Time, Ladies and Gentlemen please!

No, not the call for last orders before closing in a British pub – this is a plea for more time.  Twenty-four hours in a day just isn’t cutting it right now.  

I’m lucky, I’m only the curate, and so I don’t have an incumbent’s responsibilities.  But I do sometimes look at my diary at the start of a week or a month and wonder how I am going to make it to the end.  I was asked yesterday whether I could write an article for the church magazine about what I do all week. “We know you take services, and we know you write a sermon, but you must do other stuff.  I mean, apart from coming to Cafe every week and drinking coffee.”

I do drink a lot of coffee.  That is true.  But joining in a conversation with other clergy last night, yet again the dreaded name of George Herbert cropped up.  George Herbert was a clergyman in the 1600’s who turned down a life at court, took up a rural post, wrote a book called “The County Parson” which became a seminal text on how to be a vicar, and then died very young before anyone could tell him any different.  He is a great deal of the reason why vicars apparently spend their time visiting all their parishioners, writing poetry and going for nice walks.  He provides a ‘gold standard’ of pastoral care, which even now, clergy worry that they don’t meet.

Of course we don’t.  Whether we look after four churches in three parishes and 10,000 people or one parish with its church next to the vicarage and 15,000 people, we live in a different world.  We live in a world where records are kept of visits, of changes to churches, of meetings, where lay and clergy rightly co-operate in God’s Kingdom on earth.  We live in a world where a plastic collar does not give the wearer instant authority (and why should it?), where public events require co-operation with secular and other faith colleagues.  We live in a world of service sheets and flyers and websites and assembly preparation, of six miles between churches, of hospitals ten or twenty miles away, where information is everything, and no matter how many times and ways we communicate, there is always someone who hadn’t heard or didn’t know, where just because you’ve told the curate you think the vicar knows too.      

But we also live in a world of myth – for example, the myths of universal church going (in which case why does the original parish church hold 85 people when the population was around 300-500?); of one united congregation (which ignores the nonconformists who wen to church in the morning and chapel in the evening or vice versa); of people being given meals from the vicarage (that’ll be why there was an Elizabethan Poor Law then), of the vicar with his wife dedicated to parish work and their big family where the older daughters run Sunday School and the older sons help with what we’d now call Youth Groups (with respect and thanks for all those who still fit that model- my family certainly doesn’t).    

Church workers cannot do everything.  We have different skills and talents, different abilities to cope with changing schedules, different commitments outside church life (yes, remember those people I bump into around my house?  They are my family).  We are the ones who have to set the boundaries, because we live with several truths, one of which is “there is always more to do”.  Even as a curate, there are always more things on my list than I can achieve.  So some of them quietly drop off the bottom.  We have to give ourselves permission to leave some things undone.  We have to forgive ourselves for the times we get it wrong, when something undone turns out to be important.  

We have to learn to survive.



6 responses to “Time, Ladies and Gentlemen please!

  1. read it, enjoyed most of it, although I wasn't entirely sure that it was much more constructive than a time management course in its advice!

  2. Bravo,

    This should be a mandatory text or insert into every service book in every parish.

    Expectations of clergy being a 24/7/365 emergency service are way to much. You are only human and only have so much time to do so many things. If you don't have time for family, prayer, study, retreats, etc, you would soon burn out.

    Time for realism for all, sure, ask, but don't expect instant answers, instant action or not to be on a priority list of other things that need doing.

    No, come humbly, ask meekly without any expectations, and you will receive.

  3. Thanks Ernie – much appreciated. The more people understand the pressures, probably the better – which is why I might have to write the magazine article. It's on my list!!

  4. The advantage I have is being closely involved in Lay Ministry in our Benefice. I attend all Parish Staff meetings and help with the Rota. When I fill my diary with the Vicar's and Curates appts and other business, I wonder how they have time for their family or any life. But they are both good as boundaries and make every effort to keep to them.

    Vicar is also a TA Chaplain so has extra responsibilities for 550 Infantry Soldiers, with at the moment, 40 in Afghanistan. When the Regular battalion from Canterbury deploys with it's Padre, he also picks up responsibility for their rear party and families. At the moment he's away in Scotland with the Battalion and Julia our Curate is holding the fort brilliantly.

    So, I'm very supportive of Clergy, seeing if from the coal face so to speak.

  5. Was about to recommend that myself! I am involved in Reader training, and reviewing Reader's 'job descriptions'. One of the things we emphasise in both is the need to be able to be able to say 'no' without feeling guilty, and the need to write time for reading, prayer, family and hobbies into your life, and not to feel guilty about giving them priority, because as Alastair says, you will be a better minister for doing that. If you are giving out all the time, and never give yourself time to refuel, you will run dry!

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