Role models aren’t really my thing. I’ve seldom met, read about or heard about anyone and thought “that’s IT! I want to be like YOU!” It’s quite tricky enough being me, without trying to be someone else as well. But there’s a greeting, or later in the conversation, an exclamation, which is becoming increasingly familiar to me. “You’re just like the Vicar of Dibley!” to which the temptation to reply “no no no no no no yes” is quite large.
Among some of my clergy sisters, any comparison to Geraldine Grainger goes down like the proverbial lead balloon. Certainly she operates in the kind of rural world of which many dream…a village vicar, with just one church to look after, no sign of a car (apart from a taxi home as required), plenty of willing (and colourful) volunteers. If a parish priest lives in urban or suburban Britain, or is a rural priest with multiple communities to look after and life spent in a car, the annoyance of the clergy sisterhood is understandable.
However, Geraldine is a parish priest who loves her community, who does her best to serve God and them, who sees the funny side, who makes horrendous mistakes, who eats chocolate, drinks wine, tells atrociously bad jokes: a priest who is very human. I think it’s her humanity which speaks to people, which has entered the national consciousness.
At the quiz night the other night, there was a photo round…and there was my beaming grin, sandwiched between Tom Hollander (Adam from “Rev”) and Dermot Morgan (Father Ted). It is worth remembering that for those who don’t do church, their contact with clergy is through their television screens. They mostly see either real life clergy in snippets on the news offering sympathy and prayers in times of tragedy, or they see sitcoms. These are the characters who set the expectations about who it is people will meet when they book their wedding, a baptism, a funeral, attend a toddler group, gather at the War Memorial. And since I am a village rector with one church, and I am female, (and I should possibly throw in something about wine and chocolate here) people equate me with their most familiar female clergy role model. Bluestone 42 fans will be familiar with Mary, the Army Padre, but given she’s 20 years younger than me, and working in a war zone, I’m not expecting a comparison with her any time soon. To be fair, I am closer to the Vicar of Dibley than I am to Mary the Padre on every scale I can think of. Were I male, or were I in an urban benefice, the point of comparison would be different again. (And having seen the portrayal of female clergy in Rev, I can only be grateful that the parts those characters have played are small!).
Yesterday, after an afternoon Baptism, someone drew an unexpected comparison at the church door. “You’ve missed your vocation”. I waited nervously to see what was coming – my Baptism services are usually pretty relaxed affairs, and this one had been no exception. “You should be an Army Padre, you’re just like them”. I’m confident he didn’t mean I’m like Mary (who strikes me as surprisingly earnest), but rather he was reminded of the Padres he’d met whilst serving. The ones he knew from real life, not via a sitcom. The ones he knew to be human, down to earth and doing their best in circumstances I can’t even imagine. I’ve no problem at all with being likened to the Vicar of Dibley, it always makes me smile. Being likened to real-life Army Padres…..that made me proud.
I think it is worth making explicit that people don’t have many points of comparison for clergy any more. They don’t know what to expect, and many will be conditioned by what they have seen on television, and stories they have heard from other people. Clergy have to be themselves, just like anyone else would be, because the strain of wearing a mask is great. But if you really want to be like someone else, try this YouTube link.