As I watched The Apprentice this week, I pondered the 'old order' of contestant who had to render themselves unemployed from their hitherto sparkling careers so that they stood a fighting chance of hopping into bed (in the business sense) with Sir Lord Alan Amstrad. They had clearly devoted the entirety of their (albeit short) working lives to climbing the greasy pole from the great heights of which they yielded to the greater possibilities of a hundred-grand and a job in Srallan's mail room. Even though the contestants were often of the Higher Order of Buffoons and The Attitude Enhanced, they had made substantial sacrifices to be contestants in this must-see abuse-a-thon.
Then all but one 'Got Sacked' (sic), unto the oblivion known only to the failed contestants of Reality Telly World. I have no theology of purgatory, but I imagine it to be a little like that - full of the nameless chumps who failed to win the public vote or please Srallan.
There are similarities between these people and that very rare breed of people, among whom I now know several individuals, who are now no longer employed by the Church. These friends to whom I refer are ordained priests who are now not ministering in the Church of England for different reasons. Bloggers will be very familiar with one such priest, and his agonies.
I write as one who is blessed with ecclesial employment and a rosy future, and as one who knows only too well that I cannot and must not ever take it for granted. Life happens, things happen and sometime priests are cast out of their ministries. Yes, there are many people who lose their jobs, many for no fault of their own, but the difference for priests in the Church of England at least, is that the consequences are perhaps far worse. In the first instance, and without exception, we have all given up something to take on a ministry. Most have set aside former (lucrative) careers, moved families through training and curacy who too have had to make very substantial sacrifices for the ministry at the centre of it all. We do that with our eyes open and mindful that we are called to do this.
But what happens when it goes wrong? This is Petertide and hopes in many ride high for a glorious future and a life's ministry in God's vineyard, and so they should. But what happens when it goes wrong? Priests not only lose a job for which they sacrificed everything, they lose a home, and not just them, but their families too. Some (and a very small 'some') of us have other homes, but most don't. What does seem lacking in the system is a way to help such priests whose ecclesial demise range from acts of human stupidity, to unfortunate place at the wrong time to good old disillusionment. It happens because we are human, and whatever the rights or wrongs of the cause of the separation, I would argue that their exists a need on the part of the Church to do something affirmative for this small number of smashed up individuals. I know priests who have risked homelessness (an their families) because the fit or the timing of their ministry wasn't optimum. I judge no-one, neither church nor cleric, but pray for those on the wrong side of a line that few priests ever conceive of. I can only imagine that it is the absolute worst place on Earth.