by Inderjit Bhogal.
On 1 July 2020 it was 40 years since I was ordained. I want to share with you some key lessons and wisdom I have learned in ministry.
- First, Image and Body matter
We are all made in the Image of God, and we are all members of the Body of Christ. These two themes are absolutely core to Christian discipleship. Young and old, women and men, gay, lesbian, transgendered, whatever our sexuality, whatever our body shape, whatever our ethnicity or skin colour, we are all made in the Image of God and we all belong equally in the Body of Christ.
This leaves no room for discrimination in Christian discipleship.
I have tried to live by this theology.
I delivered the Beckly Lecture this year. Some of the thinking on this is expanded in the lecture. You can listen to it here.
2. Second, you shall not live by bread alone
…the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…that you may know that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord…
In the wilderness it is not possible to travel with speed. It is important to travel at a steady pace, not go too far ahead of others. God walked and worked with the people for forty years to teach them that one does not live by bread alone.
Don’t rush. Don’t be greedy. You are a spiritual being as well as a physical being. You are flesh and blood, spirit and soul. Nourish your spiritual self too.
You do this by dwelling on the Word of God, and Worship/Witness with the people of God.
3. Third, you shall also love the stranger
To “love the stranger” is the most repeated commandment in the Bible. I have preached on this theme more than any other over the last 40 years. See more below.
4. Fourth, love God, love your neighbour as yourself
I will come back to this later too. But first let me go back to the beginning.
I recall a newly retired senior colleague making a speech at my very first Synod. He said he had served 40 years. After Synod I talked with him, and asked him how he had survived and kept going and to be still standing after 40 years in ministry. I have arrived at this stage of my travels and ministry, and am still in reasonably good shape.
In every appointment, whether I have been welcomed and valued or not, I have served with utter dedication and commitment, and given of my very best attention, effort and prayer.
I’ve always had my critics of course, but I’ve always encouraged myself with the words of Jesus, “woe, to you if all well speak well of you”, and followed the advice “let us not grow weary in doing what is right”.
The most fruitful development in my experience of ministry has been in the corner of my life, namely, City of Sanctuary. This is my interpretation of the oft repeated ethical requirement “you shall also love the stranger”. It is about building cultures of welcome and hospitality and safety for the most vulnerable among us, especially those who come here from war and danger zones as refugees seeking sanctuary.
There is now a network of over 120 cities, towns, villages, and areas around Britain and Ireland working with the vision of City of Sanctuary, and I am working with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to develop churches of sanctuary.
If you would like to know more about this, and read more of my reflections on this visit my website at www.inderjitbhogal.com
I remain a follower of Jesus Christ, with roots in the Sikh faith and respect for all faiths. I have always and will continue always to point people to Jesus Christ in whose life and teaching and example I find direction, and tools to interpret and make sense of my life and all life around me.
In his words “inasmuch as you did it to the least important you did it to me”, I find one answer to the question where is God, and how should I prioritise and shape my life. These are the words by which I believe we are to judge the morality and spirituality of individuals, groups, communities, congregations, organisations and nations. How do they treat those who are hurting the most, and least able to be independent.
So, how did I survive for 40 years? By following this simple wisdom:
“Love God, love your neighbour, as yourself”.
I read and use that in reverse. First, Love yourself. It is not selfish to say or do this.
On an aeroplane flight the first message is, in case of emergency a gas mask will drop down. Put your own mask on first before you help others. If you don’t put your own mask on first you are not going to help anyone else because you will not survive. If you can learn to love yourself, you can better love your neighbour as yourself. If you can love yourself, and your neighbour well, that goes a long way towards what it is to express your love of and for God.
14 thoughts on “Ordination 40th Anniversary”
In as much as it is possible to condense the immense wisdom of your 40 years of ordained ministry into a few paragraphs, then this serves very well! Thank you for all that you have been and continue to be.
Thank you Inderjit for such wise, kind, thoughtful, and loving reflections as always. Congratulations on 40 years in ministry! You are such a blessing to the church.
Many congratulations Inderjit for 40 years of ordained ministry. We thank God for all your contributions and for standing as inspiration to the multi-cultural British society. Though this is simple wisdom, this is profound as well – Love God, love neighbour as yourself. From my perspective, on our journey of Christian discipleship, love, God, neighbour, stranger and self are so interwoven, that they need to be reflected collectively , mutually and inter-dependently, for its implications have to be lived out practically in our public sphere. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for stirring some important ripples in our theology and practice, relevant for today.
Thank you Inderjit. If your 750-word allowance had permitted you could also have added walking – not just the Wilberforce Way and your Walk to Westminster, but remembered side-by-side conversations.
I just hope that we are not beginning forty years walking in the Covid wilderness, but God will be with us whatever. We are so fortunate to live NOW, with all the possibilities for communication and information, rather than in the days of the Black Death in the 14th Century when there was no medical science to speak of and people died in their millions. What hurts most for me about the situation we’re in now is not being ALLOWED to offer hospitality to the stranger, or even our own families! And it’s difficult even to exchange smiles from behind a face mask……….
Dear Inderjit, I am intrigued why you didn’t mention people with disability or disfigurement, they share in the suffering of Christ far more than the other groups you care to mention, both physically and socially.
Thank you Inderjit – wisdom indeed and words which inspire and encourage, as does your example in striving to live by the example of Christ. Thankful to God on this anniversary but moreover for your continuing journey with God and willingness to explore what that means for today.
I was particularly struck by the emphasis on inclusiveness in this post. Discrimination, exclusiveness and alienation, wherever they occur, are abhorrent and I applaud instances where ministry, mission and discipleship reflect this. The intriguing question is how to deal with biblical and credal exhortation that are discriminatory. So, like Josie, I have difficulty with “no man cometh to the Father except by me”. Also the supposed saying of Jesus about dividing humanity into “sheep” and “goats” and the idea that the church is some exclusive group called God’s people, or even worse God’s chosen people. No prevarication – this is discrimination!
In the 1960’s the message from the pulpit was to engage with mission, which turned out to be confronting people with the question “Have you been saved”. I refused because I felt that to divide people as saved and unsaved is discriminatory. So I am deeply suspicious about salvation, redemption, judgement, condemnation, self-denial and the concept of sin since they are generally used divisively as part of some economy of grace that excludes and divides humanity – and also diminishes God.
My point is that inclusiveness implies a radical deconstruction of credal orthodox Christianity and I wondered how Inderjit has dealt with this through the years. For myself I attend church each Sunday and praise God for the wondrous unconditional love that surrounds us all. As I have written earlier – for me the Grace of God is absolutely inclusive and non-judgmental. It means finding forgiveness for past mistakes, courage to face the demands of the day and hope for the future. God’s love and these priceless gifts are freely given to all human beings irrespective of whatever faith they have or don’t have.
In the 1960’s as now there was much talk about falling numbers in congregations. The big idea than was to work out what was “wrong with the church” and nobody came up with an answer. Maybe Inderjit’s emphasis on inclusiveness and the deconstructive ethic it engenders is the answer.
My intention was to congratulate Inderjit on the occasion of his ordination anniversary – got a bit carried away!
Congratulations and well done, Inderjit. My husband and I also celebrated a 40th anniversary this year, our Ruby wedding anniversary! Another feat of love, perseverance, mutual respect and forgiveness. God bless you and your ongoing ministry.
Robert, two questions:
If. for you, the grace of God is absolutely inclusive and non-judgmental, then surely it doesn’t matter what we believe, so why do you have a problem with those who do believe in personal salvation?
And if that is the case, why did Jesus send the Apostles out with the instruction to ‘make disciples of all nations?’ And why did he say ‘if you are not made welcome, wipe the dust from your feet as you leave?’
Sorry, that was three questions!
I’m not just being argumentative; I really am interested in your answers.
Might be four questions here! It does not follow that believing the grace of God is absolutely inclusive and non-judgmental means it does not matter what we believe. Why should holding a particular belief mean it does not matter what we believe? This particular belief matters to me, in fact it is of the utmost importance.
For me personal salvation is meaningless. I have five reasons for this:-
1. It implies some sort of deal or transaction with God that makes us acceptable. But if we are trying to live by the injunction to love our neighbour, then our concern should always be towards others and directed away from self concern. In my inner life God only arises in the context of my ethical concern for others.
2. Another reason is that it is based on the idea that we are beings (saved or not saved) when I accept the fact that we are always in a state of becoming. That is our spirituality or motivation. Hopefully to progress from being self-obsessed hedonists to other-obsessed altruists.
3. Also personal salvation is divisive. We are all Children of God because we are human, so we are all “saved” or nobody is. And if something is divisive it often turns out to be discriminatory.
4. Salvation is generally called salvation from sin. But what does that mean? Does it mean our mistakes will not be called sin anymore? Does it mean we stop sinning? Does it mean we will be forgiven because we have been saved? This is too confusing for me!
5. Finally Jesus was inclusive and non-judgemental in all his dealings with people he met.
As for the Commission it all depends on what Jesus meant by the word disciple. For me it is accepting our ultimate responsibility towards others and trying to live by the injunction to love our neighbour. And if our neighbour does not respond to the relationship we are offering then at least we tried.
Here is a question for you. Is it the case that we are conscious beings that make a decision to have a conscience or that it is through having a conscience that we actually become conscious beings?
I’m not answering your question a) because it is too profound for my simplistic brain and b) because I don’t think you have answered my questions properly. You have missed my point completely.
If God’s love is unconditional and non-judgemental, then it really does not matter what I believe or what you believe or what anyone else believes, because we are all safe anyway. No condemnation.
Also, if you really do believe that, why is it so important to you that we be transformed? Isn’t it just that you want us all transformed to your idea of Christianity? All-inclusive means traditionalists, literalists, fundamentalists, extremists, atheists and yes, even satanists, are all included too. Or is that a bit too inclusive?
We should agree to differ Yvonne. For me it all depends on how I read 1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-28 on the weakness of God. Yes, as I see it, God’s love is unconditional and non-judgemental and there is no condemnation. And, yes, all-inclusive means traditionalists, literalists, fundamentalists, extremists, atheists and yes, even satanists, are all included too. The weakness of God does not mean He/She does not care, but that there is a power in powerlessness that Jesus demonstrated by His death and Resurrection. That is completely illogical of course, but love is like that, and I know in my heart that He/She cares deeply about all humanity. My hope is that someone more knowledgable than me will find a way of reconciling the views we express because I do not want the Methodist Church to become an irrelevance.
Reference: The Weakness of God – A Theology of the Event by John D. Caputo
I fear that it is in trying to be all things to everyone that church is making itself irrelevant.