When asked who he thought was the best Christian ever, Rowan Williams was expected to offer the name of a famous saint or holy person. Instead, he said he thought it was an old lady who lived down his road as a child. His answer might surprise us because we live in a world which judges the merit of an endeavour by the measurable results it produces. In some areas, this gets rather bizarre. My experience of being a teacher was that it mattered more to my school that I could produce exam results than whether my pupils actually learned anything. Anyone who has worked for a public service or in a large company could probably share similar stories.
Because this is the world in which we live, we can be forgiven for the extent that this obsession with results rubs off on our attitude towards our faith and our Church, and hence why many found Rowan Williams’ answer surprising. But Rowan’s answer is encouraging to us: Just because our actions seem small, uncelebrated, and perhaps unimportant to others does not mean they are not the things God wants us to do.
One of the best things about being a vicar is that sometimes you get to hear about all of the small, good acts of Christian kindness and charity going on around us: people visiting each other, being faithful in prayer for one another, being generous with their possession and their time. Most of these things never get celebrated; never get talked about, and the people who do them almost never get put into the lectionary of saints and special people to be said at morning prayer. But it’s these small, unrecognised things that the Kingdom of God is made of.
Some ‘results’ in the life of our church are important as they help us make decisions together. The statistics about the resources we have (both in terms of money and people) are significant. Stewarding those resources well is part of our discipleship and witness. But we should not make it our sole aim to make these numbers bigger (or stop them from decreasing). Rather, we should aim to do those things which are too small to be measured statistically, which do not produce much in the way of ‘results’ but are nonetheless what God calls us to do. Just as Rowan Williams’ childhood neighbour did.