After Rebekah’s weekly ballet lesson this morning, we set out on our first expedition to look at possible new cats. A bit quick you might think, but certainly the children needed to begin the process.
Using the Web, we had scoped out two possibilities locally. One turned out to be more like a clearing house for a people who needed to rehome their cats and dogs – nothing wrong with that, just not what we were expecting. They had descriptions of some very appealing young cats, in particular two friends that would come together. We now await a phone call back from the proprietor once she has spoken to the family with those cats, and to two other families who also want to rehome two cats each.
The other candidate was the local branch of the Cats’ Protection League. Its address put it down a tiny, narrow country lane on the southern side of town. We drove up and down this road three times without finding it. Eventually, we asked a local man, and he told us where it was. They are the charity in the field of rescuing and rehoming cats, and we had high hopes of our visit – not necessarily of finding our new pets, but of coming away with a sense of hope. However, we left with mixed feelings.
The problem we had seemed to be something analagous to an issue we face in the Christian community. How do you set the bar high and yet remain welcoming? There is a sense in which joining the Church should be difficult, because we should not hide the fact that discipleship is demanding and costly. It’s no good giving people the impression you can just give Christ part of your life. It’s all or nothing. Yet at the same time, we want to demonstrate the unconditional love and grace of God. Some churches end up being hostile in the name of fidelity to the Gospel, others – perhaps with a slight touch of desperation – lower the bar as if Christianity is more like limbo dancing. The latter is the problem I meet more frequently.
The Cats’ Protection League need to make it suitably difficult for some people to have an animal from them. We knew already that candidates for their cats had to be visited at home for interview and inspection of the property. Things like that are fine with us. We have nothing to hide, and are happy to put ourselves through a process that separates out those who will mistreat cats or give up on them easily and bring them back for another rehoming exercise.
What we found today were two staff with quite different attitudes. There was a young man who showed us the cats, was careful to keep to official policy, but who was flexible and warm towards us. There was also a woman on the welcome desk who wanted to put every possible obstacle in our way. We’re not sure how she felt about us having children. She didn’t want to take our details “because they would be lost in all the paperwork” (not an encouraging thought about the quality of their administration). She seemed to have clear ideas about which cats we should and should not be allowed to view. And she warned us that if we wanted to adopt any of their felines, then we would have a mountain of forms to complete – didn’t she realise I’m a Methodist minister and belong to the most bureaucratic church of them all?
Striking the balance is very difficult. The woman is right to put obstacles in the way of the casual or the unsuitable, and of course she doesn’t know new people who walk through the open door at all. Yet somehow people in her position need to develop a nose for those who might just possibly be genuine and suitable.
As I said, we face the same problem in the church. Given how we perceived our reception at the CPL, I wonder all the more how people we connect with through our faith feel. I’m partly thinking about that select and decreasing band of newcomers who just show up on a Sunday for the first time, and those with whom we share in the community. And if it is a difficult balancing act, what helps us do it best?