I’ve been on some training recently, offered by the Diocese to anyone interested in one particular topic. The training was delivered, rather well, by some gifted people whose ministry is concentrated on that particular subject. But it has got me thinking.
Parish priests don’t have the luxury or the constraint of focussing on one particular subject. Parish priests are called to walk alongside people in a particular geographic area – and the concerns and interests of those people know no bounds. A parish priest may well be better at some things than others – indeed, they wouldn’t be human if it were not so. And in my opinion any thinking parish priest will take the opportunities they can to learn about the bits they aren’t as good at, to hear about the best practice, to see how they can improve – and so how they can share the gospel more compellingly, more effectively, without necessarily burning out through worry in unfamiliar situations.
What a parish priest lacks in expertise is often compensated for by their much deeper knowledge of their patch and its people. I will never do the things I was trained in today quite as well as someone who is called specifically to serve in that way. (Just to offer reassurance, I will of course do my best!) But on the other hand, when I do those things, I will see beyond that particular task, because I have an ongoing relationship with the people concerned, as their parish priest. I am there for and with them under the extraordinary and ordinary circumstances of life.
So today, when I went off to perform the relevant task, now fully trained, I discovered that the richness was not in the task itself, but in the chats before and after. There were things to be learned and shared, prayers to be said, shoulders to be offered and used, and there was laughter. I’ll never be as expert at the task as those who have just trained me. But they wouldn’t have arrived early and hung about after – they have the next place to get to. I have the luxury of being able to allow an hour for something that takes twenty minutes, because I am a parish priest, and it is my job and vocation to be alongside. How great is that?