In her (very generous) comment on a recent post, Serena wondered what was behind my reference to “borrowed time” - so here's a quick explanation...
My work as a curate is the "on the job" element of training for ministry within the Church of England. Though we're ordained after 2 or 3 years of vicar-school, first as deacon and then, usually one year on, as priest, there’s clearly much to be learned before we’re safe to be left with a real live parish – and the theory is that 3 to 4 years of curacy should address this situation.
On leaving vicar-school, the newly ordained are sent to work with an experienced priest, who acts as “Training Incumbent” – helping them grow into the practical realities of parish ministry.
That’s what has been happening for me with WonderfulVicar and the tolerant souls at St M’s since July 2004 – so sometime between July this year and July next, I have to move on to take on my first “responsibility post”. Unsurprisingly, this was quite a hot topic during my recent review with the Archdeacon – I was asked to think aloud about what my dream post might look like and how I envisage my ministry developing during the next few years. I've kept on pondering, because it's not straightforward.
I know that I love much about working within the traditional model of church. I realise that Charlton Kings has probably given me an unreal perspective on the opportunities that the parish system still provides, but here certainly I’m regularly in contact with non-church families, who still approach us for rites of passage. This is such a privilege, and I've made some really important connections along the way. My children tease me about the way I seem to enjoy funerals…but truly, the combination of being allowed to share people’s stories and to speak words that might, by the grace of God, make a difference is nothing short of mind blowing.
So in my experience here, the benefits of the parish system still outweigh its drawbacks, and
I’m always surprised and delighted by the amount of free floating good will that seems to exist for the church, and her ministers.
So – does this mean I’d like to be a parish priest?
Of course I would....
BUT I know too that the connection between what happens within the walls of St M’s, and the lives of hundreds in this community is not just tenuous – it’s non existent.
And I long for all those other people to know directly how much they are loved by God– to feel the difference that Love makes to each and every second of their lives and their eternities….The first time I cycled up to Morning Prayer in church from Privet Drive, the Monday after my diaconal ordination, I did so against the tide of children heading to the primary school round the corner. I arrived at the church in tears. We live in a community with many young families but I work in a church whose average age is definitely a few years older than my own. And it hurts that we’re not connecting with those many others.
So – OpenHouse was born…and is, I think, making connections with those families whom jargon would describe as “Open un(or de?)churched”…those who’ve some idea of what might happen behind the doors of St M’s…who are prepared to come and see.
But there’s the rub. Come and see.
I loved welcoming school children to St M’s in Holy Week to follow the “Experience Easter” trail…and there are arguments in favour of taking them to a special place and using the power of an ancient building to enhance our telling of the Best Story Ever…but not if that prevents them from believing it could actually relate to the reality of their lives.
The risk is that clergy and congregations may carry on behaving as if we believe that God is to be uniquely encountered within our churches…and trying as hard as we can to lure people to meet God there…whereas we know that he has “already gone before us into Galilee” ..He’s waiting in the bus queue, taking pleasure in the bounding (and boundless) energy of the dogs being walked on The Beeches, and the skate boarders in the precinct...
So…I want to be involved in a church that does not just look outwards, but steps out to join in, to bless, celebrate and join in with God’s transforming activity in the world.
I thought a bit about this during Holy Week, and in a response to a comment from Caroline Too, wrote
“ I do realise that liturgy and buildings are often the problem, I'm not saying they are the whole answer, but I do think that we need a combination of church through relational networks (yuk phrase, but can't think of a better way to put it) and church that is just identifiably there as church.
Of course, you can have buildings without liturgy...or liturgy without buildings....or community without either. I'm a real believer in that famous "mixed economy church" which ++Rowan wants to see...even though the process of being both/and could potentially exhaust everyone.”
Holy Week brought me right up against that, since on the Monday night I was refreshed and inspired by time spent with the Be Stillinstallations provided by feig in the Lady Chapel of our Cathedral…while on Thursday morning, I was back in that same Lady Chapel with rank on rank of robed clergy preparing to renew our ordination vows at the Chrism Mass. God spoke to me in both services, both situations….I’m excited that I’m part of a church that recognises this will happen.
So…if I were asked to choose between ministry in an inherited and an “emerging” congregation, my answer would have to be “Yes please.”
I want both.
Which, I suspect, may be a tall order.
Watch this space.