Friday, 18 May 2012

Being in The Centre at The Outside

A silly title perhaps, but one that best articulates how it feels to be a vicar sometimes (and for 'vicar', read 'lead minister' or other euphemism that allows you avoid overtly religious terms like 'parish priest'!).

From the outside, it would appear that the Vicar is in the middle of almost everything. In many ways we are at the centre, and while there, thinking of ways of being able to retreat and entrust whatever it is into the hands and skills of others. In other words, it is fast become apparent to me that a good vicar is a vicar who seeks to render him/herself redundant or at the very least dispensable. 

Yes, a proactive vicar is a busy vicar (actually, even a lazy vicar will have quite a lot to do) and a busy vicar is surrounded my people all doing broadly that which the vicar has suggested, facilitated, lead or proposed. Be that the life of the liturgy, the concomitant social life associated with a gathering of the like-minded - so many things at which the vicar is present and often deeply involved. It is partly what we are paid to do, so no complaints from me. 

Yet that is the perception from the outside. 

From the inside it is very different, as I have now come to realise. Being a curate was to be part of a team, the direction of which was provided and enabled. Sitting in the "first chair" as distinct from the second is a very different lifestyle, spiritually and physically. I had a stonking 'second chair' experience, which means that the exposure of change in role is all the more noticeable. 

Actually, for all the busy-ness, for all the activity, for all the joy and tribulation, for all the full church services, for the blessing of so many children in our worship, for the fun of major building projects, for all the meetings, for all the planning and writing, for all the knocks on the door and calls on the telephone - for all of those things and many more, life is lonely. 

Professionally, I have never felt more lonely. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change a scintilla of a jot of a smidgen of anything. Mine is the best job in the world, so I regard the loneliness as an occupational hazard. And no, I seek no sympathy and would repel any that were forthcoming - this is an observation, not a complaint. The fact is, that much of what we do, our every word, our every thought or hypothesis, our public action or inactivity - all of these things are exposing and cause a vulnerability which in a small sense precipitates this isolation. I should imagine that most public roles are the same!

So yes - always busy and always in the middle of things, yet always on the outside looking in.   

Thank God for my perfect and wonderful family - I can't imagine how this job would feel if I didn't have my loved ones at home when I finally get my butt back in the house!


  1. I'm not an incumbent and have never been a curate...

    ...but as a freelance musician who doesn't do a lot of partner-level collaborative work (for a number of reasons, mostly to do with geography), I think I do know roughly where you're coming from.

  2. I've never been a vicar but as an evangelist (so not in the first chair!) I've seen the loneliness of the role of the vicar and also to a degree of my own role. I found it lonely as the evangelist at times despite being in a good team. Maybe that was accentuated by the fact that I didn't have a family to go home to but an empty house.

    I take my hat off to all clergy but especially to those who do it as single people and go home to an empty house. Not easy at all. God bless you all!

  3. One of the many reasons why some kind of team format is so helpful. Whether it's having a curate or Readers or acknowledged lay leaders with who to share some of the burden, while still retaining ultimate responsibility, the fact of not being alone in it all is what matters. In all my parishes I was lucky enough to be able to work cooperatively like this and can't imagine working completely alone.



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