Imagine, if you will, that you own a little shop. It matters not what you sell in your shop, but one day a chap in a suit appears from nowhere and tells you that he will drive up your foot-flow, that more people will visit your little shop. Do you receive that news with gladness?
Having relatively recently navigated my way through the appointment process to be an incumbent, I can tell you that without exception every single profile that I pawed over included some platitude about the right candidate being someone who can engage with families and children. Sod the oldies, mind - care for the over 11s was never mentioned, but that is for another post!
And so it is that we are the day after that day when Forms had to be in if you were fighting for rare church school places for little Hector or Persephone. If you are unfamiliar with this, let me explain.
Church schools are often (though not universally) a good choice of school for the kids. To obtain a place, you have to make a case, based either on where you live, whether Hector's big brother Arthur goes, whether the family can claim a church membership, plus other criteria beyond that. This is all captured on a Supplementary Form that accompanies the application to the given school, and if the school is blessed with a good Ofsted result, then many more Forms than places will be received. Many more.
This generates behaviours. One of those behaviors is, gulp, that families start going to church. Their Form will need to be signed by a priest who will need to assure the school that the Cholmondley-Smythe family attend church eight times a day, serve at the altar every Sunday, are the Treasurer and Secretary to the PCC and actually own a piece of the actual True Cross (and have a tattoo of Sonny Jesus on their beehinds). You get the drift. And so it is that families come to church. Put another way, the foot-flow rises.
Some vicars sees this as a curse and a fraud. How dare these people come to church so that their kid can get into school. We are only a church for genuine proper Christians, not those annoying pesky types who will vanish again when I sign the form. What a pain. Woe is me. My dear readers, such priests deserve a car-park slap (figuratively speaking, of course).
I have signed lots of forms for local schools. What they ask me to confirm is not whether the kid is a Christian from a Christian family, but that they maintain a given attendance level. What concerns me is that many kids in this part of the world have parents who work on Sundays - so what then? Is their Christian faith and discipleship null and void because Dad works for the Met Police or the local branch of Tesco? Are you a Christian only if you go to church twice a month or more and which you can evidence?
Some priests see these Form-motivated families as a curse - and perhaps I am wrong, but are they not a perfect God-given opportunity? I don't care a jot why they come into our church - I am just glad when they do. Is their job to justify their faith to me, or my job to justify faith to them? For my part, I would also reduce (by quite a lot) those places allocated to church families anyway. Is not a church school a tangible extension of the church herself? Do we set criteria for church attendance or do we preach hospitality? Do we say thank you to God for bringing in these wonderful people, for whatever reason? Does an extension of the church put the in-crowd ahead of love-thy-neighbour?
The bottom line is this, if we return to our little shop. The man in a suit sends a whole coach-load of the prospective customers through your shop door. They have a measurable interest (or else wouldn't have been there in the first place) and an open-mind. Do we complain or do we serve them like we serve all the other punters? I know where my growth-model is situated in that!