|I wandered lonely as a cloud, or cleric (apologies to Wordsworth)|
A trip to Westminster meant I had it on all day going across London.
Which suited me fine. Until I got to Westminster tube station where I needed to find a loo. 50 pence piece at the ready, I approached the turnstile; the woman assistant looked up, smiled gleefully, said 'no, no', and waived me through before I could pay. Flummoxed, I mumbled a confused 'thank you' and put the money back in my purse while my un-collared friend paid up and came through after me, along with all the other women in the queue behind.
A visit to Parliament was a reminder that I have sworn allegiance to the Queen. I'm part of The Establishment, apparently. Saying Evening Prayer in Westminster Abbey, the collar made me feel like an insider. A not unpleasant feeling, but a strange one. Any Christian should feel an insider in an Abbey. Any person should. But it sometimes doesn't happen that way. I was a minister amongst lay people. I know the words, I know the form.
But not entirely an insider, as every cleric taking part in that Evening Prayer (leader, readers, and of course, choir) was male.
Later in the same week I pondered multiple roles in which wearing the collar provokes different reactions: offering myself to a State School to 'help with assemblies'; being a Governor of a Church of England School, where it cannot be pretended that everyone is entirely certain what this 'religious' designation really means; worrying about the non-plussed reaction of a group of mums at a Toddler Group as a female cleric with no obvious toddlers in tow turns up for a coffee, hoping to meet locals.
Where do clerics belong?
Anywhere and nowhere.
Being on the outside can be painful. Being alone is okay, but being lonely...
Heavily involved in many groups yet intrinsically part of no particular group day to day.
What do people think of you, really? Only someone with the skin of a rhinoceros would be entirely unconcerned.
It can feel isolating unless you remember that other clerics probably feel the same (but it takes a brave one to admit it).
And unless you remember there is the unseen God who 'fighteth for us'...
And of course the whole company of heaven, which includes, fittingly on this Michaelmas, the angelic hosts, no less.
(Picture: Dorchester Abbey, taken 29.09.12).