Professional incompetence

Aug 3rd, 2008 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

They didn’t tell us anything in college about standing beside a seven year old and a three year old while you bury their daddy’s ashes.  There was nothing in any of the lectures or any of the text books about such moments; for that matter, there was nothing about most moments.  A mug of tea and sitting and staring out at the Dublin mountains have to suffice in the absence of any professional tuition on the matter.

Professional tuition was really the problem; we had academic tuition, but the practical stuff was left to ourselves – a bit like teaching a medical student the rudiments of surgery and leaving him in theatre to get along by himself. The idea was that we picked stuff up along the way, that being a curate would teach you all you needed to know. I had an excellent Rector in those times, but he was constantly under pressure in trying to care for a parish where there were a thousand families on our church list.  For the past two decades I have muddled through, trying to limit the damage I might cause.

Our training changed after I left, it became more academic. The humble diploma gained the exalted status of a bachelor’s degree.  The new ordinands learned words I could not spell, let alone understand. Herma? Hermi? Hermeneutics? Don’t ask me what they are.

The training is changing again.  It is being made a master’s degree instead of a bachelor’s one. People won’t be allowed to join the course unless they are already graduates (well, that rules out the apostles and many fine clergy in the twenty centuries since).

Perhaps the new course will be different, perhaps there will be less hermy-thingys and more stuff to equip people for doing real stuff. Perhaps they will do psychology and other subjects that would be helpful during the day, perhaps the next generation won’t spend the years muddling through and getting by and trying not to get things too badly wrong.

Perhaps the new training will teach someone how to cope when the daddy of two little kiddies has died; teach what to say and what not to say; teach them how to go about things; how to cope with a country churchyard on an August afternoon; teach them useful stuff, because I have no idea.

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  1. So sad, Ian

    I feel your pain for those little children and the hopelessness that you felt in the situation you found yourself in. I honestly doubt if there is any training that can prepare you adequately for this sort of scenario.

    Children are very perceptive. I’m sure those children will have sensed your hurt for them (as well as your own grief) even though you felt ill-equipped to do more for them. Sometimes it’s not about what you do or say, you were there for them when it mattered most and I’m sure they will have been reassured by that.

    Baino is well-qualified to comment on this situation.

  2. Sometimes I wonder if these changes are for changes sake. It sounds like you had a difficult day. At times like that I want to take the children on my knee and hug them. Unfortunately nowadays we have to think twice about that.

  3. Ian I wonder why its necessary to elevate the clergy into the realms of academia? I know you need to understand theology and I agree, a little psychology and philosophy wouldn’t go astray but like doctors, its the ‘bedside manner’ that is important as well. I’m sure you’re much better than you ‘feel’ about such things. I’ve received great solace from certain members of the clergy over the years (even though I am not at all religious, my friend is a priest and the priest I met when Ray died was particularly special). I worry that you’ll all become these pompous over educated Phd’s – in what? When your main focus should be pastoral care! That my friend is largely intuitive and I think you have the stuff to do it well.

    Oh, Steph’s right, the kids will get over it . . it’s the widow that needs the support!

  4. Most of the really important stuff can’t be taught…we learn from what worked for us, what we see working for others, what we listen to and feel…the courses maybe just provide tools that are available when we need them, if we need them. But being a presence, a listener, a friend… this is what counts. We don’t have to have all the answers, we simply have to walk alongside.
    And, a lot of what I learned, I learned by watching you when I was your student reader!! You are the presence of Jesus among God’s people – that’s what you are, and that’s what counts!

  5. A digression; All the knowledge in the world can be put on a few CDs, but this does not make CDs intelligent, the only thing people need at times of grief is is compassion and not hermathingamys

  6. this is a lovely post.

    I have no doubt at all that if you were patient and gentle then you will have been appreciated

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