What’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.