This is not a post about Slartibartfast, Trillian, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent or the Paranoid Android. More's the pity, you are thinking! I could expound the virtues of 42, 'Life, The Universe and Everything', but I won't. Shame, I hear you cry. Neither will I invoke the wrath of the Vogons - though a Babel Fish is always useful!
No, this is about priestly ministry. Did you just glaze over? Snap out of it, I am busy being meaningful and poignant here.
You may have gathered, from the flavour of the last few posties that I am considering future ministries and the choices that will place me among them. Part of this is to do with role and what place the Vicar holds in his community. When I was a sprog (not so very long ago, for I am still very youthful), the Vicar was the Head Honcho, the Chief Poobah. He (use of language reflects my experience, nothing more) made the rules and the rest of us followed. Farvah Knows Best! Well, this has manifestly changed. The great comfort of the old model is that at least things were clear - now they are hazy and unclear. There are Uber-mega churches in parts of America who now make money out of defining the leadership of clergy. Yes, yes - path finding, modelling, empowering and aligning (I was listening, see), but what does this actually mean on a Monday morning in February when I have a honking cold, sniffles, a raw throat and a cold coffee awaiting my ministrations? I ponder this often because for priests who seek to lead communities, this is the '42' question.
To me there are several helpful models (not including the 'shepherd' model, that's plagiarizing none less than God, and can't be cool, ever); the conductor of an orchestra [the conductor is not the star, or the person with the skills to do everything - the conductor is a true collaborator with a team whose end product is stunning]; there is the Maitre 'D [not the skilled chef, the adept waiting staff, or the owner, but the one who keeps things going and the punters fed].
Another model of ministry struck me a few days ago, and like any that are not from the mouth of the Lord, it is flawed. However, there is a sense that the incumbent is the hitch hiker. The journey of the parish is well underway. It is going where it is going. It makes that journey in a vehicle that needs love, along a road that is confusing and apt to throw it travellers into uncharted territory. Vicars are hitch hikers. We may know that stretch of the route a little better, we may know how the combustion engine works and can help fix it. We can lend a hand if a tyre needs changing and we may even suggest a better radio station for the music. Then, after a while, we hop out and thumb our next ride to the next destination. In short, it is not the vicar's journey, it is the journey of those already in the car. Ultimately the choices are theirs, but the hiker can of course make helpful suggestions. For those in the car, over the whole journey, they may know lots of hitch hikers. Some will bring fun and excitement to the road ahead, others may bring challenge and admonishment for the quality of the driving, and so forth - so many hitch hikers, one journey.
I am not suggesting that Douglas Adams is the new Bill Hybels (though thinking about it, it might have been fun but for two important factors*), but as priests try to understand themselves and the ministry with which they are entrusted (and believe me, it is like trying to see shapes in clouds at times), models are helpful. This is mine, and I offer it to you for your consumption. Back to my cold coffee ...
*he is a post-mortem atheist