Pastures new

It’s been an age since I last wrote anything. Looking back at my last post I wrote:

“2013 was a pretty crappy year. 2014 has got to be better.”

Well, it didn’t really improve much. I carried on working in the parish, just doing what had to be done and hoping that a job I was interested in would come up. I knew my heart wasn’t in parish ministry so was looking for something elsewhere. Unfortunately the job market was a bit thin and I ended up leaving my curacy with nothing to go to, and then nowhere to live.

Then, out of nowhere, the perfect job came up – THE ONE – the thing I had always wanted. I prevaricated over the application believing I wouldn’t even get an interview, nearly didn’t apply at all and then ended up writing it the night before the deadline over a pint in the pub! Well, the rest, as they say, is history. I got the job and moved into post.

For the first time in ages I’m loving, really loving, what I do. Honestly. Despite the fact that it’s not been easy. The knock on effect of the previous few years on my mental and physical health has been huge, but I’m definitely getting there. Now that I no longer get supervision (not that I had much of that before!) I decided to find some for myself, opting for psychotherapy. I’m not new to therapy but this is really valuable, learning to discover a sense of identity and personal values. I’ve rediscovered my mojo, and am finding my voice. There are more challenges to come and plenty of work to do on myself, but I find I am now looking to the future more and more rather than being trapped in the past. There are still things in the past that need dealing with as they stop me dwelling in my present and hold me back from moving forward, but there’s plenty of time.

Of course there will be plenty more challenges along the way but for now I’m in the right place doing the right thing.

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Liminal Moments

I don’t go in for New Year celebrations very much, and this year won’t be much different. But I have been thinking about the today being a liminal moment as I stand on the cusp of the year.  Life is full of these moments, they are more or less obvious depending on what is happening, but here are my thoughts about the significance of today’s liminal moment:

1) After today I have two weeks off – hurrah!

2) This year I have to find a new post. This means a new start, a chance to begin again, to discover what God has got in store for me.

3) 2013 was a pretty crappy year. 2014 has got to be better.

Today I am going to let go of all of the crap of the last 12 months (or longer in some cases) and work out what I want to do, where I want to be, and how I’m going to get there.

Happy New Year!


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Christmas joy?

This year, Christmas has been a little different for me. I’m on my own for the first time in 10 years, so I’ve not done much celebrating. As I’m not off work until the new year I’ve done a little bit of paperwork and things today.

I made the huge mistake of looking on the Parish Facebook page, only to see that people are still bitching about how crap all the services were last year, going on and on about how amazing the services have been every year apart from last year, and what a wonderful job the new vicar did this year and how much better everything was. I’m angry and upset. I think I have a right to feel like this. What people have not grasped at all is that the liturgy they had this year was exactly what they got last year, and I arranged all the services apart from one this year. Last year I did absolutely everything on my own with no assistance of any kind. (Yes, I know that when I have my own parish this will be the norm but as Curates we should not be expected to do everything on our own with no support or mentoring) The new vicar is a lovely person and we get on well together but the facts are that he is just lazy and I am still doing all of the work.

If I believed in Christmas wishes it would be that I would be able to get out of here very, very soon.


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Harsh Words

The last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling pretty low. The current parish continues to be a difficult place to be and the job search is slow and currently fairly fruitless. I seem to have descended into a state of extreme tiredness, sleeping far beyond normal and having no motivation. Aside from this, I have been trying to continue as usual with parish life.

There is, in the parish, a rather old-fashioned and bizarre form of sexism, masquerading as ‘chivalry’ going on. What usually happens is that I pick up a chair or similar and a man 50 years my senior rushes over and says something like “let me help you with that, dear”. I know that people think they are being helpful and nice, but my ability to carry a chair is generally greater than someone 50 years older than me, and to be really honest being called ‘dear’ or ‘sweetheart’ really grates on me, and my male colleagues are not treated similarly.

A few days ago I was helping a small group with an activity, we were clearing up, putting things back into plastic crates and taking them upstairs to where they are stored. The crates are fairly large, but not at all heavy and 3 of us picked up a crate each. The man said to the other lady, ‘here, let me take your crate as well, just put it on top of this one’. She declined, saying she was ok with her crate. So he turned to me and said the same. I also said ‘thanks, but I’m fine, I can manage’. He said to me, “I know you can manage, but for once in your life will you be quiet and do what you’re told!” I was so shocked that I just let go of the box and he walked away.

The following day I raised this with my supervisor. He said I should just forget about it. But really, should we just let this kind of thing go? It was incredibly rude, and I was shocked and upset and being spoken to like that. I suspect that had I been a man I would have been allowed to carry my crate upstairs, no questions asked.

The Church in generally seems to be a place where rudeness is not challenged and certainly in this parish there is quite a culture of a lack of respect for the female clergy. I’m angry with the person who spoke to me, why on earth would they think that was ok? And I’m angry with my supervisor for telling me just to forget about it.

My experience of working in this diocese is that bullying, rude and ignorant behaviour is tolerated and not challenged. This is such a sad thing. In the past when I have stood up for myself and challenged rude behaviour I’ve been told that I don’t know how to handle conflict. I have been bullied by clergy, congregation and churchwardens alike and I know that I am by far not the only one this happens to. At no point have I ever been offered appropriate support, nor has the behaviour of those responsible been challenged.

It is unrealistic to expect the Church, and all its members, to be perfect. But if the Church is to be a community that shows the love of Christ it must address unreasonable and rude behaviour, not just pretend it isn’t happening or just doesn’t matter. Just as Jesus had harsh words for some in the gospels, so too must the Church have harsh words for some, even when this feels uncomfortable.

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Can we remember what we’re remembering?

This sunday I was not in my own parish, or indeed ministering in any parish. I won’t go into the reasons now, but I found myself at a Parish Eucharist somewhere I had never been before. I didn’t know the church, or anyone there, so didn’t know what to expect other than knowing that the church labels itself as ‘inclusive and liberal catholic’.

I didn’t get what I expected. It was a Parish Eucharist with a 9:30 start time, where the hymns were sung at a snail’s pace, and the spoken liturgy at the speed of light. The Act of Remembrance which was very short and not particularly meaningful, came in the middle of the service, at around 10am, shoehorned in between the sermon and intercessions. There were many things about the service which irritated me, the slow music, the badly delivered liturgy, the complete lack of imagination in making it meaningful, and the fact that the parish felt it was ok to also have that sunday as the Mother’s Union corporate communion.

But what really annoyed me, and actually made me quite angry, was the sermon. The sermon boiled down to two main points.

1 – We should all be grateful to those who died fighting in wars and defending our freedom and the values of this Christian country, because these Christian values that we hold as a nation are good values, unlike the values of other people/nations.

2 – Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, he came to bring war, and there will be war on earth until we have evangelised the whole world, until every person has heard the good news of Jesus.  We are fighting a battle against the forces of evil.

I know that many preachers find preaching on Remembrance Sunday quite difficult. I don’t pretend to have the answers or some kind of magic formula. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so utterly stupid and outrageous said on Remembrance Sunday, and it got me wondering about what we think we are remembering.

I’m too young to remember any wars before the first Gulf War. Although the Falklands War happened in my lifetime, I was so young at the time and it happened so far away, that it had no impact on my life. So I have no idea what it is like to live through war, to serve in the armed forces, to see your friends and colleagues die and be wounded in front of your very eyes. But I can’t help but feel that in some quarters we have forgotten what we are meant to be remembering.

For me, it seems that we should be remembering the futility and sheer awfulness of war. That people died because of the pure greed, bloody-mindedness, and prejudice of other people. And it still goes on. I heard someone in the pub the other day talking about a difficult pupil in their class they had some years ago. There was a meeting between the parents and teacher. I don’t know what the outcome was but the person regaling the story went on to say “well , of course they were Jewish” by way of explaining what was felt to be an unhelpful attitude from the parents.  I was so taken aback I literally didn’t know what to say. I wish I had said something but we all know how hard it can be to be ‘that person’ sometimes.

Perhaps this Remembrance Sunday I will simply pray that we all remember what happens when prejudice goes unchallenged.

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Is it just me?

I decided to do a little investigating of my own. I’ve been hugely frustrated about many things in my ministry here but most often about the provision of the pastoral offices.

As well as myself there is another full-time Priest who has been with us for just short of 6 months, and there is a retired Priest who lives locally. I don’t get to do that many of the pastoral offices and this is a source of constant frustration for me. I realise this may sound like I therefore have nothing to do but can assure you that this is not the case!

So I had a little look through the registers for the last twelve months to see what’s been happening…

Since the beginning of November 2012 there has been a total of 53 pastoral offices. Now, percentages are not my strong point but here goes… They divide up thus:

36% were funerals or memorial services

41% were weddings

23% were baptisms

Of the baptisms, I did 58%, my full-time colleague has done 33% (in 6 months), my retired colleague did 8% and 8% were done by visiting clergy. Not too shoddy but then I did most of the scheduling up until 5 months ago…

Of the weddings, my full-time colleague and I both did 27% each, visiting clergy did 9%, and my retired colleague did 36%.

Of the funerals and memorials, I have done 16%, visiting clergy and my full-time colleague have each done 11%, and the remaining 63% were done by  my retired colleague.

That means that whilst I have done just 30% of the pastoral offices this year, my full-time colleague has done 23% of the year’s total in just six months, and my retired colleague has done a whopping 40%.

Is it just me or does that seems slightly wrong?

Now, I know some clergy would give their right arm to have a retired colleague who is eager to help and picks up weddings and funerals when there is already too much in the diary. But I’m not even getting offered anything. Funerals are a particular issue. I have to fight for them. One of the local funeral directors doesn’t help by telling families that I am not available irrespective of whether or not that is true. I once had a family come back to me to ask why I was unavailable for the funeral when they had specifically asked for me. It’s a pastoral disaster.  Not least because I know that with my retired colleague there is no follow-up or passing over of pastoral care for the people involved.

All my Archdeacon could say when I was asked why I was doing so few funerals was “someone needs to rein him in”. Yes, well I think that might be your job… It is particularly annoying because this particular Priest retired from Self-Supporting Ministry just two years ago because of health issues but less than 3 months later was back and doing more than ever.

In a month where I am feeling particularly fragile and disillusioned with ministry this all seems so unfair and rubbish. I’m in a position where I can’t make the decisions and no-one seems to listen and be willing to do anything about it. I question whether or not I’m cut out for this. Is all ministry like this, or does it get better?

I keep coming back to the question – Is it this place and these people, or is it just me?

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Buy a Priest a Beer

International Buy a Priest a Beer Day! | The Catholic Gentleman.

Ok, so I’m not a Roman Catholic (but I would argue that I am Catholic…) and the language is a little bit gendered, but I think this is a cracking idea. Who wants to get the first beer in?

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The CofE has managed to hit the headlines with an article in various newspapers today, including the Telegraph about a lesbian couple trying to arrange a baptism for their child, Alfie. They were told that only the ‘natural’ mother of the child could be registered as the parent, and the other mum would have to be a godmother.

Sometimes I wonder about my colleagues… The Priest booked to take the baptism, Rev Gebauer, after the Vicar who had originally booked the baptism left, said this:

“Their sexuality has no bearing on the issue. It was never discussed. The church baptism register makes no provision for it. We can only make sure the child is theirs. For all we know they may have pinched the child.”

There are so many things wrong with what he said. Clearly their sexuality has a bearing on the issue otherwise he would be unlikely to have a problem with it! I heard one comment that his view was not unexpected because he is in his late 80’s, but this cannot be an excuse for what is clearly homophobic behaviour. To say that they need to make sure that the child is theirs is quite astonishing. I don’t think I have actually ever asked parents seeking baptism for their child to prove that the child is theirs (but then again, perhaps I’ve been doing it wrong all this time!) or had any trouble managing to baptise the child of a single parent, or parents of the opposite gender or the same gender, or indeed step parents.

Mr Gebauer went on to say: “We suggested time and again that the natural mum be registered as mum. Surely baptising the child is more important than being registered.”

Well in that case Mr Gebauer, what is your problem?

I’m extremely glad that the Archdeacon, Ven Gavin Collins, stepped in, and the baptism will go ahead as planned with both Aimi and Victoria named as the mother. He said: “I’m pleased that this issue has been resolved, and we look forward to welcoming Aimi, Victoria, Alfie and their friends and family. I’m sure it will be a great occasion as we welcome him into the Christian family.”

And in a nutshell there we have it. The point of baptism is to welcome people, usually children in the CofE but also adults, into the life of the church. Baptism marks a significant moment in their Christian life and we should be overjoyed that people seek baptism for themselves and their children.

Mr Gebauer has used the excuse that the registers for baptism do not allow for the insertion of details of two mothers, but only ‘mother’ and ‘father’. Baptism is known as one of the ‘Pastoral Offices’, along with Marriages and Funerals. If the church ties itself in knots over the paperwork then we are in danger of missing the opportunity to pastor to people, and quite often to people who otherwise may not come to church. Of course, paperwork is important. We need to get stuff right, and make sure we are working within the law but experience tells me that it takes an awfully long time for the church’s paperwork to catch up with things. I was, until just last year, still using up marriage banns application forms that had ‘spinster’ and ‘bachelor’ printed on them, and it’s a while since that changed!

What this surely must tell us, as clergy, is that we absolutely should strive to make the pastoral offices pastoral, and that includes all of our dealings with the relevant people before and after the occasion.

And people, if your vicar won’t baptise your child because you are a same-sex couple, single parent, step parent, unmarried, or any other reason that isn’t lawful then find another, go to the neighbouring parish, ask a friend for a recommendation, because we’re not all the same. And some of us want to welcome everyone who comes asking and seeking into knowing God’s all-embracing love and into the life of the church.

I’m fairly sure that when John the Baptist baptised Jesus he didn’t have to fill in a form first…

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Not another blog about ministry….

…I hear you cry, but yes, here it is…

Why have I decided to start blogging?

Well, I’ve been ordained an Priest in the CofE for just a few years now. Let’s be clear, I LOVE what I do. But, and it’s a big but (though possibly not as big as my actual butt ;-)) it really, really sucks sometimes. There are days I wake up and cry, there are days I cry whilst I’m working, I’ve even been known to cry in the vestry before I say mass, or on one rather memorable occasion during the mass. There are days when I don’t want to speak to any of the miserable buggers who make up my congregation and expect me to be everything and anything they want me to be. And of course there are those who dislike me because of some aspect of who I am. I am under 50 so clearly I know nothing about the world. I have no children so apparently that means I don’t know how to work with children. I live alone so people STILL ask me if I’m going ‘home’ for Christmas. No, because this is my home and because I’LL BE HERE BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS!

And yet, despite all of this, I still firmly and truly believe that this is the ministry God has called me to.

The parish I work in has recently come out of a 15 month vacancy. My new colleague is nice, it’s great to be working with someone again. Particularly as things went very badly with my previous colleague. Vacancy was tough, and when you’re still there, ministering full-time but you’re not in charge it is very hard. I don’t particularly want to be in charge but for much of the time it was like I didn’t even exist. I live in a fairly small community, the kind of place where pretty much everyone knows your business. Two Christmases ago, our first in vacancy, I heard that one of the housing complexes for our elderly people were sad that we would not be able to come and sing carols for them, although we were in fact planning to. When this was queried, the response was that of course we couldn’t come, because the church has no priest any more. It might sound like just a little thing but this is just one example of the almost daily ‘invisibility’ that I had to deal with, whilst at the same time being expected to keep the worshipping life of the church on its feet.

It was recently whilst I was undertaking an aspect of my ministry that takes me out of the parish that I met a very wise and gentle nun. I think she could see in me some of the pain of what I had been dealing with over the last 3 years. We talked about all that had happened and how I was feeling about life and ministry, and my frustrations at the way some situations had been, and are continuing to be, dealt with. I told her about how I had cried, and that I felt that those in authority over me who had witnessed this judged me to be weak and not able to cope, and how angry I felt. She said to me: “Jesus wept”.

If I cannot cry, how can I have compassion for those I minister to?

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