Thursday, 28 February 2013

What They Don't Tell You at Theological College

If you want to know about Ernst Troeltsch, immanence, the correct means of ringing a chapel bell before Evening Prayer on a Tuesday in Epiphany, how so many people are phased by a healthy Mariology, what Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησου Χριστοῦ means, or indeed the greater joys of the latest Kevin Mayhew assassination of a good tune, where do you go? 

Theological College innit. 

You will get all of those things there, served (in the case of my college, Gawd Blessit) with fine food, alarmingly cheap liquor (I recall setting the prices one year) and the company of lovely ordinands - natural leaders called to work almost completely alone for the next four decades or less (which is short hand for that fact that ordinands are a suspicious bunch not fond of being led because they are the leaders, innit). 

You go to your Vicar, tell him/her that you feel The Call (like the Force felt by Jedis but with less Yoda). S/he sends you to the Diocesan Director Of Ordinands where you shalt be grilled until thee be verily dead of the exertion  and with any luck a season ticket to a BAP (not a flour topped roll, but a secret panel where you will be stared at by people who will smile at you while they do it). If you pass the flour-topped bread roll, you will be invited to give up your salary (or much time after work) to study the finer recesses of the psychology of Dr Troeltsch (sat next to some lovey who will have all his books under her pillow already, and will thereby make you feel like a pilchard). After that, you have your pretty new stole blessed, clip on the collar and launch forth into the unsuspecting world of Christians and all their enormities. 

Then you make some discoveries. 

During your curacy (if you are lucky like I was), you will blessed with a training incumbent who will walk you through the 300 million things you didn't learn at college in a meaningful and organised way. You have three years for that - no time at all. 

Then, if that is your Yoda Force, you go on to be the Landlord Spiritual of a lump of London or somewhere else. Semantic prestidigitation on the Application Form will discreetly hide that fact that you were only a curate when you applied and know sod-all really. Day one - all alone except the "to do" list (which will have grown since six months before the interregnum started that you just ended).  

This last few months, I have wrestled with the the parish finances. I have just escorted a very nice man indeed through his redundancy. I have just drafted a Person Specification for a job role that I have just been called to create, and will venture down the fraught road of employee rights and human resource frivolities. I have had to manage border disputes, manage those who don't wish to be managed, be the chairperson of a charity which I needed to register with the Commission (automatically becoming bound by the law in such things). That is before having to find the words to comfort a mother to a baby who may be dying, the woman who sees no hope in life any more, or the man who seeks absolution after a lifetime of alcohol abuse. I have had to be the nice man, the polite man, the man who takes the hits and hides the bruises. I have to have a sense of absolute certainty in all that I do, without apparent personal weakness or the human scuffles that emerge for us all. I have overseen a significant building project blessed as I was this time around that I had a gifted and qualified parishioner to take the lead. Then we come to the stuff of eternal life and salvation - much of that is communicated by me, in my own frailty and oft doubt. I have been on the telly, the radio and am a public name in some places - that requires a certain amount of edification, but is never going to form part of the College Curriculum. 

I don't blame college, or indeed the system. If theological college launched a course that covered all of the above, I'd still be at college or worse, I would have run a mile before applying. The world of the Vicar just isn't what you might ever expect in your wildest or worst dreams. We are, in a very real sense, the jack of all trades and master of none. I thank God daily that he forced me through the world of work that preceded my ordination by fifteen years, because there was the training I use now. Right there. 

Though, to be sure, it is still be best job in the world. Deo Gratias. 


  1. "I have to have a sense of absolute certainty in all that I do, without apparent personal weakness or the human scuffles that emerge for us all"
    No you don't! It might frighten the congregation, but it will enable them tremendously :)

  2. My immediatte response to your post title was 'most things' and I'm only 8 months into curacy. I loved my time at Theological college ( possibly the same one as you judging by some of the things you learnt :) ) Now I am also blessed with a patient and encouraging Training Incumbent who is slowly teaching me some of the things I need to know. I realise that there will be far more to learn if I'm fortunate enough to be let loose on a Parish as an Incumbent!

  3. I'm with Alan...I know I CANT present a facade that suggests I have no personal weaknesses or inner I hope that by wobbling when necessary, I'm allowing my congregation to deal more kindly with their own wobbles. Or something like that..Sorry. Tired after 4 full days teaching in school.......

  4. yikes I think I might change my mind!
    I think it's rather crazy that when ones goes to train, for most people that will also mean leaving your church where you are probably involved in all sorts of things and have the capacity to learn from within the church. It would make far more sense if you could train within a church - kind of like doing the theology course at the same time as curacy, and learning the practical. I know some colleges are trying to develop more of this type of course, but too late for some of us!
    Anyway keep going I'm sure you are doing an amazing job :)

  5. Red thats what Curacy is for! ANd I must say I did ( and still do) value what I learnt at college. I also suspect that a lifetime as a prist will not be enough to learn it all



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