Rev Joe Kavanagh (Mearns Parish Kirk, Newton Mearns):
As a minister, it is my privilege to get close to people in all sorts of situations in life. People let you in, and they share their hopes and dreams and their joys, sorrows and pain with you. At times, as you listen to people, you find yourself thinking new thoughts, seeing aspects of life in a new way and discovering a new understanding because, through their experience, they have discovered what you have not. Listening is really important, not only because in times of anxiety, difficulty or darkness people need someone to really hear them, but also because it is as we listen that our thinking can be turned around and our lives can be challenged, and sometimes even changed. That certainly has been my experience. My theology, if you like, in some ways has been changed through encountering others in real need, as has my approach to ministry.
We all have beliefs that inform our approach to life, whether it be a theology, a political ideology or a life philosophy. We are in many ways inheritors of a received wisdom that has shaped life in the past and which gives us the basis for living in our present, but we must in some sense never be shackled to that wisdom in whatever form it comes. New wisdom is required for new situations, particularly in relation to people's need; where people of today are concerned, we might have to dare to think differently. To a degree, our beliefs and practice must be shaped by experience, and that experience is both our own and that of others when we let people's lives touch ours.
Someone once said that the church at times answers questions that people are not asking, but then that is true of so many organisations and institutions. We need to listen to what people are saying, especially those of us who see ourselves as servants of the people, and then, hearing what is really being said, be willing to change our views, our direction and the ways in which we seek to serve.
Jesus's ministry was very much related to the needs of the people. He saw what was happening in the lives of those around about him—much of which was due to tremendous upheaval created by the powers that be—and to people in all their need he made his response. Jesus did not minister in a vacuum; he did not blindly follow a theology or ideology. No; in fact, some would see him as breaking the rules, going against convention or departing from tradition. Why did he do that? Not for the sake of it or to be radical, but to mend people's broken hearts and lives. From a faith perspective, life is about God's love for people and their love for one another. It is about relationships that seek the best for people. So, at the heart of our living must be people, who are far more precious that any ism or ology.