Following my father's death in June, I have spent the last few months rummaging through boxes of old papers, cards and pictures that have been gathering dust since moving to the South West Hants Group five years ago. Among the papers I found a copy of Chandler's Ford URC's 'Chronicle' magazine from February 2008 reporting my successful calling to the Group the previous month. In the article is a 'tongue-in-cheek' piece called 'O Lord send us the perfect minster.' It goes something like this:
"Perfect Ministers preach for exactly 15 minutes; they condemn sin but never upset anyone. They work from 8.00am until midnight and are also good caretakers. They receive about £50 net a week, wear good clothes, drive new cars, entertain regularly and give at least £2,500 a year to the poor and to their congregations. They are between 28-30 years old and have 25-30 years parish experience. They have a burning desire to work with teenagers and spend all of their time with senior citizens. They make daily calls on congregational families, shut-ins and those in hospital, yet spend all their time evangelizing to the un-churched and are always available in the office when needed."

Good for a giggle I'll grant you, but it does tap into something that's been on my mind lately: the problems that arise from unrealistic and un-checked expectations. The United Reformed Church, together with other protestant denominations, has repeatedly failed to adequately define the role of the Minister and revisit their expectations of them as our culture changes. As such many congregations' and Ministers find that their expectations don't match the reality leaving both parties feeling disempowered and exasperated. Maybe at the heart of this difficulty is unwillingness, on both sides; to grapple with, challenge and do something about unrealistic expectations.

This core question of need vs. expectation, demand vs. resource isn't limited to the church arena either. Over September and October, many will have experienced Harvest rituals of one sort or another. Activities featuring corn-dollies and rustic loaves will have featured aplenty drawing our collective imagination back to (rose-tinted) bygone days when the harvest was plentiful. The fact that most of our produce now goes to Basics Banks and similar charities, reveals the stark difference between expectation and reality. Whether a particular crop succeeds or fails is unlikely to impact us that heavily nowadays, but unemployment, spiralling personal debt, benefit dependency and a host of other complicated social issues most certainly do.

No doubt we lament this, but how committed are we really to seeing significant change? The same issue comes out in the debate over where to make cuts in our national spending. Everyone accepts the necessity of living within our means, but only providing it doesn't have too detrimental an effect on our own circumstances. We just don't want to tackle that central question of whether we have a right to lead the lives we have become accustomed to. I believe our churches, society and even the world can become a fairer and more compassionate place, but only when we all reassess our expectations and resolve not to take things so much for granted. That change can come if we are prepared to put the effort in. With God's help and a conviction that we can make a difference for Christ's sake, we can revaluate our demands on life and do the best with the resources we have. Only with realistic expectations of each other and what we share can the world's harvest sustain the many, and not just the few.

God bless, Tim