Friday, January 30, 2009

What have I done?

Daft really, offer to do something and people take it up! Now I have to think of some questions for Eric and Sank..... I doubt the quality will be quite that which Quilly offered me!

Nothing else to say for now, it must be all this micro-blogging at twitter which does it!

Deja Vu?

Eric, from eric has issues reminded me of the fact that I had done the five question meme, as set by him, some time ago - about two and a half years in fact. Apologies Eric for not remembering - but having trawled back through my blog I have been rather amazed by some of the things I have written over the past few years, though I shall leave them there for posterity, tempting as it may be to weed out some of the nonsense and overly honest posts of my recent past!

Am enjoying blogging! And twittering! Still have a few sermons to put up, but at present am about to take my son and the two dogs out for a wander over the road....

toodles

Mobile blogging

I'm sitting in a cafe in the town I grew up in and having recently become a Twitterer(?) (twitificationalist? Twit?) I thought I would continue the theme and try to blog on my iPhone...I suspect that the relatively long winded nature of typing this in, despite being much quicker than other mobile devices, will make this an infrequent event.

For any following the saga of my poorly car on Twitted or Facebook, I have taken it to a Garage where they have run a diagnostic and may well have found a problem which has been around for a while! So honest are this garage that though I had said I expected them to change the air sensor (previous garages have done this in response to the issue) they said they wanted to try a much much cheaper fix first - hopefully bringing the cost down from about £220 to £30 - now that is service!

We'll see if that works, now it's time to finish my coffee and try and get a haircut.

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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Changes Changes

First of all - my letter to the parishes this month:
The only thing that seems to stay the same these days is change! Everything changes! Even in these past few years so much as changed, from the Internet and Digital TV to Computer games, cars, shopping, even pubs! And change is often threatening, or disturbing, or challenging, so we seem to live in very challenging times.

And there’s a concern about change in our Churches too, a certain expectation that (for better or worse) a new Vicar means changes, and that as we learn to work together as these five parishes that make up the ‘Five Alive Mission Community’ this will lead to certain developments, different services and different events.

Well, some of that is true – the reality is that some things need to change. But I am not someone who believes in change for the sake of change – in fact I take to heart St Paul’s words from the letter to the Romans 12v9 ...”hold fast to that which is good”.

As we seek together to be a Christian Community that reaches out to those beyond our walls, as we seek to care for those both within and outside of our congregations, as we seek to worship God and to make our worship welcoming and appropriate, we may well find that some things need to change. But we may also want to state that what we are already doing is good, and to build on what we do well, and to keep the rich tapestry of worship and prayer, of pastoral care and outreach which we already have.

I would encourage you to talk with your PCC members and Churchwardens, with the Clergy and Readers and with each other about what we do well in our Churches, and to ask what we need to consider again. Things will change, but in all of this we have a faith and a God which remains unchanging, steadfast, faithful and true. So though, as Bob Dylan once sang, “the times they are a-changin’ “‘ we hold fast to the deeper truth of a God whose love for us is always the same and in whom we find our greatest security!

As I wrote these words a few weeks back I was just beginning to posit a few changes to the structure of how we do things, particularly the timings of our services. Now the services we have on Sundays are only a part, in many ways a small part, of the life of our Churches, but they are the 'shop window' of the Church's life and for many people they are the main (or only) source of contact with the Church community - so change to these services will impact upon more people than pretty much any other thing.

I am proposing a change of times on Sunday mornings from 9.30am to 9.00am - this is because I don't have the opportunity to talk to people after 9.30am services because I have to dash off to take another service at 11am. This may not seem like a big thing to many people, but that short time of contact with people after a service offers a whole load of benefits:

  • It prevents people from seeing the minister as someone who just 'does services' and then scoots off, building up a culture of Priests/Ministers as 'providers of religion' rather than being 'ministers, pastors, fellow Christians and friends'.
  • It offers the opportunity for brief pastoral contacts - which often lead to requests that i visit people, or make appointments to talk over issues and ideas.
  • It means that the minister gets to know people, rather than having a 'congregation' s/he knows people by name and can respond to them individually
  • It allows the minister time to have a break between services.

In Rural areas such as this one, a longer gap between services also means that we can travel safely through these narrow, winding roads, with a little time to gather ourselves and prepare to worship when we arrive at the other location.

BUT - and this is where the discussion begins - the shift of time, particularly in villages with either farming or more elderly residents (and all of these parishes have one or both in their constituency) makes it difficult for some to come. Of course, starting (and therefore finishing) earlier may make it possible for others who have commitments later in the morning to come. It may free up people to see their families more later in the morning, and it will certainly make the lives of myself and my fellow ministers somewhat less stressful.

But any change is difficult, and i am aware that some will feel threatened by this. Others will simply refuse, or be unable to take part in our services at this time.

So the discussion continues. I have never sought to be the kind of Priest that tells people what they have to do and expects it all done. As Father Ted says when accused of being a Nazi
"I'm not a Nazi, Nazi's dress in black and tell people what to do all the time - Priests, they, um, er...." So we will talk about these things, and hopefully find a way which benefits the individual parishes and those who minister to them. If there are alternatives, then we will try to find them, otherwise we will just have to try this and see what happens - in the hope that we won't exclude or drive away members of our congregations and then have to set about recovering them!

This could be the beginning of a long saga.... As I said in my article, i am not one who likes change for the sake of change, but in order to continue to support these congregations and offer them more than just taking services as we seek to build up a sense of community and pastoral care, I think some change is inevitable.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And now I twitter

With so many friends twittering, I thought it about time I got in on the act, perhaps I will update it more often than my blog! Find me at http://twitter.com/fracme

Now you see me.....

Yep, once again it has been a while, nearly a month since I blogged. And, as you might suspect, its been busy-ness that has mainly kept me from writing here.

Not that I am complaining, though, it has been overwhelmingly a good busyness - that long list in my last posting has very much occupied my time, and I still feel I am trying to keep up with myself admin wise, but in terms of contact with people, of offering the pastoral care that is at the centre of what I feel my calling to be in ministry, of preparing and leading services, in preparing and preaching sermons these past few weeks, indeed these past few months, have been extremely rewarding.

But now, in many ways, its time to get down to business. We in our five parishes are asking 'what next?' and wondering both how we can grow together as a 'Mission Community' and what that means for the individual life of our parishes. This might mean some difficult decisions, actually it will mean some difficult decisions, particularly about service times and frequency, about offering other ways of being church over and above a focus on worship services, about meeting the needs of those who want to ask questions about faith without buying in to the existing Church culture, about welcoming families and young people without forcing them to fit into a particular Church mould.

One of the most striking and joyful things about this group of parishes is a willingness to consider other ways of doing things. Yes, there is a concern about 'what could we lose?' or 'what could go wrong?' but there is also a desire for positive change. And I feel that one of the reasons I was appointed was that I was (and am) willing to go through potential difficult changes, whilst still wanted to sustain and maintain that which is good about our existing life together as Christians in these villages.

And I realise that this is going to mean that I have to keep an eye on my busy life, if being busy is stopping me seeing the bigger picture, and confronting the needs beyond the current way of doing things.

So, with all that in mind, my blogging has been secondary of late! Though I hope to get back into the swing of things - if nothing else then keeping up a blog means that I think things through out loud, and often get helpful feedback. There is much to think about, and lots to pray about, regarding these parishes - so there may well be lots to blog about too!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Happy New Year

Yes, I recognise it's been a while since I posted, but following Christmas I went off for a few days for a break with the family and then since coming back have been gradually working on a lovely streaming cold, which has finally hit and left me particularly muzzy headed and somewhat tired.

I am pleased, though, that my traditional (do something once in the Church of England and it is an innovation, twice is a tradition) 'sometime-around-Christmas' Cold held off both through the Christmas season and my post-Christmas break. It's only been the past three or four days when it has really affected me. This, of course, puts me out of visiting people, as I don't want to make their lives worse by my advent, and has rather left me marooned in the study trying to plough through the mountains of paper that really should have been dealt with before.

I have mentioned before that Church life contains much more admin than most people realise. Being the 'established Church' means that, although receiving no money from the state, the Church of England does have certain privileges and responsibilities. Every quarter we must make sure that the local register office has copies of any entries in Marriage registers, or 'a certificate of no return' stating the entry number of the last wedding so that records can be tallied. We have certain regulations relating to Churchyards and placing memorials/gravestones/plaques in Churchyards which require that each application conforms to a certain standard. Each of these applications (two or three a month, usually) needs to be checked, signed off in triplicate and the legal fees associated with them are passed on to parish treasurers who pass them on again to the Diocese. All funerals, weddings and baptisms have to have complete records kept, along with any service held in a parish Church. I also have to keep records of all my mileage and expenses of office which I then add up and send off to the treasurer responsible for them - as this can often run up to £500 a month I do need to keep careful records and remember to submit them - something which my last treasurer will tell you I am not very good at (in fact I still have some claims outstanding from my last job, let alone getting to grips with this one!)

Often there are charities associated with particular parishes, which have to be kept up to date, have trustee meetings and have any income/expenditure reported to the Charity Commissioners. Alongside this there is the planning and circulation of rotas, Parochial Church Council (PCC) meetings/minutes/agendas which need checking (they are prepared usually by a small army of extremely competent and helpful PCC Secretaries. In this 'Five Alive Mission Community' we also have a 'Mission Community Council' which meets regularly to consider issues which affect all of our parishes, that too has minutes, agendas and discussion papers which need preparation and checking (and I am extremely fortunate to have a fastidious Mission Community Secretary who prepares these things and makes sure - to the best of her ability - that I have a vague idea of what is going on.

Of course I find myself also preparing worship services, some of which need extra preparation and may need booklets compiled/formatted and printed. I have sermons to write, rotas to get ready and expenses which need doing. I find I am constantly fielding enquiries about funerals, memorials in Churchyards, baptisms and weddings over the phone and generally have probably 20 hours or so of admin to be done in most weeks.

As I might have said before (brain is slightly fogged due to cold) this isn't a complaint - but I do have lots of people asking with a genuine interest exactly what it is that I do during the week. Much of what people see is the Sunday worship I lead, and some may know that there are also midweek services, as well as PCC meetings, Deanery Synods and Deanery Chapter meetings, Mission Community meetings. Most realise that funerals and weddings go on during the week too. Not everyone realises that clergy also visit people at home and in hospital, we take Holy Communion to those who are housebound (both long-term, and those who cannot get out due to an injury or who are convalescing), we attend village events when possible, we take school assemblies when invited (usually every other week in most of schools, and i have four schools in the Mission Community), I am also ex-officio a foundation Governor in one of my schools, when asked we will help with school lessons, whether by having children visit or use the Church, or taking part in a lesson on a particular theme. I have a nursing home for the elderly in one of my parishes which I hope to visit on a semi-regular basis. We have meetings with other Church leaders in the area (we have a very good and very active Baptist Church in the village where I live, and very good relations with Methodist and Baptist Churches in other villages too). I write for local village magazines, and for the 'Parishes Paper' which is distributed throughout the five villages of the Mission Community. When folk are being married or having their children baptized in one of our Churches I also visit to prepare them for these events, likewise for each funeral I will visit the family at least twice before the service and when possible after the services as well.

Tot up this, along with a few visits to pubs and clubs, general trying to get around and see folk, and you will get some idea of how my days are filled. The admin can be wearing, and my temptation is to leave it, but then it overwhelms me and gets me stressed as I get to the point where I miss something because it is lost in a pile of paper somewhere.

So being a bit poorly gives me some time to get to grips with a big pile of admin, and i have my Mission Community secretary coming in an hour to help me file, sort and get things slightly more together than they are at present. Looks like being a fun afternoon!

Oh, and I do have some sermons to post on New Kid Deep Stuff, which I will try to get around to later.

Have a joyful, and peaceful, 2009! Not that I don't plan to blog again for the next year, but I though I should end as I began, wishing you a Happy New Year, and thank you to those who left comments with Christmas wishes over the past few weeks.