Today I was flattered to be asked to compère the finals of The Pastoral Challenge, in which one man takes on leading figures from the history of the Church, to see who can come up with the most pastoral responses to a range of topical questions.
Ben (as question master): A member of your flock asks you about homosexual relations, and whether the Church will ever sanction gay marriage. How do you reply?
Paul, Tarsus: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Ben: Sorry, Paul: that's not quite the Pastoral tone we seek these days. Who else?
Basil, Caesaria: He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers...
Ben: No, no, no! You're really not getting this. Who can show them how it's done?
Nichols, Westminster: Who knows what's down the road?
Ben: That's more like it. So one point to Nichols, rest of the world nil. On to our next question: Someone suggests that those living in open and manifest sin should not receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. How do you handle that one?
Paul, Tarsus: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
Ben: Oh dear, oh dear...
John Paul, Wadowice: Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.
Ben: I'm sorry, you're still not getting the hang of this. Any other approaches? What might you say to such a person?
Nichols, Westminster: Hold your tongue!
Ben: The perfect Pastoral response! That's Nichols 2, the rest of the world nil. And so, on to our third question. One of your flock asks you about personal sin, and whether it is something we should worry about.
Matthew, Capernaum: The Lord said: If thy right eye is an occasion of thy falling into sin, pluck it out and cast it away from thee; better to lose one part of thy body, than to have the whole cast into Hell. And if thy right hand is an occasion of falling, cut it off, and cast it away from thee; better to lose one of thy limbs than to have thy whole body cast into hell.
Ben: I'm still not quite hearing that Pastoral note we are looking for. Anyone?
Nichols, Westminster: I think all that talk of sin was a misguided attempt to motivate people.
Ben: We're heading for a whitewash here: it's Nichols 3, the rest of the world, nil. And finally, on a more self reflecting note: someone suggests that you may have betrayed your Lord. How do you respond?
Peter, Bethsaida: (weeps, bitterly).
Nichols, Westminster: I honestly can't remember.
Ben (enthusistically): The perfect response, yet again. So a complete whitewash there, with Nichols of Westminster routing a world team with a score of five:nil.
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