Apparently patronising is the word to use to describe what someone does as a patron. For example, if the Queen became patron of a Hospital, she will patronise that hospital. But will the hospital also patronise her in the same way that someone who is made a saint is canonised, or do we have to say ‘being made a patron’? I am not sure that we should patronise the Queen!
Someone patronises a business or shop by frequenting them as a customer.
And of course we patronise someone if we treat them condescendingly. ‘Condescending’ means treating someone as if they are inferior to you in status, ability, understanding and in other ways*.
One of the worst things that churches can do is to patronise people. Not by making them into patrons, or by frequenting them as if they were a shop or a business, but by acting as if we are superior. We have the knowledge about God, we have the understanding, we have the experience… let’s explain it to you in ways that you will understand.
We patronise people who are suffering in ways we have not experienced if we tell them that, “God is in control.”
We patronise people who are experiencing loss if we offer a platitude such as, “God knows how you are feeling.”
We patronise people who are struggling for spiritual breath and who are hanging on to their faith by their fingertips if we say, “God won’t let you go through more than you can cope with.”
Don’t get me wrong, Christians, and please put down those e-rocks that you are ready to lob at me. I do believe in the truth of those statements. And there are times when they will be the right thing to say. But I also believe that we need to be selective about when we say them. They are probably not what someone needs to hear in the immediacy of a difficult situation.
Surely it is better for the person who is suffering to hear you say, “I am here for you and I am not going away.” Perhaps through your friendship and faithfulness they may catch a glimpse of God.
Isn’t it more like Jesus simply to weep alongside those who weep? And in our sharing their tears people may sense God’s empathy.
To the person who has more questions than answers and to whom God seems a distant memory our ability to sit with them and listen to their doubts and respond with gentle grace may enable them to hold onto our faith as a drowning person clings onto the lifeguard.
You don’t need to be a Minister to say and do these things. You don’t need any sort of training or qualification. Simply ask that God’s Spirit will be with you and minister through you and take the step of faith to make the phone call, write the letter or email, or arrange a visit…
You will be a blessing and may well be blessing.
*He says patronisingly! That was a deliberate illustration for you.
(He said patronisingly again.)