Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I was with one of our deanery Chapters for lunch the other day. It’s a deanery where if all the posts were filled they would have 7 clergy. In 1961, when the deanery was slightly smaller, there were 17! For many of us 1961 is living memory, and inevitably our expectations of what clergy can do are clouded by the memories of their availability 30 years ago, or even worse from the time of Kilvert’s Diary. He was the curate in a parish of 217 souls in the late 19th century. No surprise that they got so much gardening and butterfly collecting done! I even heard of one parish where people hid when they saw the vicar coming to visit. It wasn’t that they didn’t like him, but he had so few to look after that he was there every five minutes.
We do have expectations of one another, but they are potentially damaging unless they are honestly shared and explored. If I delve into some of the letters of complaint people send me, it is often mismatched expectations that lie at the bottom of the dissatisfaction. This extends to the relationship between the senior staff and clergy. We have a training course for clergy running at present and this week both the clergy on the course and I were invited to share our expectations with one another. It was fascinating that there was virtually no overlap between them. They thought mine were all about fulfilling the demands of bureaucracy and demanding that the entire future of the church lay on their shoulders. My actual expectations were much more about desiring their flourishing and that they should be honest and seek support if they needed it. I hope that discovery was a relief.
In a time of scarce resources, it is more important than ever that we are honest with one another about what is achievable and realistic. If clergy are responsible for the care of 8 parishes they simply can’t be as available in each parish as their predecessors who had 4 or less could be. What would be catastrophic for the future of our diocese is if people got a calculator out and started equating Sunday visibility with how much was given in parish share. What we give is to support the whole ministry of the church. Clergy cannot be in two places at once, and inevitably in a larger benefice, they won’t get to every parish every week. They will however be visiting the sick, taking assemblies, being a school governor, preparing people for marriage, caring for people in their last days and the family through the funeral. They will be helping people with their journey of faith, teaching the scriptures, and praying informally and all the little but often time-consuming administrative tasks that come with the role. Much of the work of ministry is invisible. I used to get very irritated when people cracked the old joke that vicars only work on Sundays. In my experience, Sunday was my quietest day. All the preparation had been done in the rest of the week and the services were just the tip of the iceberg of missional and pastoral activity. The church is far more than what happens in worship on a Sunday. When I was a missioner I used to ask people at vision days the provocative question, “if you had no building and couldn’t meet on a Sunday, what would be left?” The thriving churches tended to have a good answer; the struggling ones didn’t.
Jesus too struggled with unrealistic expectations. As people began to grasp who he was, they laid upon him a whole pile of hopes and aspirations that had nothing to do with his core purpose. Even at the Ascension, the disciples ask him, “are you are this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They thought the job of a messiah was to be a military leader who drove out their occupiers, not a person who would effect the forgiveness of sins and restore their relationship with God. The role of ministers is set out clearly in Paul's letter to the Ephesians Chapter 4:12: to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up. All churches are at a point on the journey from the vicar is the church, to the people help the vicar be the church to the more biblical model the vicar helps the people to be the church. And being the church is not just about
Sunday. Our gatherings for worship should be a resource to equip us for being the church from Monday to Saturday: in our homes, our communities, our workplaces, and schools. Our gatherings and buildings are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.
So, as we emerge from the pandemic I do encourage PCCs to have these honest conversations about what they expect of their vicar, readers, and staff, but also to listen to the expectations they have of you because the church is all of us, not just Bishops, Archdeacons and vicars. Such honesty might be difficult but ultimately it is fruitful, just as was my conversation with the clergy on the course this week.
Mercifully, Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We know God doesn’t make unreasonable demands on us. I hope we can learn not to make unreasonable demands on each other.