Imagine your favourite film ...
For me it would be Name of the Rose, Star Wars maybe. Add Shawshank Redemption and Monsignor Quixote in there, and my list would grow nicely. Other films like Gladiator and Ben Hur are much loved. However, who do we think of when these films are named?
Name of the Rose? Sean Connery. Star Wars? Darth Vader. Shawshank? Morgan Freeman, and so on. Could I tell you the name of the rider of the third chariot in Ben Hur or the hapless woman cut in half in Gladiator? No, of course not. Could I tell you name of the producers of those film? No, again.
I heard a sermon on Sunday that caused me to think along the lines that I am writing here (and thanks to John Bush for his sermon). I am expanding a thought that he offered, one that resonated with me as one who finds certain difficulties with the perennial 'shepherd/flock' model of religious belief and life.
So, consider Ben Hur, for example. Yes, it was lead by Charlton Heston and is a fine epic. Ben Hur = Charlton Heston, but imagine the film with only Charlton Heston. The image above would not be possible. We all watch many films, many television programmes, and they are often awash with people whose name we will never know. My bete noir, Eastenders, is the same. There are silent characters in that which have been there for decades, in non-speaking parts. Eastenders wouldn't work without their parts, and neither would Ben Hur work without countless 'crowd members', passers-by, and so on.
I wonder if church life is a bit like this. In my own experience of church life, the model of church is of priestly presence and a congregation. If I took the film-model, I think I would regard the priest as producer. God has to be the Director in all our epics, of course. But a church is no more the priest than Ben Hur is the producer. Both need every one else, with or without spoken parts. Each films has its stars, the Names In Lights, and the same is surely the same in our church life. With only once exception, and that being a place in Brompton, no church is remembered in terms of its priest (in my own experience). I can tell you why St Martin's In The Field is well known, or maybe St Aldate's in Oxford. I don't think of those places in terms of their vicars.
This is surely a good thing. The incumbent is the spiritual lead, not the starring part. Were it to be the other way around, where would the people be? In a shadow? Churches need, like films need, the bit parts. Without the crowds, the choruses, the fighter battalion, the hoardes of shoppers or market traders, there would be no church. The silent roles, the 'presence' roles add the depth that the fine performance of the one or two cannot begin to offer.
...and it is with films that in the end, it is the story we love and hold close. The same could be for the church!