Monday, 25 June 2012

Change

Not this sort of change
The life of a Vicar, at least in the measure of that I have enjoyed to date, is characterised by the whole issue of change. There are, it seems, different ways that things are changed in the first phase of an incumbency. First, there are those things that need changing in a hurry (in the spirit of person and parish preservation) and that have to be made immediately. Then there are those things that need changing in the course of the movement of time and as seasons change. Those are changes that take more time, require consultation and deliberation with a wider gathering. Then there are the Grand Changes that concern whole-parish direction, its mission and vision. Those sorts of changes are brought about with wide consultation and over a longer period of time. 

The common characteristic in all matters regarding change is that people seem not to like it. The whole idea of change is not, of course, about the matter at hand. That the Hall WC is that colour or this is of no significance per se, but in parish life nothing (and I mean nothing) is that wasn't put there for a reason (and often by someone long dead). 

To move a chair from a place of hazard to a place where it may be sat upon seems like a process of the obvious, until you discover that Mrs Miggins RIP 1942 used to sit in that spot and on the chair she donated. To change locks because seven million copies of the door key exist and are in the hands of nameless masses seems like a sensible thing to do until you discover that someone was given a key by the vicar back in the 20s to let in the drayman once and therefore has rights to new keys. 

People acquire things. People take on little jobs around the place. People, with a good heart, dedicate themselves to things. We ask them to do it. We enable with one hand and disable with another because we have to. What we are not taught in Vicar School is how much people attach significance to things that exceed the original significance. A key to one person is to open a door and an onerous duty, but to another it represents affirmation, authority and even a sense of power. Often, we change things (even through specific need) that people regard as 'theirs', even when they are not. 

The lesson I am learning is simple. I must make the changes that are required as it is my role to lead a community from one place to another in all senses. The end result is almost always peaceful, but the liminal space - the moment of transition - is hard for most if not all of us. It is the case that we identify ourselves as who we are in many external things - and in church life at least, those things are the ones oft changed by new Vicars. 

7 comments:

  1. a thought provoking post and thanks for it

    from my experience the people in charge of a change like it whereas those to whom the change is done don't

    so i think people's reaction to change depends on whether they feel in charge of it - or at least have some real say in it

    sadly what is called consultation on change often isn't but because its dressed up as such it makes people even more cynical or resistant to the change

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  2. I used to be a church administrator and I remember the key thing very well. How did all these people get these keys? Why do they all need them.And why do they suddenly all want to use them only when the locks are about to be changed? 'Tis indeed one of the great mysteries

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  3. Oh, how that rings true, David! Change is necessary, but the process of changing can be agonising and leave scars on both priest and people. Parish memories are VERY long.....

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  4. Another Administrator25 June 2012 at 13:59

    Keys. KEYS!!! Oh my!

    They say knowledge is power but the symbol of that power seems to be a key. The lock on our hall is very close to death. It has been ailing for some time but cannot go on much longer. We naively thought we would get a new lock - price, about £30 - and have a few keys cut for those who need them. We asked them to let us know if they had a key, if they still used/needed it and if they wanted a replacement.

    NINETY FIVE people filled in our little slips, all desperately needing keys - cost, over £300. And, that's a quarter of our Electoral Roll. Why?

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  5. I was pondering on your story about change and I recall a story about my own Benefice. In one of the churches, in the 1920's, the widow of a former incumbent presented Stations of the Cross to the Church in his memory. About 40 years passed, than a new incumbent removed those Stations. He met resistance, but stuck to his guns. Now, 40+ years later, he is remembered by elderly members of the congregation as the Vicar who removed the stations. The fact that all who had know the deceased incumbent or his widow had themselves been deceased for over 20 years or more makes no difference. The story is still told today regarding change.

    When I first heard the story, it was so fresh I thought that it had been the previous incumbent to the current one, who had made the changes. Only after some digging did I get the full story.

    Controversy lives a long life in the church and is passed from generation to generation - what a sad church we are part off!!

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  6. I preached on change yesterday morning, and had the good people of the parish in which I live in fits of laughter, with:

    How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?
    What?! Change that lightbulb! We've had that lightbulb for fifty years, and it's worked perfectly well all that time, and it was donated in memory of my Auntie Mary, and we can't go changing it now!

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