I have always found it very easy to offend people. When I was in Year 5 I was slapped by a man in the street for sniggering at his massive orange afro. I regret the incident enormously but the lesson I learnt has stuck with me. People will take offense at even the smallest of things.
Over the last ten years of ordained ministry, this lesson has shown itself true. You would be amazed at the things people have complained about and taken offense at – some big, some small. My view on the Boxing Day Tsunami was published in the Mosman Daily and I had letters and phone calls galore. One of my alter-egos rode his scooter in a church building and I had a series of "queries" about the legality and appropriateness of such behaviour. Neither of these actions involved any substantial change to the ministry I was doing and nor to the ministry of the past.
In the midst of such complaints I have always tried to do what Narelle Jarrett told me to during our first year Moore College subject "Grief". Sit down face to face with people and listen.
Almost every time the people involved have not only appreciated the opportunity but have become friends. We have not always agreed on the matter, but we have learnt more about each other and understood perspectives more clearly. We've sometimes agreed to disagree and sometimes people have left the church and gone to another with my blessing.
Of course, not every conflict is so easily resolved and when the clergy go on the offensive in an effort to humbly and prayerfully reshape an entire ministry, tensions are often high and people are quickly offended. I can (thankfully) only imagine how stressful this must be for both clergy and parishioners. I just hope that if I encounter such a scenario, I will continue to follow Narelle's advice. I hope others will help me to remember it. I hope my bishop will be aware enough of the situation and from day one be saying to me, "Sit down face to face with people and listen."
Perhaps I am an optimist, but its for these reasons that I am glad that the Parish Relationships Ordinance still stipulates that a minister's license should not be reviewed until at least four years of incumbency. Listening should lead to discussing, discussing to learning, learning to growing and growing to changing. This process takes time and I felt two years was not enough. Undergirded by prayerfulness, thoughtfulness and good theology, I hope no Parish in our Diocese ever needs enact the Ordinance.
You'll perhaps be interested to know that I now get criticised when my alter-ego is not riding his scooter in the church building enough.