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 problem...so 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.