Friday, 7 December 2012

The REAL A - Z of Ministry in the Church of England.

There may be a common misconception that Anglican priests spend a lot of time being holy and pious, praying and reading the bible and the Prayer Book.
The real truth is revealed in this A - Z of real, actual day to day preoccupations; things which irritate, preoccupy, keep us busy and define the happy days of ministry in the real world. Mostly they are things nobody talked about at theological college.

A is for.......... Acronyms.
Like any organisation, there's plenty of jargon. You could in theory spend the morning on IME (Initial Ministerial Training) working on your MDF (Ministry Development Folder); attend your MDG (Ministry Development Group) in the afternoon and go onto an evening governors meeting at the local C of E school where you will need to know the difference between an SEF (School Evaluation Form), an SDP (School Development Plan) and an RAP (Raising Achievement Plan).

B is for..........Bat droppings. 
Bats are a protected species in and around many ancient churches. They sit up in the roof. Which means the priest must protect the Chalice after filling it up with Communion wine, or the consequences could be liturgically complicated, not to mention unhygienic  Very important, that little cardboard square covered in white linen (the pall).

C is for..........Coffee.
You will consume vast quantities of it. You will long for it when it's unavailable and drink too much when you don't need it. Some will be delicious, some will be undrinkable, but you must plough on regardless as it's part of the etiquette of pastoral visits. 'Come in...would you like a coffee?' (Thinks: that'll be my 4th this morning...) 'Yes, that'd be lovely, thank you!'

D is for..........Driving.

Multi parish ministry is so spread out these days you may find you're spending quite a lot of time in the car. This can be an opportunity for prayerful reflection, or an opportunity to pick up two speeding tickets, one on the way to an important church meeting and one on the way back, for instance.

E is for.......... Enervating meetings.

Obviously we don't have any in this parish, but I have endured my fair share in other ministry contexts. Random thoughts during these times have included: 'What a strange green lampshade';  'Is that clock actually working?' and 'Will I be home in time for Waterloo Road?'

F is for..........Freezing cold.
A burial in the snow; a February 8 o'clock Communion; being able to see your breath as you preach; fingers too cold to pluck guitar strings. We praise God heartily for heating that works; otherwise we soldier on with many jumpers. I once wore a green woolly hat during the Eucharist. It was Ordinary Time.

G is for........Gaps.
Gaps in perception - your perception of 'success' and what you can in reality achieve; gaps in the perception others have of you, and what they think you can achieve; gaps in rotas; gaps in the night when you can't sleep; gaps into which you think you can squeeze your car when you're late for a meeting. I suppose it's life and death and all that mess in between: there are just a lot of gaps.

H is for..........Heating.
If you have some that works and doesn't cost equivalent to the GDP of a small country, you are blessed beyond compare. Even then, someone will need to think about when it comes on, how long it stays on, how efficient it is, how often it's checked, how you read the meters, who reads them and what to do if the electricity company overcharge you by 1000%.

I is for..........Ignorance.

There are the things you know you don't know which you can ask about and which others will kindly tell you about. Then there are the things you know you don't know but no one else has a clue about either. And then there are the things you don't know you don't know which everyone else does know, but is too embarrassed to point out to you. This last category is the one to worry about. Except you don't know about it. Proving, after all, that ignorance is bliss.

J is for..........Juggling.
I guess everyone who works does it, but working from home makes it interesting. And combining ministry and motherhood makes it even more interesting. It occasionally feel like rising river levels - bits of work seeping into other areas that are usually boundaried. On the plus side I can prepare sermons with a background of drum practice; I know exactly how many minutes it takes to drive from the Crematorium to the school bus stop and evening meetings at least get you out of onerous maths homework duties.

K is for..........Keys.
It goes like this: you need something from the church safe. You find the car keys, go out of the house, lock the house, unlock the car and get in. Then you remember you haven't got the church keys. You unlock the house, find the church keys, relock the house and drive to the church. Once there you lock the car, unlock the padlock to the porch, and the main church door, open the safe door with a key and a metal lever carefully hidden in special designated place, pick up the item, relock the safe, hide the metal lever, relock the main door, padlock the porch, find your car keys and drive home, lock the car and let yourself in with the house key. 
You can see that with all these variables the potential for something to get lost/go wrong is quite substantial.

L is for..........Laminating.
Once you start it's very addictive. It makes your assembly visual aids and church posters look vaguely professional. If they're bound for outdoors, however, laminating posters only protects them from the water ingress if you learn the subtle art of trimming the poster to exactly 1cm smaller than the laminating pouch and only putting the drawing pins through the edges that do not touch the paper. Otherwise within two days your poster will become a soggy, pulpy mess no one can read.

M is for..........Muscles.
You need them for moving the following objects: pianos; photocopiers; crates of wine; piles of hymn books; Curate's Training files and large babies presented for baptism.

N is for..........Noticeboards.
They are specifically designed not to admit any drawing pins except some kind of industrial strength variety that you would need to blast in with a power tool. Once in they can never be removed. Prepare for chipped fingernails.

O is for..........Onions.
It's a strange thing but the more you think about it, every ministry situation is like an onion with many layers. The more you peel back, the more you see. And sometimes it will make you cry.

P is for..........Paperwork.
I thought I had a lot of files until I became a Curate. Even the files I do have are now full to bursting and most weeks I go out to buy some more. The lever arches usually collapse after a few weeks and I shove everything into a drawer with a fancy label on it. I recently received an email with 14 attachments. I couldn't bring myself to print them out.

Q is for..........Quiet moments.

These occur when you have lost your voice; when someone's just said something in a meeting that's gone down very badly, and when you're reminded in the middle of a bad day that the clouds are still skimming the sky and the Church of England is still standing.

R is for..........Revising.
Revising your theology in the face of life; revising ministry expectations in the face of illness, retirement and relocation; revising the service mentally when a couple of children turn up unexpectedly (or are unexpectedly absent). You will always be revising.

S is for..........Sugar.
If you're out and about a lot you can never tell if you're going to be offered food mid morning. You may need that energy to get you through the next 3 hours before you get home to the kitchen. And so I find myself in an endless internal debate about whether to ask for sugar in coffee or not. If yes, AND a biscuit appears you are going to be over sweetened; if nothing appears AND there's no sugar, you're going to go under. Best to be over than under I find.

T is for..........Treats.
You need things to look forward to. Chocolate, obviously; a solitary coffee shop hour; dropping off on the sofa in the middle of the day whilst watching Waterloo Road on iplayer. Everyone needs something.

U is for..........Underestimating.
Morning Prayer, a planning meeting, a mid-morning bible study, bring and share lunch, two hours admin and two pastoral visits before an evening governors meeting is likely to be too much to pack into one 'day'. Not only do we underestimate the amount of time it will take up but also the amount of energy. You are not a super-being.

V is for..........Voices.

Think of it from the point of view of the congregation. If it's squeaky  whiney, monotone, irritable, shouty, too high, too low or too sibilant, life is going to be miserable for everyone. Make yours interesting, mellifluous, dynamic and audible.
If you yourself are hearing voices, seek professional help.

W is for..........Worrying.

Given our Lord said don't do it, it's extraordinary how much time is spent on this. I think I speak for most fellow clergy. Or maybe not...? 
Now that's a worrying thought...

X is for..........Xtreme temperatures.
It will be at least 25 degrees in the local Care Home, with all windows shut. The churchyard can reach minus 8 for a burial in winter. Employ layers.

Y is for..........Yo-Yo-ing.

Only you might know the really sad news just received about someone in the church, but meanwhile you put on a brave face and turn up for the primary school Carol concert. You could do a funeral visit and a baptism visit in the same evening, in theory. Talk about up and down emotions.

Z is for..........Zzzzz
Whatever you do, just get as much as possible as often as possible.


  1. Did you actually get a speeding tickets on the way to a meeting and on the way back?? And can you claim it as legitimate expenses? Think you should send this to all training colleges immediately!

  2. Just "Yes". Also explains why I ama full-time Uni Chaplan!

  3. I got a speeding ticket coming back from IME training late one night ... adding insult to injury. Thanks for this post Claire -- every letter rang true for me!