I promise I really will blog about last week's training for training incumbents as soon as I've assimilated enough to write coherently, but meanwhile I've been trying to help the parishes understand something of what it means to be involved in the ministry of a non-stipendiary curate. Of course, I'm hampered in this by my lack of direct experience. The model of curacy I experienced was completely parish-based, and its central axis was the daily reality of praying the Office with Wonderful Vicar, morning and evening, 5 days a week. That this will not be possible is a real sadness, though I know that I'll learn every bit as much as Curate-to-be as he works out the shape of his ministry in both parish and workplace, and am confident that the whole thing will be a growing experience for all of us.
Meanwhile, though, I'm conscious that the first reaction of many to the news of Curate-to-be's arrival was a joyful
"Oh, I'm so glad you'll have some extra help".
I really appreciate the concern of my congregations, but truly, this isn't what curacy is all about. The people of Ch K were generous with themselves during my curacy, - allowing me to minister to them, and ministering to me in return so that when the time came to move on there was, I think, real grief on both sides. I hope and believe that I did make things easier for WonderfulVicar (if only by carrying my share of occasional offices, which were very busy in that place) but he never made me feel that I had to do anything to keep things afloat. Rather he let me find those places where I could grow and flourish, let me explore and experiment, and offered me enough love and support to enable me to dare things I'd never have expected. I hope I'm able to half as good a job for Curate-to-be.
Meanwhile, this is what I wrote for the parish mag. Comments and suggestions welcome by bedtime tonight! It goes to press tomorrow...
After several months of meetings, letters and emails, it was a great joy to be able to share the good news that Curate to Be will be joining us as a non-stipendiary curate, following his ordination as Deacon at the end of June. I’ll leave him to introduce himself next month, but for the moment wanted to say something about our special role as training parishes.
Of course, I know that role is already familiar to most of you, for this benefice has shared in training many curates. However, each curate brings his own specific circumstances and training needs, and while Curate to Be is learning more about parish ministry with us, he will also need to give time to the other callings in his life – his role as husband and father, and in his profession too. He will have a lot to negotiate as he discovers what his ordained ministry means in terms of these other areas of his life. Often relationships and expectations of work colleagues are dramatically altered by ordination. Friends who’ve known you for years aren’t sure quite how to treat you, now you have this strange label “Reverend” in front of your name. They stop inviting you to join them for an after work drink, and when they tell jokes they tend to apologise in case they might have caused offence.
Of course, we will do all that we can to welcome Curate-to-be and the family and help them to feel at home in our church communities, but we must remember that he is every bit as fully engaged in ministry when we don’t see him as when he is engaged in leading worship or parish visiting. He won’t be a “Sunday Deacon” (or, eventually, a “Sunday priest”) though we may not see as much of him in the week as we might like. We will need to remember that, though we’re certain to benefit from his many gifts, he is with us to learn. He hasn’t been sent “as an extra pair of hand to help the vicar”, - but rather to gain all he can from ministering in the very different contexts of our two parishes. The national church has very clear & firm expectations of what he should learn during his time with us, - and it’s a long and scary list. We’ll all have a part to play in helping him develop, in telling him when he does well and occasionally, perhaps in offering constructive criticism. Most of all, though, you’ll be able to help him by sharing your own faith stories, by praying with and for him, and by welcoming his ministry as we continue to travel together into God’s future.