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.