Monday, 21 February 2011

A Hitchhiker's Guide to A Galaxy

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


  1. What a brilliant post David. Says it all with style and gusto! As a person who has broken every rule in the book I relish the thought that there are young people out there seeking a priestly path amongst the deris and dock weeds of life. I should have retired. Officially I have retired. But of course I'm still working as part of a small team. Today the rector goes on holiday for two weeks. Next week another team member has a week off. The last remaining member has now elected to go off for two weeks as well, leaving me in chargevof several parishes! It's happened before I shall cope but reading your blog has this morning made it easier! Universe tremble!

  2. If I may, just a couple of comments from the wardens' point of view (and it is the wardens you will need to impress, ultimately)-

    The Vicar - makes the rules that the wardens and other are prepared to go along with (no point otherwise)

    The wardens allow Farv to (think he) knows best.

    In that light, maybe the hitch hiker model is the most accurate.

    PS You get too many colds. Take more vitamins.

  3. Vitamins schmitamins - I have too little people who trawl the diseases of day-nursery life into my sanctuary! They get ill, I sneeze!

    I think, Churchwarden, that you speak of collaboration, and all that! You collaborate, I do! Ace!

  4. Do you mean that your little people are two in number or that they are smaller than they ought to be?

  5. Well, I think a flaw in your model is to regard the parish as a fixed entity. People come and go all the time (even those who have spent a lifetime in the same place). This is more pronounced in urban parishes with transient populations, but the largest village in my benefice has a population turnover of 10% per annum. And healthy congregations will probably reflect this in their own life.

    Any parish will have its own dynamic, which the new incumbent ignores at their peril. But while the journey is not exclusively the incumbent's (though they share it while they are there like everyone else), nor is it just about those already in the car, but about those who have yet to join.

  6. I think what you mean is your damned spelling.

  7. Simmy, thank you. A guess moving the car model to a a bus maybe? I adjoin to all that you say, and accept that my model speaks perhaps a very static church entity!

    Back to the shepherd model after all!




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