Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ministering to the individual or to the whole congregation

There has been a comment on Facebook which includes the idea that when you lead a service you minister to the needs of the whole congregation and not the individuals within it. Which begs the question about what the needs of a congregation are, if they are not the sum total of the needs of the individuals?

I was thinking about situations where we have people attending who may be a little unkempt, perhaps with poor personal hygiene. Should we have words with people about the way that they dress or their washing routines? Should we stop them attending if they fail to change their ways? Or people with learning difficulties or mental health needs - should we insist on certain abilities before they can get involved in anything. Or parents with children who cry or are fractious - should we ask them to leave their child with a relative or friend before they come to the service? Would we feel comfortable with supporting our actions by saying, 'We are meeting the needs of the congregation and not this individual?'

In society at large, at least in the UK, there is a general acceptance that not everyone fits into one box, that we are becoming a more diverse society and that people with a range of needs should be enabled to participate in mainstream society rather than be kept somewhere out of sight and out of mind. Shouldn't we be championing this? Shouldn't we be saying to people, within our communities we attempt to include all those who want to be included - it is part of our mission? Shouldn't we be reflecting on times in our lives when we have had significant difficulties and we feared that people would reject us or reject our family? And those of us who have never been in this place, shouldn't we be counting our blessings?

So when asked to make a choice between something that suits the theoretical 'whole' congregation or to allow for the meeting of individual needs, what might congregations say? I want flawless delivery and a slick production, I want to be assured that the quality of what I get is top notch. Or, I am here to experience the love of the eternal spirit, to feel that all are welcome here and to be actively supporting the participation of all who want to be involved in leading worship.  

I am glad that I am a member of a community which would, with one voice, say the latter.

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