Saturday, February 11, 2006

The rest of those ministry questions

Lots to say about Venice, (and, predictably, a sermon to write for tomorrow too) but first I do want to return to Reverend Mommy's questions, before they get lost. It's so helpful to have to think about this sort of thing.

Do you aim for greatness? What is your aim in ministry?
Greatness? What a thought! No…my aim is to be the same sort of faithful priest as my wonderful training vicar. Someone whose sheer, unadulterated goodness shines through in whatever he does and points the way so very clearly to the Father.
Since I know myself to be a long, long way from that state (and no, I’m not fishing…so please don’t feel you need to be kind and jump in with assurances that I’m doing OK:I know myself in ways that even dear and valued blog friends don’t) my current aim is more to make a positive difference in whatever way I can.
Being strictly practical, I would love to be vicar of a church that was large enough for it to be possible to sing “big” hymns without feeling desolate, and to hope that people might have the collective energy and motivation to reach out to their community. After years of Reader ministry in a tiny rural benefice, I know that is very hard if the congregation peaks at 30. There used to be a belief that the Church of England selected candidates whom they thought would fit is as “a team vicar in a market town”. This was always mentioned in a rather disparaging tone, but actually, I think that sort of post might be rather wonderful, if I can’t have my inner-city, urban-priority- area, dream yet awhile. But God generally has rather different ideas to mine, so I'm open to happy surprises.

: 12. How do you keep the enmeshment of church/ministry/family from being overwhelming?
I don’t. If I’m honest (which I do try to be here) it’s a mess and a muddle. Trouble is that the family are so used to my having to squeeze my church stuff into the hours when I wasn’t out at work in the years before ordination, that none of them fusses unduly if I’m in the study when I could or should be with them. And now, of course, there’s the added complication of the study also being the gateway to a whole wonderful online network,- another sort of enmeshment. I hugely envy my American colleagues who seem to have an office at the church. At least then it must be notionally clear where work ends and personal time begins. Here, if I switch on the computer to work on a sermon, I might “just check my emails/bloglines” first …and before I know it, the morning has disappeared. Then, at 10.00 on a Saturday night, when normal women are spending time with their families, I’m still writing the sermon that wasn’t completed this morning because I was busy…blogging!
On the other side of the equation, I also struggle when my family appears to be treading on my toes. LCM belongs to a house group that meets here periodically, and I feel hugely uncomfortable that conversations that pertain to the spiritual well-being of people for whom I am, to some extent, responsible, are taking place in my home but I am not party to them. Wretched.
One way and another, my life is a whole series of hopelessly porous boundaries, and I need to do something about this, or things that I value might just leak out without my ever noticing.

: 13. Would you say you have deep relations with church members? Tips on barriers or boundaries?
Wrong person to ask. See above. I’m pants at this. One vicar I knew overdid it in one direction, and put up such huge barriers that those who longed to offer friendship and support felt thoroughly repulsed and excluded…whereas I give far more of myself away than is probably wise, and am never quite sure where a pastoral relationship ends and friendship begins. People are so amazingly generous with themselves, and invite me into so many hidden places of their lives, it is very hard not to feel intimately and personally committed to them for ever. When special parishioner was dying during my post-Christmas break, I felt dreadful that I only visited the once (even though his family made it very clear that they actually preferred a minimal clergy presence, this wasn't where my relationship with T had been). I forced Wonderful Vicar to keep me up to date on T's condition, and probably made a thorough nuisance of myself to all and sundry. But it hurt. I'd travelled the journey from diagnosis, through gradually declining health and we'd wept, prayed, and explored the hopes and fears of that holy ground...and I wanted to be part of the final phase too,- and beat myself up a fair bit when that wasn't possible.
I knew this would be my biggest problem all along. I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is, on the whole, to be with people in some pretty miserable situations and then totally and genuinely hand them over to God, and sleep easy at night,- I don't carry the weight of the world around as I had anticipated, but how things will be when the time comes to move parishes, I really can’t say.

: 14. What is the difference between a mediocre and a good and an excellent pastor?
Degrees of openness and love

: 15. What is a must read author/website? Henri Nouwen, constantly refreshing, challenging and inspiring.
And my everyday essential website,- Maggi.

: 16. Is there a difference in the way that men and women pastor? How would you describe the difference?
Having worked for the largest part of my ministry (my 10 years of Readering) with a woman, albeit one whose temperament was very different from my own, I now find myself working with a man whose approach is distinctly similar. I suspect that the difference with us is more in the way that people allow us to pastor. I think that some are prepared to be more vulnerable with me, and are more willing to believe that the dog-collar does not miraculously mean that I’ve got everything sorted (what am I saying? Anyone who spends any time at all with me will know that I have virtually nothing sorted, heaven help me!!! Including my ration of exclamation marks) Even at 40something, I’m younger than most of the congregation here, which helps to level the playing field (this had been rather a "Father knows best" church, so a female curate is clearly something different for people to negotiate)…I suspect, though, that the reverse also holds good, that some parishioners will feel that I’m too young and inexperienced to be taken totally seriously. Sometimes (though not often) their affirmation can border on the patronising.
My brilliant bishop wanted to know, when I saw him pre-priesting last summer, if I expected there to be a different feel to how I live my priesthood because I am a woman. At the time, I said that I would only ever know the feel of doing it as Kathryn. Not sure that I'm able to be much more coherent now (which is rather a shame, as I get to see him next month for another review*, and I suspect he may hope for more intelligent comments. What do readers think?
I really wish I knew...

*The Archdeacon's visit apparently wasn't the real review at all, but just a sudden swoop in pastoral mode, which his secretary had been confused I didn't actually need that side of A4 at all, though he kindly took it away to make me feel better!

1 comment:

AndyBofBolton said...

The children and church question is a really difficult one. Ours our 21, 19 (girls) and 16, 14 (boys). Girls were disinterested for a while (?) but may be returning to (a) fold, boys want to be as far from church as possible - preferably tucked up in bed!

I still hope that all we can do is give them the grounding to know what to return to - if or when they want.

It's very easy to talk that line when you are referring to the "other" children in Sunday School- but when it's your own kith and kin...