Speaking in a recent radio broadcast to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, an English Literature teacher confessed his frustration at teenagers. "Once they hit cynical," he said, "they don't want to know." I was reassured. Engaging the young (and not so young) in the mysteries of our faith is also challenging.
I celebrate baptisms, weddings and funerals for groups of people who regard Christian worship as a turn-off. The glazed-over indifference of a congregation is as challenging to the priest as a Year 10 class to a hapless teacher. Do I give in to those who would prefer a 'This is your Life' memorial service, downloaded from the internet, to a service with scripture readings and prayers?
When I face indifference and low-level hostility on walking into a hospital ward should I walk out? Carry on regardless? Does my faith demand something more positive?
The words of Jesus in the Gospel for 3 July hit the nail on the head: "I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." That can be how it feels. But Jesus goes on: "Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals." He seems to suggest that there are no slick strategies that will take away my sense of helplessness and irrelevance. That is the way it is supposed to be.
And so I painstakingly negotiate with families over funerals. I wait patiently at the ward station while the nurse studiously buries her head in her paperwork. I say hello to strangers in hospital beds. The amazing thing is that, just occasionally, I meet a nurse who says, "We don't see enough of you," or a discharged patient (whom I can't remember) who says, "Thanks for visiting me in hospital, Father."