I was asked to cover another funeral today, one which I had already had notice of and knew that it may be slightly contentious for me to turn down because there was an expectation that 'the Vicar' should be the one to take this service. So I wrestled with whether or not to do it and then handed it one of my exceptionally able and hard working colleagues to do, and she was very willing to do so.
This comes hot on the heels of a request to make sure that a 'Clergyperson' was present at another service because the minister taking the service wasn't ordained. It wasn't that this minister is unqualified, unlicensed, untrained or unknown to the community where the service was taking place, but simply that this other minister doesn't have a clerical collar. Perhaps obvious from the title above, I had to say no to that too.
Don't get me wrong, it is a huge privilege and an honour to be asked to take part in these events. I know that some of the requests I get are because people actually like me doing services, some are because of the perceived 'kudos' of having 'the Vicar', some are because I am a man (they get instant refusal) and some are because people are struggling with a changing culture - both within the Church and these rural communities - that has always believed that a Vicar is somehow 'theirs' and will do their 'religion' for them... a theme oft touched on these hallowed pages... if pages they be. Whatever the motivation, as a Vicar, Priest, Pastor, Minister, Clerk in Holy Orders, Minister (choose your preferred nomenclature) it is nice to feel wanted, and to be affirmed by filling a need in others, in communities, in the Church.
The problem we continue to struggle with in the Church of England is that we are still set up for Clerically centric ministry rather than every member ministry. Both in the structures of the Church and the perceptions of people at large there is still the expectation that Clergy will run things. That we will be the 'religious experts' who 'do religion' so that others don't have to! Yet the Churches which are growing are those where everyone has a part, where the gifts of the people are offered, supported, used and celebrated.... yet in so many places this understanding of 'every member ministry' seems beyond all comprehension by the vast majority of those both within and without the Church community.
This wasn't a problem in my youth - I grew up in Churches (of different traditions and denominations to the one I inhabit now) which saw (and see) the ministry of "the church" as the ministry of the whole church, not something to be left to some people who dress up a bit and titled 'ministers'. In the Church of England we have the weight of tradition which sometimes buries us with all its expectations and perceptions filtered through generations of history.
So I am learning to say no to things which can be done by others. I have colleagues who are actively engaging in training and resourcing various ministries and I am enjoying the thrill of seeing people set free to serve God free of the weight of history, called to serve here and now in this time and place, not trying to work with the misconceptions of a bygone age. Long may it continue.