Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The V sign

Over the last year a few of my friends have confided that they are thinking about going into ministry or are considering ordination in the Church of England. One of them, a former colleague, has been accepted and has left teaching, another is going through the selection process for an evangelical bible college. I also have a number of cyber friends and acquaintances who have recently been ordained, are considering this, or have given up on this cherished idea because of various difficulties and constraints. I was interested today to see that Red is also agonising about whether to become a priest - and in my experience people often do agonise before coming to a decision, rightly so as it is a big step to take.

From time to time people ask me if I am considering ordination. My response is usually "no"; my private thoughts are that I would rather have my arms sawn off ! I am not sure my faith is strong enough for a start, or at least it is something that is too private and idiosyncratic. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with church, it is not a place where I always feel at ease. Furthermore, I have never felt that God is calling me to the priesthood, I think he knows that I am not cut out for church, or rather church is not cut out for me! I also think I do have my own "ministry", even if it is not an official one.
I don't get asked the "vicar question" as much these days, but at one point it was happening so frequently that I wondered if God really was trying to tell me something! It came to a head when a colleague, Tony, who had earlier been teasing me about my supposed vicar potential, was trying to decide which horse to place a bet on. I suggested that, given our earlier conversation, he should either put the money on a horse named "The Lord" or alternatively gamble on one called "Holy Orders" ( you can see that I would be good at leading others to righteousness...) Tony put bets on both horses.

Putting trust in The Lord did pay off as he came in at five to one and won a tidy sum. Holy Orders was a complete disaster, I don't think he even stayed the course.

I'm not making this up, it really did happen!

I think it was a sign...


  1. You are far too normal to become a Vicar. One has to have a silly voice, like dressing up and smile permanently if one is evangelical. This can cause terribe facial creases. I know very few normal clergy, apart from myself.

  2. :) Oh Sue, I often wonder why you aren't paid as a priest, you certainly exercise priestly ministry. Rats, was I meant to have a strong faith and not doubt and not have a love/hate relationship with the church... whoops :)

  3. The following is from an e-mail to a priest friend, written after we had both attended the funeral of another priest friend. It was an occasion of wall to wall dog-collars (a diocesan bishop presided at the requiem mass for the dead cleric – my one time spiritual director). Here I am writing about the bun fight afterwards and the people I met.

    “I know it is something that I do tend to go on about, but talking to people at Fr. X’s funeral I was struck yet again how religious conviction or belief is often coupled with, or is even an excuse for self-obsession or just plain conceit. I know you are rather taken with Margaret Smith* and her newly ‘vicared’ husband but I’m afraid at one point I had to suppress a yawn as the pair of them intoned, antiphonally, their list of achievements and how they had sorted out their new church and cast out the oldies who didn’t attend church the way Maggie and hubby thought they should (they appeared impervious to the irony at this point...). It was all I could do not to say, rather witheringly: ‘And at communion I presume you begin with a few stones and a glass of tap water on the altar and by the end of the Eucharistic Prayer there is a paten of bread and a chalice full of wine?’ Obviously their work is praise-worthy, but I hope they realise – in a sea of dog-collars and monastics - that it is what they signed up for. Their conversation (and it is a generous use of the word to call it such, as it was mainly one-sided – I must have resembled a guppy as I kept mouthing the first word of a possible inclusion only to be silenced by yet another stanza of self-praise on their part ) their conversation could be compared to me going to an academic conference and telling everyone around me what a brilliant scholar I am: it is likely the more perspicacious amongst my erudite colleagues would begin to wonder if perhaps I doubted my own abilities or had another agenda, a harder to define, intensely personal reason for wanting my peers to know I am a ‘success’ in my chosen field.”

    *not the person’s real name.

    The above is me at my most acidic, but I think in this case it was deserved. Three of my close friends and several less intimate friends are or have been vicars and I am constantly struck by (with some, not all) their sense of specialness about themselves and their work. It is an odd occupation and made all the more peculiar by the fact there is so much social and symbolic capital attached to the role. A close friend (I’m godfather to his youngest), a long-time vicar in Yorkshire, has recently left his parish and is now a senior lecturer at an Evangelical theological college. Although ordained, he is treated as a secular member of staff and so has had to buy a house: he recently commented on this in an e-mail by saying:

    ‘We’ve just moved into the smallest house in our married lives and I’m saddled with a mortgage until I am 65!’ The house concerned is a three bedroomed semi – tiny by vicarage standards, I suppose, but what most of us ‘suffer’ as standard housing.

    I wrote back and said ‘Welcome to Real Life!’

    And that is the real issue in the debate ‘To vicar or not to vicar?’ Life itself is ministry! I suspect you are a far better minister to your family and students than many a vicar!

  4. Well, thank you everyone!
    I wonder if you're a bit harsh,Stephen, I do know some delightful vicars ( I would say that as quite a few of them at least glance at this blog from time to time...)
    I have no intention of donning a dog collar, I agree that I have as much, if not more, of a ministry to my family ( and I consider them a vocation) and in my job, and in other ways - I don't mean this blog, this is just a chance to voice my opinions freely:)

  5. Sue

    'The above is me at my most acidic, but I think in this case it was deserved. Three of my close friends and several less intimate friends are or have been vicars and I am constantly struck by (with some, not all) their sense of specialness about themselves and their work'

    The phrase 'some, not all' lets me off the hook don't you think?

    As ever:


  6. I'd always let you off the hook:)