Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Scandal in Spiritual Illiteracy

The other day, I was at a gathering of curates. (What's the collective noun for curates?) We were discussing a book which was partly about the Charismatic movement. And it came out in conversation that half of the people in the room had no experience of charismaticism at all. I think that's a scandal.

Consider this - roughly 1/3 of the world's Christians are charismatic or Pentecostal. Among regular church-attenders in this country, the proportion of charismatics and Pentecostals is probably about 20% and growing fast. And half the people in the room had no experience of them at all, and we were all ordained ministers in the Church of England.

When I was considering training for ordination in the Church of England, we discussed my experience of the breadth of the Church, and I was told to spend 3 months worshipping at a high Anglo-Catholic church. I did, and I found it helpful. When I was at college, I made an effort to broaden my experience as much as possible. I spent time at churches in difficult UPAs and in the countryside because I was more used to the suburbs. I spent time at an Anglican church in the developing world because I've lived in the UK all my life. I got to the point where I've got a decent level of exposure to pretty much everything that happens in the C of E. Some of it I disagree with; some of it I think is wrong or mad, but at least I'm aware of it and have spoken to people who do it and got to know a bit about where they are coming from. Much of that was expected of me as part of my training; some of it was me wanting to understand where different people were coming from.

So how on earth have people got through selection and ordination training and even got ordained and through a decent chunk of their curacies without any experience or understanding of the charismatic movement? I'm not blaming them at all - it's the job of those providing and overseeing their training to make sure that that happens, and I think it's a scandal that they have been allowed to do so.

(As it happens, I think the charismatic movement tends to get some things wrong and a lot of things right - not least the expectation of personal experience of God's action. But that's largely irrelevant to this rant...)

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