A vision of a Vicar

(c) Tiger Aspect Productions

(c) Tiger Aspect Productions

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.



8 responses to “A vision of a Vicar

  1. I think that is a fantastic comparison. I’ve obviously known many Army Pardre’s over the years. Some RC, Some Methodist and even one or two Anglicans. Too a man (there weren’t any woman in service in my time as a Regular or with the TA) they were approachable, good fun apart from one RC Padre who I’m afraid was part of the cause that I left that denomination.

    And an Anglican Reserve Padre was indirectly responsible to stopping my antagonism towards Christianity as we journeyed together between England and Germany on a major TA Exercise. I drove him and we talked endlessly about all sorts of things, but particularly his role as a Parish Priest in Essex and also as a Padre. (Thank you David, you were brilliant!!) Another TA Padre played a major role in my actually becoming a Christian and an Anglican (Thank you Simon, you were also brilliant) when I spoke to him about my experience hearing Jesus speak to me during a traumatic time (we were both going through it together) and he didn’t think that I was mad and took me seriously. He invited me to his parish and mentored me through the whole process of becoming an Anglican and to confirmation and later as I explored a vocation.

    Both balanced running busy multi-parish benefices with their equally demanding part-time duties, and often covered for Regular Chaplains in their duties as they were deployed on operations. I don’t know how they managed it? I’m not saying that they were greater than another Priest without their dual roles, but just that they managed to fit in full time parish ministry with a viable chaplaincy and even took the time to be deployed operationally as well. These to me demonstrate that a vocation for someone in priestly ministry can be dual streamed, and change and develop over time. As far as I know, neither set out to do two jobs, but were just drawn towards them like any other vocational journey.

    It seems to me that at times, clergy are or have to be bit of a dreamer as well as a Priest, because I know that i dreamed about vocation quite a lot and Clergy must get prompts from somewhere that makes them move, change roles or ministry or generally get itchy feet for the next opportunity that might open up to serve God in new ways.

    So, perhaps your visitor for the baptism is sharing some insight given to him via the Holy Spirit – Welcome Padre!!! 🙂

    • Oh, Ernie, I know my limitations, and there is no way I could ever be a Padre! (I was about to claim I’m too old, but I’ve just checked and I’m not!). I have the liveliest respect for Padres and the work they do, particularly because I know I couldn’t.. We have a lot of people with army connections in my parish, some of them still serving, many of them family, many of them ex-army. Maybe having someone in a collar who isn’t part of the army, but is still “recognisable” might help a few in their transitions? I can but pray it will be so!

  2. Thank you, enjoyed reading this … we often address some of this with #MediaLit14! and… keep your eyes peeled for @vahva’s book, coming early-mid 2015 I think – have been privileged to hear draft of first chapter – which is on Vicar of Dibley 🙂

  3. This is excellent, Claire. It rings true from both perspectives (I’ve known some service padres as well as scores of rural vicars/rectors).
    And, don’t do yourself down 🙂

    • Thanks Simon 🙂
      Me, do myself down? I’ll have you know I’m the best* Rector this parish has had in the whole of 2014!!!

      *yes, the alternative word is indeed “only” 😉

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