Reality – or through a glass darkly

Bishops - Logic and emotionWhat’s it like being a curate in the Church of England? I have been asked this perhaps a dozen times since Christmas, by hoping-to-be ordinands, by ordinands, by Christians, by non Christians. As a question it is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. Lay Anglicana kindly said that anyone reading my blog had a fairly good idea.

Back in 2010-11, I’d have said “Brilliant! I feel like I’m doing the right things in the right place at the right time”, and that answer is still true. There are times when I’d have said “So hard, so stupidly hard” – when I disagree with the institution of which I am part, when I am asked the impossible-for-me-to-answer question, when someone decides to have a go at me over something I didn’t know I’d done and certainly didn’t do deliberately to offend them, when my family point out they haven’t seen me recently, and that answer is still true too. Sometimes I’d have said “Frustrating”, when to me it’s obvious but to others it isn’t – and the times vice versa too, and that answer is still true too. Ask me after lunch on 26th December, or on Easter Monday, and I will be too tired to produce any kind of coherent answer at all.

Mostly, most consistently,  I would say “Privileged”. I have a roof over my head, I am in a situation where I am responsible in the final analysis for nothing I do – my lovely TI carries the can for me, for good or ill. I am allowed, no, welcomed, into people’s lives where otherwise I would have no place – and my story is richer for being interwoven with their story. I try to lay myself open to the guidance of God, and then become one of the threads God uses in the fabric of life. I stand at the altar, and say “Great is the mystery of faith” and so it is. I am privileged to help people mark the turning points of their lives before God, and to pray week by week, day by day, with and for ordinary, extraordinary communities.

What’s it cost? There is very little in my life that has been unchanged. I left my career, we sold our family home, everyone left friends behind. I can no longer refuse to think about work past 6 pm. Work-life-work is very difficult to unravel into boundaries and time, even if it is possible to keep people in their appropriate compartments. Who is friend, who is to be ministered to, who ministers to me and am I their friend or not? It isn’t as neat and tidy as it used to be. And calling doesn’t stop with a dog collar. I still have to discern daily what needs to be done, what doesn’t, where my priorities are, and whether my answers to those bear any resemblance to what God is saying in it all. It remains, complicated, but differently complicated.

What I have become even clearer about is one aspect of vocation to priesthood – is it stipendiary, self supporting, is it Ministry in Secular Employment, is it Ordained Local Ministry?  They are so very different in their focus, landing in the wrong one would be dreadful, and probably a fast way to a breakdown of physical or mental health. And I remain firmly of the view that everyone who is Christian is called, and everyone is equally valuable, regardless of role. Coffee making, cleaning, mending, fixing, making, not to mention those spiritual gifts too….being ordained isn’t inherently right or wrong. For some folk it’s right, for others it isn’t. Go figure.

I know that I do what I do in God’s strength, not my own. But I also do it with the love, care, support and friendship of huge numbers of people – my family, and those who inhabit the worlds of face to face and online. Thanks, all of you xx

PS and this is my 200th blog post – Happy second century.



11 responses to “Reality – or through a glass darkly

  1. Thank you for your wisdom and integrity, for saying it how it is, ups, downs and all. Thank you, because those of us following in your footsteps need to see the reality of ordained ministry for what it is; just as messy as the rest of the world! But thank you specially for being you, and letting the light of Christ shine through you on this blog and in the other places you risk meeting people.

  2. I endorse both the previous comments (especially the bit about being so young and unspoiled!). The one parallel I can see with my much humbler experience of taking Matins is that at the time I was taken aback at the degree of reaction. If they enjoyed the service, they generously told me, but – at least as often – they felt it necessary to scold me for a typing mistake in the service sheet or something probably equally unimportant but which loomed large to them. It took me a long time – and distance – to accept that these reactions really were as much about their mood, their relation with the parish church, the vicar, the Church of England and God as they were a reaction to the particular service. I think this is partly what you are coming up against as well – and it can be deeply disconcerting, I know!

  3. I wonder if we are not all ordained one way or another, just some are put in the position by God and the Church to be ordained into a public role. You are one such.

    My thoughts of ministry have changed over the past 8 months since BAP. If God is calling me to some form of ministry, why is it proving so difficult for both me and the church to discern it? If the call in fact to some form or public facing ministry, or is it something else.

    At the moment it’s all in limbo, a state of flux. Our Vicar who had a vision has moved and we await a new incumbent with a new or different vision. That’s 9 communities/churches in limbo – excited, expectant, fearful, me among them. Surely this can’t be good for the spiritual health, a flock (9 flocks) being left without a pastor for up to a year – or, does God use this opportunity to give us new insights, to make us share more or even, horror of horrors, to see someone else’s point of view?

    My wife has been very ill over the past two weeks, which has put a new perspective on everything? I’m questioning where my priorities lie. In my mind, they are to her – but it’s nagging at me that there is still something else that I could and should be doing, but it’s as elusive as ever. Perhaps that is the vocation – to be ever seeking, finding what comes out from the ongoing search and making the most of it, while I go on seeking?

    I am not a prophet or even prophetic, because I certainly didn’t see any of the current situation coming – but I’m wondering if it’s just another test to see if I have the perseverance to stay searching. Shame that it takes my wife becoming seriously ill though to show me it?

    Keep the faith Is what I say to myself, because God does have a purpose for me, probably just doing what I’m doing now for the time being.

    • reminds me of a quote from W H Vanstone Love’s Endeavour Love’s embrace:
      The God Who will not abandon and to Whom nothing save HImself is expendable is often misinterpreted in popular devotion as the God of foreordained and programmed purposes….. On the other hand, to interpret the creation as the work of love is to interpret it as the new, as the coming-to-be of the hitherto unkonw, and so as that for which there can be no precedent and no programme. If the creation is the work of love, its ‘security’ lies not in its conformity to some predetermined plan but in the unsparing love which will not abandon a single fragment of it, and man’s assurance must be the assurance not that all that happens is determined by God’s plan but that all that happens is encompassed by His love.

      We – all of us – including you, minidvr, and your wife, are part of that creation which is so loved by God. In this present moment is the only moment in which we can experience the fulness of His love. In that awareness alone is freedom. Living in that awareness will eventually bring clarity to our situations.

      Praying for you and your wife.

  4. Finally got to my PC so am able to comment (can’t work out how to from phone as I never have my pasword with me!)

    Very interesting – and most interesting of all, for me, is that it is exactly as I supposed. Not sure of the implications of that… watch this space…

  5. Thanks all for your comments, greatly appreciated. There is much food for thought here, but I am relieved (or a bit worried) to see I am not alone in being unclear who is looking after whom.

  6. from what a friend has told me whose husband is CofE priest, there is precious little support for clergy when they hit a crisis. I’ve also seen that in another clergy friend who had a breakdown. Cultivate your friends, Claire… the traditional female support network. Find people outside the parish who you can trust and don’t be afraid to use them if you need to.

  7. Hmmm “who ministers to me?” I’m guessing the church supose God will and I supose in effect he does. What else are good friends for?
    Thank you for answering my unasked question by the way! X

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