I, like many, am shocked to hear of the tragic death of Father Paul Bennett, a vicar in the South Wales Valleys community of Trecynon near Aberdare yesterday. Apparently stabbed to death after answering his door to a local resident and in the company of his watching family. My heart goes out to them, it really does.
There once was time where it was common place for Church leaders to be slaughtered or punished for what they believed and stood for, (I say 'once was a time', but it does still occur in many countries - possibly more so than ever before - we just don't hear about it, China, Vietnam.......). We do not know the reason at this early stage why he was targetted, so for now we can only speculate.
In my experience as a minister, although in a slighlty different context, I don't think we should be surprised. Nor do I think anyone engaged in a pastoral community ministry will be. The vast majority of people are appreciateive of your efforts, particularly those most vulnerable. But innevitably there are those with issues with God and his representatives and the local vicar will always be a potential target. The fact that his home is often expected to be open house makes him or her all the more vulnerable.
On the couple occasions I have taken a beating - one such occasion included token punches and kicks as punishment for the 'sins of others' in ministry who had been exposed as abusers of trust. That issue was nothing to do with me - infact it was a headline story from another country that maybe hit close to home with this particular chap and his pals, and I and my mates were easy pickings.
Time will tell and maybe the truth will come out as to why Father Paul has been stabbed to death. Whatever the reasons are, they won't erase the pain and heartache for his family - my prayers will be for them.
For me there remains a challenge and a balancing act. The call of ministry, committment to God, serving unpredicatable people, speaking up for justice................. and protecting your family.