Wednesday, 23 January 2013

On Being a New Vicar - 18 Months On

Like so many baby-stalking documentaries, so it is that I can babble on about the effect of time upon my frail and largely hairless form.

It is fast approaching a year-and-a-half since I stopped being an Assistant Curate and assumed the mantle of Vicar in this wonderful parish I call Whitton. I can tell you now that it is the best place in the world, and I wouldn't be anywhere else - but I sense that a deeper reflection would be useful at this juncture (and if you wish to have something worth reading, perhaps).

The Buck Stoppeth
The thing that is both the most obvious, yet the last lesson to be learned, is that just about every buck comes to rest with me. That doesn't apply just to the big things (services being planned and the like) but small things. My slightest oversight in one thing can have quite significant effects for others and their 'moment' before God. Decisions that I make, and perhaps those which seem clear to me, have possible and indeed probably far-reaching effects for those who worship in the community that calls me its Vicar. The effects don't just roll back in short order. I have learned that to miss a cue in one month can revisit in another. The same for those 'simple' choices and decisions

My Walk With God
I still don't go to church, but I still 'provide' it. I did something very rare over Christmas, courtesy of the blessing of other priests in the parish - I sat with my family and worshipped with them on Christmas morning. I sat in a pew that was too small, surrounded by the rabble of kids that I endlessly encourage but among whom I have never sat - so I heard very little except the bustle of gift-enhanced childer. And the whole event was different - despite the fact that, lead it or not, I had compiled the Liturgy I felt like a newcomer in my own church. There is an entire ream of blog posts in that experience alone - which wasn't bad, but certainly very interesting. Sitting in The Stall is, I have discovered, not at all the same as sitting in the church - at all sorts of levels.

Rough and Smooth
The manifest joy of parish priesthood is that it is a beautiful chain of micro-chaplaincies. I have a small part to play in the wider ministry directed to so many organisations and communities in this area, and I rate it as one of the finest aspects of my work. It offers me a significant breadth of experience, and also one that has some small measure of 'pollination' among those gatherings.  However, with the many pearls there is always a small measure of sandy sludge - and I have come to realise that God is in all of it. 

The Family Front
A new Vicar is utterly convinced, from the 'off' that, because they march into a parish after a vacancy, that the church is just dying for their ministrations. At one level they are, so we quickly convince ourselves that everything suddenly depends upon us. The net effect of that is that we totally immerse ourselves into everything, and with our proverbial stick, prod life into lots of things which need us all the more (don't they?). The Family suffers, let me tell you. I am over a year in, and I am only now starting to reign in some of this stuff and discovering that some groups, even Christian groups, can do better when The Old Man is out of the picture. Year One seems to be about doing everything, with Year Two being about undoing much of Year One. Without my Family, I am nothing - and I am still trying hard not to forget that. 

The Clever Notions of New Vicars
One lesson I did learn early was, when visiting prospective parishes before interview, to avoid the "well, this is what I would change" tendency. It is folly, and frankly arrogant. But, to my shame, it didn't stop me thinking it. We do arrive with lots of nifty ideas, often massive and always to trump to previous Incumbent (anyone who says otherwise is, my friends, lying). Actually, I am learning that some very simple changes, done well over time can be all a parish needs to thrive. I think that parishes need the new initiative of a new priest because I regard it as one of the new inputs of needful spiritual energy - new season and all that. The fact is, I write things down including my "What to Change This Year" list. The things that happened from my 2012 list have been smaller things that have had a good impact. The Big Stuff didn't happen because it never seemed right. The Big Stuff didn't make it on to 2013s list. The Big Stuff had no correlation to God's 2013 List it seems.

Whoever invented 24 hour days did so to tease priests. A 56 hours day might work, at a push. Parish ministry for the incumbent is ministry in the incomplete. Fact. I get to the end of the week having not done lots of things (in the midst of much completed, I might add - I am not lazy or slack or anything). Indeed, the incompleteness of it all fast becomes a self-preservation matter - a helpful policy together with "To Do" lists and Inbox disciplines. Managing it is the hard bit. There are lots of theorems delivered in neat packages (important/urgent, non-important/non-urgent etc.) and despite that fact that I manage my own diary I am managing something that is bigger than the space and demands more of me than I can give. We call it God's Mission, so it is perhaps as well that I can't contain it into my week! It takes a long time to come to terms with, though. 

Me in The Wider Context
If I am in this job for seven or ten years, it will be but a drop in the ocean of this parish's life. If we take the model of seven years (fitting around the kids' needs and school), i am well over 20% through my time here. I am not the Saviour of Ss Philip & James Whitton (Jesus has that sorted already), but what I mean is, I am not the "Solution" or anything like it. I am here to walk with them for now, and then to walk elsewhere as God determines. Vicars come and go - the Vicar Board reminds me of that. Before I know it, me and my crazy ways will be what others talk about when the subject of the past emerges over coffee ... do you remember him, what was his name, you know - the barmy one who spent too long doing the Notices? This, above many other things, conditions how I work. If I thought I would be here for thirty years, things might be different, but as it is, they are not.

So many lessons are learned with the backdrop of time spent. So many more lay ahead I sense - but for now, I thank God with every fibre of my being that I am here now. 


  1. Eighteen months! Can it really be so long since we got rid of (lost), you? Only kidding, we still love you really.

    You seem to have settled really happily - all of you- and that's half the recipe for success.
    Long may you and your congregation both benefit from and enjoy each other's efforts.

  2. It's over 10 years since I was in your situation, David, yet I recognise so much of what you say here. The main difference for me is that my children were grown up and married by then, but all your insights still ring very true. Just bear in mind that you will be remembered much more for the quality of the relationships you foster in the parish than for anything else other than a complete rebuild of the church itself.

  3. 12 years into my present post, and I am more and more mindful of the fact that little of what I have done here is of any lasting merit. I shall, as Tom Lehrer put it, "pass, and be forgotten with the rest", and that's how it should be. And for the present ... just try and keep walking with everyone else the twisting and turning path of faith.



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