenance, and preparing their equipment for later use.
The point that occurred to us was that both activities were essential: the work of active fishing and then the maintenance of the equipment. So far in the area of mission, we have been engaged – abortively – in an attempt to upgrade the premises of the church, and exhausting ourselves in the process. Since then we have begun a new approach, by gathering together to pray. Episcopalians may be wary of exposing themselves, either by praying in public (leading the intercessions in church is perhaps a relatively safe activity as the form for the intercessions is set out, its place in the liturgy is fixed and each intercessor is encouraged but not required to make their own individual contribution to the prayers). Or by making a personal and public commitment to the gospel message. The church and its liturgy may be one thing but the radical, challenging and unique nature of the gospel is another. Equally, any area of outreach not founded in prayer is also liable to find thin results.
As we again look at the mission of the church we will want to focus on what is essential. Mission is not about maintaining the premises of the church but about proclaiming Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It does not therefore start with church growth, although we will be hoping that this is a result of that mission. It begins with casting the nets rather than cleaning and repairing them for later use.
As national affairs become less and less predictable, and as confusion and fear seep into the public conversation, it is important for us to maintain our focus and priorities. To ‘Keep our heads while all others are losing theirs and blaming it on us’ to quote Rudyard Kipling (roughly). A renewal of our sense of purpose and of mission will go beyond our comfort zones and the maintenance of what we are and have. It will lead us into what we might yet become and how we might find new roles and understandings as we follow the opportunities and promptings that come to us.
I have the sense that the messages of the call of the first disciples are by no means exhausted and that there will be other aspects of this picture that have yet to emerge. If any have ideas of how this might be or where it may lead us, please share them. Nobody has a monopoly of inspiration in this area yet together we may discern where the Lord is leading us. We may all be surprised and delighted at the outcome of this process.