Thursday, 19 July 2012

Vicars That Don't Pray

What would you say if an accountant did no work with money or numbers? What would you say if a train driver didn't go near a train? What would you say if WATCH didn't produce petitions? 

You would know that all was not right with the world. That's what. 

The rest of this post can be regarded as something of a personal confession - but I feel inclined to write about something that could be construed as such a problem as I allude to above. 

As a church-going boy and then a church-going man I spent an appreciable time with God in the liturgical times and in other times set aside for private prayer. Then I was ordained and that was that for prayer - or so it feels at times. 

Priestly ministry is the very best work a human can do. I wouldn't do anything else and without it, I am not fulfilling the purpose of my birth. That I can share it with a wonderful wife and best-friend, with two gifted and beautiful daughters, and in a place where we feel rooted and settled is perfect. But all this comes at a price. Parish ministry, by very definition, has taken us away from the place from where we were sent - often the places where our families and friends were, and often the places where we once found God. Priests are nomadic people and we rarely stay anywhere for longer than a decade (which may seem like a long time but really isn't). 

Priests who are vicars (as well as those in other roles) are priests who have much work to cram into a week. Someone once said that priests are incomprehensible on one day of the week and un-contactable on the other six. We don't hide away doing nothing - we are grafting away somewhere.

The bottom line is that I hardly find a moment to pray - unless I count the liturgical and public events. As a disciple of God, I no more touch base with Him as I do with my dear old mum, by brother and sister or my dearest friends. If you have a priest in the family, you will know what I mean. I console myself that blogging is prayer, that gym time is prayer time, that a few minutes running around like a dementer in the shower is prayer time, or else cooking or gardening. I console myself but never fully convince myself. And I am not alone. In her book 'The Cracked Pot', Yvonne Warren states this situation clearly based on a national study of clergy. 

Something has got to give. While most of me thinks that life is booming (and it is, Deo Gratias), there is a part of me that had withered and lies like an un-watered seedling. The thing is, I can't tell people that the Vicar doesn't pray enough - it is not what they want to hear. Am I not meant to exemplify prayer, to be before God with the people on my heart? I am not alone, as I say, and it is a perennial problem for priests - which is odd when you think about it. Perhaps the world only regards a day as 'done' when it is filled with tasks completed not time taken for space (read 'prayer'). 


  1. I've just skimmed this as I struggle with arrangements to become a 'trainee vicar'! However it makes me ask, "What is prayer?" and "What is prayer as a priest?"

    In the case of a priest (vicar or otherwise) yes there is a need for the 'grounded and focused on God and me' times to be structured into the rhythm of a month, if not a week or a day. This I suspect may be what you are alluding to missing. There's possibly only one person who can solve that?!

    However, in the representational, pastoral and sacramental acts you carry out on a daily basis, is not a priest in fact a "living prayer"? A living prayer for those to whom you minister, and for yourself as well?

    It certainly strikes me that by fulfilling your calling under God, you are a visible prayer of living praise to that God to whom your life is committed and who works through you in the lives of others.

    But then, I don't know what I'm talking about yet, what do I know?! I shall pray that someone waters your seedling.

  2. Do you have public Daily Office in your parish?

    As a layperson I have often found this helpful. It is not a substitute for private prayer, but I find that being grounded in it changes the quality of the snatched moments of which you speak (and also the interjections when the organ breaks).

    As a musician I have had to find ways to make sure I practice regularly. For me the best way, by far, has been to decide what time I'm going to do it every day, and not allow other appointments in that time. Doing this with practising is, I suspect, similar to doing this with private prayer... as it is only me who will be inconvenienced by doing it at some other time, it is tempting to use that time for appointments with others, jobs which seem more urgent, and so on. So it really is important for me to have a set time, and to brook no argument over it. In my most successful periods, the only thing I would break practice time for was medical appointments.

    Another advantage of this is that having done my two hours (or whatever), I can then look at the rest of the day as "gravy" -- if I get more practising done, great, but if I don't (because there are appointments, and urgent tasks, and people who need my attention and time and energy) that's fine too. I don't have to be the perfect 6-hours-of-slogging-a-day musician, and you (and other clergy) don't have to be perfect 6-hours-a-day mystic contemplatives.

    I wrote a rather longer comment on this but the browser ate it, and I have to get on with other bits of the day.

  3. Perhaps all the things that fill your priestly life are a form of prayer, (after all, the person in whose name you do all these things is the same one to whom you would address your formal prayer).
    There are surely many ways to pray, and God will hear and accept all of them.
    It may be that you will have to accept that your former approach to prayer is no longer viable, given the limitations of time.
    If it is of any consolation, be assured that those who know and love you well can be relied upon to pray on your behalf.

  4. I am sure that this is an issue for many clergy - it certainly is for me even after 12 years of ordained ministry. It seems to me that the only way to address this is through personal discipline (after all, isn't that what it means to be a disciple?). There are all sorts of expectations that the church and the world around us heap on their parochial clergy, one of which is to pray. Well, then, they need to realise that if we are going to do that, then something else will have to give (especially in a multi-parish benefice). Surely prayer must be part of our core calling. Try blocking out time in the diary, just as you would for PCC meetings, pastoral visits etc., otherwise how will our "flocks" ever get to understand the priority of prayer themselves?

    I am trying hard to introduce far longer periods of silence for contemplative prayer into the mid-week offices and Eucharists.

  5. I am a member of a small Bible Study/Prayer group that meets on Wednesday evenings, and we always ask God to hear our conversations about people we want to pray for as our prayers - I'm sure that He doesn't want us to feel we've got to be overly formal when we talk to Him about anything. I'm reminded of Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God) - giving God his everyday tasks in the monastery kitchen; and also the prayer of Sir Jacob Astley before a Civil War battle (I think that's the name!) - "Thou knowest, O God, that I shall be very busy this day - I may forget Thee, but do not Thou forget me". That seems most appropriate for any day in the life of a vicar! I'm sure you do, in fact, pray more than you realise, in the sense that you are God-orientated in the whole of your life and work. Anyway, He knows, and never stops loving and caring for you and all your concerns. Pax et bonum.

  6. Been there, done that and still bearing the scars, David. I think it's THE perennial problem for the majority of dedicated parish clergy and I don't think I found the solution. The closest I came was to be rigorous about getting some time off to be me and incorporating prayer into that time as much as I could (which often was shamefully little). My annual retreat was my main lifeline and without it I think I would have crumbled completely.

  7. I suspect that the business of a Vicar's work can overpower the time and space needed for personal, private prayer.

    When I was working I used travel time as personal prayer time. I also used where possible, do morning and evening prayer, using a shortened version. I would walk out of my office mid-morning and walk the grounds of our centre, just to pray. People might have thought that I was going out for a fag or for fresh air - nobody ever asked.

    I went away from work whenever possible for mid-week communion at my parish church - again, I was never challenged. Perhaps because I was in a senior leadership position, nobody bothered to wonder.

    Now I'm retired, there's all the time in the world to pray the office and also to give some time to other forms of prayer - experimenting and learning.

    I know that since we've had a curate, my own Vicar has been able to do morning and evening prayer daily, in the church, which has been an innovation for the parish and others have joined them, rebuilding in some way the communal life of the church.

    I don't know or ask him about personal prayer, but it seems implicit that he makes the time and space for it. We certainly do pray in staff meetings, in Benefice Council meetings and all activities that I take part in.

    The point about discipline and discipleship is well made. It maybe that a step back from some of the things that a shiny new Vicar is expected to do is needed to allow that precious time and space for prayer. The more you give, the more people seem to need. Might I also mention the word boundaries? Enough said I think

  8. Had a think about this while in the garden yesterday as it also strikes a chord with me.

    Something popped into my head which I will share - it was an image of someone on a tightrope.

    ISTM that the person on the tightrope has to focus on not falling off. And can't get off for a rest.

    If the person on the tightrope = someone in a pressured position - like a vicar - how are they going to rest?

    I suppose only if someone much bigger holds them.


  9. Oh David, YES.........could have written that myself. Lots of wisdom in the comments, & I have nothing to add except my thanks for your courage & honesty. It ain't easy to admit to a lack of decent prayer time in this mad calling, is it? But you're absolutely NOT alone....

  10. I know where you're coming from with this. My way of coping with the guilt (and it IS guilt, fostered on us by the popular perception of what a vicar is) is to redefine what constitutes prayer. Do I get down on my knees at a regular time every day? No. Do I pray about people and situations as they come to my attention or into my memory? Yes. I sometimes wish I had the discipline of kneeling beside the bed every night in prayer as my father did for his whole active life, but I don't. Prayer is more than that. Prayer is active rather than passive, and whilst one expression of it might be lacking it doesn't mean that the whole life of prayer is lessened.

    And I also feel that, like you, ordinands should be warned that once they have gone through that door, the road that brought them to where they are is forever lost. They will never again experience the worship of the home church that encouraged their vocation, for that will move on and change in their absence. They will never again worship in the way that they prefer, for they will have to create worship that speaks to the people in their new setting. Those are some of the sacrifices we are called to make, and we do it willingly, but there are occasional tinges of regret for what is lost.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...