'I haven't seen Edna for a while,' commented Lillian, our lay Reader, 'I've tried to contact her, but she hasn't replied'. I said I would have a go, and left a message. The last time I spoke to Edna she was a bit concerned about her health so I was slightly worried that something negative had happened to her. A couple of days later she sent me an email, saying that she thought a couple of recent sermons had taken a political slant, 'and that certainly isn't what I come to church to hear', so she was taking some time away from church but would probably be back before Christmas.
At least Edna isn't ill, I thought. I don't mind this too much, as it's perfectly fair: the God I see in the Scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ is as interested in how we organise our common life as he is in the ordering of our lives as individuals, and sometimes contemplating the Sunday readings does take me in a direction that includes reflecting on the political life of the human community, especially at the moment when we seem to be caught up in so many damaging delusions and fantasies (though perhaps we always are). 'The Lord lays low the lofty city,' says Isaiah, 'Feet trample it down - the feet of the poor, the footsteps of the oppressed'. Ultimately (though I would not say this except under extreme provocation) if you don't like this being talked about, you need to pick another religion. A member of our congregation who not so long ago read one Sunday from the prophet Amos with great relish - 'We will make the ephah small and the shekel great' - was the same gentleman who told me emphatically 'You can't be a Christian and a Conservative'. I wouldn't be so bold (I think cognitive dissonance in this area is possible) and it isn't my place to bully or to present my own views as though they were God's: it definitely is my place to provoke thought and point out that there are such things as falsehood, injustice and mechanisms that have a great influence on the way we live. I'm surprised that it's taken anyone seven years to notice what I'm doing.
Other people who have left the congregation since I've been here as a result of things I have said or done have described me as too theologically conservative, not conservative enough, or took the view that because I'd been associated with the Goth world I was tainted with Satanism. As I say, I don't mind this as it isn't due to anything I would change. In contrast I cast my mind back to the new incumbents' course I went on not long after starting here, and hearing some of the horror stories my colleagues told about relationships in their own parishes broken by a moment of ill-temper or a foolish word. It's those things I think about, and shudder.