Today was one of those days that had a bit of the 'duty and the joy' about it...
For those who don't recognise the reference it comes from the Eucharist Prayers of the Alternative Service Book 1980 - when the priest begins the prayer at Communion with these words (traditionally called the 'Sursum Corda') the congregation's responses are in bold type:
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Lift up your hearts
We lift them up unto the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God
It is right to give thanks and praise
It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise.... etc
Sometimes having that role of priest and pastor to the people of God feels like a joy, other times it feels much more like a duty. Today saw a lot of the joy - after an oversleep start to the day I made it to my 9am service with minutes to spare, and it was lovely - sparsely attended, but that happens sometimes, yet filled with a sense of expectation, of life, of fellowship and of friendship. That hour or so we spent together was a reminder of why a Church can be such a positive part of the life of a community- a place of faith, hope and love.
Then at 11am we had a wonderful, slightly chaotic but still filled with light and life, Baptism. We welcomed a new life into the family of God. It was a joyful service, which started a little late due to technical issues (couldn't get the backing track for a song to work) but altogether most enjoyable. It was a double pleasure because this little boy was the first child of a couple it had been my great and joyful privilege to marry a year ago! It was a lovely baptism, and they were kind enough to invite me to the party that followed - which I planned to do straight after the service, but was waylaid by a very friendly and altogether top notch bunch of people when I popped into the local pub to drop off a Metallica CD on the way.
I did, after a quick half in the pub, make my way to the Baptism party - it's one of the great joys that Clergy experience to be invited to a gathering of family and friends and to be a part of the celebrations. I was glad that I knew a number of folk there and enjoyed the opportunity to chat to some folk and to have a very belated breakfast!
On the way back to my car, though, I found myself engaged in conversation by someone at the Church gate - we talked of their project to put together a history of the village and I was impressed by all the hard work they had done and it sounded like an exciting venture. I then found myself chatting to someone else about what was, in all honesty, a ridiculously trivial issue over which they had got themselves into something of a state. It wasn't a life or death matter, in fact it was as far from such as it is possible to get - however this person went on an on about their disappointment in a decision which had been made by the Church Council (PCC) about one aspect of the Church grounds and told me that they had submitted a complaint to 'the relevant authorities' and were trying to get the PCC to apply for retrospective permission to do something which didn't need retrospective permission until this person made a complaint!
It is at moments like this that I do feel that ministry is a duty rather than a joy. On the scale of things that are relevant to what is really important in the life of the Christian Church this comes as a 1 out of 10. Unfortunately these are things which absorb time and energy when what I would rather being doing is living the good news of Christ in such a way that draws others into fullness of life. It is the cleft stick that ministers find themselves in - being nice to all, whilst recognising that this kind of irrelevancy leeches away time and energy which should really be put into the important parts of what we do.