Sunday, February 11, 2007


This weekend, I've been on call as "Duty Chaplain" for the 3 local hospitals, a ministry I really enjoy. It's the first time my cover has included a Sunday, so I was a bit nervous that a call might come during the 8.00 Eucharist, when I'm the only person present who can actually preside,- but with that hurdle cleared, I was pretty relaxed about the rest of the day.

Still, it was with a little disquiet that I felt my cassock pocket vibrate gently just as the choir began the Magnificat during Evensong. I was preaching, and it seemed a bit tough to just dump my script on WonderfulVicar and bolt. Instead, I made a reasonably discreet exit to the vestry and picked up the call. Someone had just died and the family were requesting a priest.
Would they be alright to hang on 40 minutes, to allow me to finish Evensong and get to the hospital?
No I went back into the service, though a little distracted, and trying to offer prayers for the lady, E, and her family. Sermon time arrived, and I mounted the pulpit steps...only that wretched pocket was buzzing again(thank heaven for the "silent" setting). Nothing to be done at this point but continue, though concentration was a real struggle. I'm told that I no less coherent than normal, but inside I was wondering if this was a follow-up to the first call, or another call out..and if so to which hospital. I hated the fact that I couldn't answer instantly, be the kind of "flying squad" chaplain that all my instincts prompted me to be...And I hated too the fact that I was less than present to my congregation at St M's.
As soon as the sermon was over, WonderfulVicar mouthed that I should just go,- so, pausing only to pick up the oil stock, I prepared to do just that. Only the second call turned out to relate to the same case. No need for me to turn out after all. The family are RC and if they can't have an RC priest then at the very least they want a man.
It's not unreasonable, really,- but I am, once again, surprised at how much I mind when gender gets in the way of ministry.
Those phonecalls prevented me from being properly "there" for my own congregation, and now my gender has prevented me from offering ministry at the hospital too.
And it's not a good feeling.
Not in any way.


sally said...

Oh, b*gger!!! Mobile phones are a blessing..and a curse...that family will never know what comfort they missed by turning you down...their loss!!!

Caroline said...

You wrote

"It's not unreasonable, really"

Sorry, Kathryn - you're wrong, it was totally unreasonable! It was offensive and ignorant.

That they were at a point of sadness and so grace would stop us from telling them, at that moment, of their offensiveness does not, I'm afraid, stop them from being in the wrong.

and you, my friend, need to have permission to say that!

Caroline Too

Karin said...

I think such people could be called bigots, it's just that we are taught to excuse bigotry for religious reasons and some think it their God-given right to exercise their bigotry and prejudice whoever is harmed by it.

Of course when someone is grieving is not the time to tackle them about it.

I wonder how necessary it is for you to respond instantly to such a call. Could you keep your mobile somewhere you could check it when it's convenient, but where it wouldn't interfere with your concentration during a sermon, next time you are on duty on a Sunday.

People don't usually need us quite so urgently, and a bereaved family might benefit from having time to let things sink in and collect their thoughts, although I am not an expert in bereavement.

cal said...

Oh that's horrid for you. And in fact just horrid in general. May we be thankful that as the generations pass there will be less of this.

It's weird how irrational we humans can be. My mother was a very definitely lapsed RC (long, long story there) but she said that she wouldn't have felt 'properly' married if she hadn't be married by an RC priest. She knew it was irrational, but it was deep rooted! Likewise, she would never take Communion at our local village church (CofE/Methodist LEP) even though she knew she was more than welcome, because again, 'it just feels wrong' - her head and mind were telling her one thing but she just couldn't do it!

Lorna said...

Is it not possible to turn off the phone during the service at least - I mean if there really had been a serious emergency while you were conducting the Eucharist - just what could you have done?

sorry about the call though - at least they phoned rather than let you walk in on it - or have a wasted journey!

1 i z said...

"and now my gender has prevented me from offering ministry at the hospital too."

It may seem like semantics, but I'd say that the truth is rather more that their view of your gender prevented them from receiving the ministry you offered.

And as Sally so succinctly puts it - their loss.

Horrible for you either way. Huge hugs.

Songbird said...

I've been there as an on call chaplain, in the middle of Christmas night, as a Buddhist nurse tried to understand what an Anglo-Catholic family wanted. Certainly not a Congregational woman. Feels like crap. And I'm sure it felt like crap for them, too, since their rector had given them three different phone numbers and asked them to call no matter the hour.