If you've been loitering in these parts for long enough, you may remember that a couple of years ago, I enjoyed a wonderful retreat, led by the ever inspiring DH, in a beautiful house in Cornwall. Everything was good about that week, but for me the best bit was the conversation over supper. Emboldened by the memorably excellent wine (another area in which DH knows his stuff) I was able to shed inhibitions and join in discussions that ranged far and wide, through life, faith and the places they meet. When it comes to matters of theology and priesthood, DH's word is pretty much law for this particular vicar, so when we found ourselves discussing the question of relationships with a congregation, and how they can help or hinder sacramental relations, I was all ears. With the big move from my training parish looming I was considering how hard it seemed that once departed thence I couldn't return, even to bury much loved souls or to baptise long awaited bumps....but DH was very firm, stressing that when that happens, it undermines the whole objective reality of ordination. What matters is that there is A priest there, not which particular priest it is...
I still struggle with this, - though I've steadfastly stayed away from a few rites of passage for special people at St M's - but it's always challenging to work out where the line comes between complete "depersonalisation" (the tradition that would have the priest remove wedding rings & all traces of individuality in the vestry) and over dependence on personal relationship, the sort of approach that I could too easily fall into of just standing their loving the congregation and soaking up love in return. That matters, but it's far from the whole story.
But this week one friend reflected on a visit to her home town to conduct a family funeral, while more happily I was privileged to officiate at a lovely wedding for a school friend of Hattie Gandhi's yesterday - both occasions when relationship with the key players was really important. And though I was absolutely terror struck before yesterday's service (realising that this was the first time someone had invited me to take a wedding, specifically as "me" and not as part of the staff of their church) it never occurred to me to say "No"...It seems to me that there are times when not making the most of our relationships would be just perverse.
I took another wedding this afternoon, - this very much because I'm vicar of the parish, - and the groom was kind enough to tell me that the welcome they'd received, and the fact that I'd given the church a human face had changed his attitude to the whole institution and maybe even to God.
I think the important thing is, perhaps, to be able to get out of the way now to allow the fundamental relationship with God to flourish...It's all about being a signpost, after all.