|The Oxford Diocese Beauties - June 2008|
For what are, I hope, obvious reasons (if you are more than a passing acquaintance to this blog), I have been thinking a considerable amount about the last three years and the profound honour of the ministry entrusted to my care. I can confidently claim my curacy as being a success - perhaps one of the most successful, not a claim I make lightly or carelessly.Within a breath of time, I will be a curate in a vicar's clothes, and a new and very different ministry will have started. I want, therefore, to consign some thought for posterity, as a tool of reflection for me, and maybe as a helpful tool for someone else later.
So, my Vernacular Top Ten Tips for a Kicking Curacy.
1. Reaping and Sowing - the absolute truth of this ministry in training is that we get out in direct proportion to what we put in. We are called to work hard, to graft. A finicky over-focus on time off or study-time is not, I believe, what it is about. Those who have had the better curacies are the priests who have had to be reminded on many occasions about life/work balance. After all, ours is the best job in the world. We are not in sole charge of anything except perhaps our diaries, but get to go out do some vicaring and enjoying the rich blessings of ministry without some of the stresses and responsibilities of incumbency.
2. Loving them into the Kingdom - the phrase taught to me by my Incumbent, this just about sums up every moment of any ministry. In this case, I refer to the level with which curates must fall in love with our ministerial field, its people and its life. I am passionate about Aylesbury and I have set my heart to do whatever is in my power to add to its life. Our communities (parish or wider afield) are the greatest gift in the world to us. Any lesser a view means you can't fully embrace them as brothers and sisters.
3. The grace to learn - curacies are training posts. We are always fledglings to one level or another, and a heart to learn and the grace to accept a lesson can only be the winning ways in this life we lead. We may arrive good at some things (by God's grace), but the minute we forget that we are beginners is a moment of great peril. Only someone with a heart to learn can be taught.
4. The Boss - I have spoken of this elsewhere, but it is still worthy of note here. To my mind, and in all normal circumstances (there are always exceptions, of course), our Training Incumbents know best. Even when they don't (and it is conceivable), their choices and directions are made for our development. Graciousness is about the best way of showing appreciation for that person who has or will devote a considerable proportion of three years to our specific personal growth. Rarely in any walk of life are any trainees so blessed by the experience, time and prayer of one person in such a complete way. If they seem to act like they know best, it is probably because they do.
5. The people - often passive or unknowing in this, they are much of the source of our learning. Our first clumsy bedside encounters, the first funeral, the first assembly, passing comments that stick to us, feedback (there is a little in curacy) - all of these things improve us. Even conflicts (as there are in churches) are a source of a rich education, all the while remembering that we are part of the encounter. This speaks, I think, of loving the people into the Kingdom with a grateful heart. Even the most talented Training Incumbent can do nothing with their curate in an empty room or field.
6. The unexpected - three years I would have stated confidently that I was not cut out for ministry in schools. I would have done an assembly a month as a box-ticking exercise and let those who I perceived to be better than me do that bit of the job. God knows better than us, and I thanks God for that because I couldn't have been more wrong about that first assessment. This is but one of a myriad examples that I could give you. Conversely, some things that I thought were "my thing" have become the things I gain least pleasure from now. A heart to accept the unexpected will, I believe, be regularly surprised.
7. Pecking Order - the 'Curate in Ministerial Raptures' will always get this wrong: (1) Family (2) Self (3) Ministry. The second speaks not of the very thing I denounced in Point 1, but of a need to ensure that the battery is charged before it energises others. This is place for retreats, prayer, reading, study, or just a little of that elusive thing in a ministerial life - sofa time. However, the lesson it has taken longest to learn (if indeed I ever did), is that my family overwhelmingly trump every other thing. Yes, of course there are exceptions and missing meetings or key services in favour of baby-sitting just speaks of poor organisation. This Point refers to taking them as seriously as the work, and both need careful organising to exist (or even stand a chance of existing) side by side.
8. Have Fun - I have known some curacies to founder, or to remain stunted and never to fully grow. They were all characterised by a lack of fun and enjoyment (that is not to say that such a thing was the cause of the 'issues'). Laugh with people, laugh at yourself, even laugh at and with you Incumbent - it's allowed. Ministry is not an opportunity to be professional poe-faced, because that is as attractive to the world as flatulence. Yes, some of the things we do or witness are just ridiculous, as are we at times - largely because this is a theatre of human-beings doing our best together.
9. Trust God - perhaps the one that should have gone at the top, but the statement of the obvious that is often the obvious understatement. Those of us blessed with an ordained ministry will know how many hurdles we have hopped through to get to this point. If we think for a moment that we got here by own efforts alone, and not within the calling that carries us in our lives, then we are stupid and conceited. God got us here, and God will guide us on, if we let Him.
10. Ministry is Us, but different - emerging from three years of this, I can see that I am fairly well the same bloke that was trained, but that I have a few tool more to help me along the way. I have not turned into some Angel, become a better man, acquired a more robust conscience or made me any less able to make mistakes than I was before I took this collar. If anything, I am 'me', but in the right place. What I was good at before I am still good at, and what I knew I was poor at, I am still poor at (notwithstanding Point 6). I put this here because I wish I had known that at the start. Early ministry was, for me, characterised by a deep sense that I was failing to meet a standard that I had always assigned to priests. Early blogs posts here will confirm that. Now I am, finally, at peace that I was formed in a greater part by the life I lived before all this started, and that I must embrace that formation accordingly (and not shun it as I had been tended to do).
There is so much more that can be written and the experiences of others will vary, of course. I fail to see how I could have been more blessed, by the life, company, training and experience that I have had here in Aylesbury. More specific thoughts and thanks will be written later.