Thursday, January 29, 2009

A soul search with prompts

Quilly, following the example and inspiration of Dr John, recently answered five questions set by Dr John as part of a sort of ongoing free form meme! To carry this on she offered, very kindly, to formulate five questions for those who were interested in being interviewed and carry this on, a few folk took her up on the offer, including me and Bill over at the Old Fart's Blog - though he said he would post them sometime when he was able. Melli, the super-commenter, also has had a go at them over two posts here and here! Here's Quilly's well thought out questions, and my response

1.) Had you not become a pastor, what career field do you think you would be in?

Teaching, of some sort. Either academic/higher ed (I nearly went off to New York to do a Doctorate but fell in love and the rest is history, or ourstory as we still seem to bump along together twenty years later!) or Secondary education. A few years down the road I now know I would have quite liked Primary school teaching too!

2.) For the sake of public education, list all of the duties included in being a pastor.

How long do you have? I put a load of my admin duties in a post a few weeks back so I won't list them again! With the rest of my working life, and remembering that this list would be different for pretty much any minister depending on his or her context, here's the stuff that pretty much fills my days, and sometimes my nights....
  • Leading worship, and the preparation that involves, along with sermon preparation is a major part of my week. In these parishes I have two or three services on a Sunday and at least three during the week - the midweek ones follow more of a set format so don't require the same preparation. I tend to only do the one sermon a week, two if there are different types of services, and each one takes about three hours to do.
  • I chair PCCs (the groups which run local Churches along with the Vicar) at the rate of roughly one every other week, though they tend, like buses, to come in bunches, and I will have one week with a couple and a few weeks without.
  • I chair the Mission Community Council, which oversees the ministry of these five Parishes, considers strategy and encourages working together whilst at the same time seeks to retain the individual character of these church communities. We are keen to meet the needs of each village and take account of their individual characteristics rather than expecting them all to do and be the same.
  • I pray, not as much as I would like to....
  • I visit the sick, the bereaved, the dying, the anxious and the lonely - at home and in hospital. I have a team which takes care of much of the everyday visiting, but I will always visit on request.
  • I take Holy Communion to the housebound (there is a regular pattern for this)
  • I talk to people! It's quite an important thing to do, I find, though some ministers aren't terribly keen on it.... I am always willing to make time to talk to people at the Vicarage, and have visits from people who just want an hour to let me know what's on their mind, or to ask about faith, or to share their difficulties. I pray with these folk too.
  • I lead study groups and prepare talks over and above sermons. I've not done as much of that here as I used to in my previous parishes, but I'm just getting going.
  • I prepare people for marriage and perform marriage ceremonies.
  • I visit and help prepare people for the funerals of loved ones, if I didn't know the deceased I will visit at least twice, for an hour or two at a time, to talk about them and find out as much as possible for the funeral.
  • I prepare parents for the baptism of their children, normally a visit of a couple of hours where I go through in great detail the content of the baptism service. I always say 'it'll only take an hour' to them 'unless you want to ask questions' and find now that it is at least a couple of hours.
It's worth saying that as a Church of England Parish Priest/Minister/Pastor/Vicar I have a responsibility to baptise, marry or perform the funeral of anyone who lives within my parish - or to make sure that someone else can do it if I can't (or won't - though that has never happened).
  • I attend social functions run by the Churches and village communities - mainly to support them, but also just to make sure that people don' t think of the Church, and the ministers of the Church, as something apart from them. I do enjoy most of these functions, but they can be hard work as I guarantee there will always be people who want to talk about faith in one way or another even at a quiz night, or concert, or burns night supper!
  • I take acts of Collective Worship in Schools - one or two a week visiting each of the four schools in the parish about once every other week, or when shared with colleagues at least once a month.
  • I take lessons in local primary schools, on particular themes relating to the life of the Church.
  • I try and read - books about faith, life, theology, philosophy along with humour and novels, all of which enhance a preacher's teaching and delivery, I believe.
  • I try and visit the local pubs regularly, most of the pubs will see me at least once a month - and the conversations I have during this time make it well worth the effort of going out of an evening! The beer is often good too!
  • I spend a lot of time on the phone sorting out my part, or other's contribution, to all of the above too!
  • I also get to go to the ocassional conference or resources exhibition, have training days, lead worship groups (and the rehearsals that go with that), I have Diocesan and Deanery meetings, conferences and events to attend. Every now and then I get to meet up with fellow Clergy, and meet a Bishop, or Archdeacon, or Rural Dean to discuss things.
  • I used to have more of a role in selecting and training lay people for ministry in the Church. I was involved in training Worship Leaders in my last Diocese, and have previously been involved in the training of Ordinands, Curates and 'Lay Readers (licensed ministers of the Church of England trained over three years or so and authorised to perform a variety of duties in the parishes).
  • That's some of what I do at the moment anyway. I'm sure I will think of more later, it seems like quite a short list. I guess with the admin it fills up the days quite well. Oh, I forgot to mention I spend an awful lot of time travelling between places too, around the villages and the county for various services, meetings and events.

3.) Though several of your duties have fixed times on the clock, your calling is subject to the demands of the moment. How do you balance never knowing when you'll be called away with family commitments and quality time with your wife and kids?

I have certain times when I don't answer the phone! I am careful of time off, and don't feel guilty at not being available 24/7. If I work and work with no breaks at all I will be of no use to anyone, and if I neglect my family I will be neglecting the duty I have to them too. Actually, its got to be pretty major to call me away from the usual schedule, and in thirteen years of doing this (yes, I know, I look soooooo young, how can I have been in ministry that long???!!!) I have only had about a dozen instances where I have been called out in the middle of the night, or where I have had to drop everything and go that minute, and my wife has been very understanding on all those ocassions.

As a reflection on that, it would be easy to see onesself as indispensible, but we are not! All those who are a part of the Church are part of the ministry of the Church, God has called many people to serve our communities, and in many instances those others do a better job of caring than I ever could!

4.) On the surface, you do not seem to fit the typical stereotypes of a pastor, or vicar, if you prefer. How does that work for and against you?

It's funny, I hear that a lot, but as yet I've not really met anyone who really fits such a stereotype! The best thing about it is that the fact that I don't look or act like people might expect a Clergyperson to, that I am not terribly sanctimonious, or that I am caught having a beer or a crafty ciggie every now and then, or that I ride a motorbike, or that I am quite a large and 'an hairy man', or that I like rock music, play guitar, love karaoke (we all have our faults) or whatever is a great starting point for conversation, and helps people realise that being a Christian doesn't actually mean turning into one of the 'pod people'

On the downside, some Church people get a bit freaked by me being who I am - but that's not always a bad thing, it reminds me of the fact that God the Holy Spirit is 'Comforter of the afflicted and afflicter of the comfortable'. I try to play my part in that process.

Having said that, I have found my parishes - all of them over the past thirteen years - extremely supportive and surprisingly non-judgemental on the whole.

5.) Being a pastor isn't a job, it is who you are. So what do you to relax? How do you ease your own soul when you have taken on too much of other people's hurt?

Relaxing means family, riding a motorbike, blogging (really!), a bit of net time, reading, watching movies, drinking coffee, talking to my wife, playing guitar, writing, laughing. Fortunately I often get to slot bits of all these things into every day, and some of it overlaps with work too!

As for easing my soul, it's tempting to say 'beer' just to get a laugh.. but actually its prayer, friendships, and (this is new to me over the past couple of years) silence.

So, that's me in five, if you would like to carry on the idea and want me to make up five questions for you, I will have a go (might take a while, everything seems to at the moment) - just put 'interview me' in the comments on this post. A please wouldn't go amiss either :-)

Here's Quilly's instructions which make it even clearer....

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.”

2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the questions). They will be special.

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus it will go on and on and on till some brave soul says enough is enough.


Melli said...

WOW! She asked you some great questions and you gave some GREAT answers! It does not surprise me that prayer soothes your soul - that's what it's for! And the silence... that's when God talks back. That's my favorite part!

Alastair ... do you ever get to go off on a Retreat - just by yourself? I would think that would almost be a mandatory requirement to the job... Every now and then a total recharge!

Melli said...

Oh by the way... I'm a SUPER commentor??? How cool!

Anonymous said...

we did this a few years ago didn't we? But I think I interviewed go ahead..."interview me"

I need some content lately

quilly said...

Wow! That was fast - -and you did a super job. Amazing for such an obviously busy man!

Marion said...

Wow. Alastair, you're one of the busiest people I've come across in the blogging world.

I love the silence part.