Good for not very much

Feb 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

After a bruising day, there is the feeling that to do something else, even for a while, would make a change, but what is there that could be taken on?

Most parish ministry could be managed more efficiently by partnership of a good clerical assistant and self-motivated janitor.

The past week has been absorbed in such matters as writing a report on the activities of a committee; fighting with the county council over water rates; photocopying handouts; typing up service sheets for Sunday; checking that the boiler was working properly; changing the time clock for the churchyard lights; and a plethora of other tasks, not one of which required six years of university education.

There are no real skills, nothing that could not be done by anyone who had a bit of practice, and nothing that would be transferable to another occupation.  It’s not like Peter and Andrew and James and John, who were able to go back to their boats in Galilee; or like Paul, who could earn his living as a tentmaker.

Asked questions on such matters as conservation and fundraising and dealing with grant-making bodies, there was nothing to do other than to confess ignorance.

It is always odd that people seek priests for roles which appear nowhere in any programme of theological training and which require no knowledge of anything taught in any seminary.  It was a far remove from the parochial nominators in my first parish who wanted a priest who would teach their children and visit their sick and bury their dead; perhaps such things no longer matter in the scheme of things, perhaps the faith that undergirded a belief that such things were at the core of ministry is no longer there.

Turning to Marilynne Robinson, one of my favourite American authors, I found the passage I sought in her beautiful novel ‘Gilead’,

A woman in my flock called just after breakfast and asked me to come to her house. She is elderly, recently a widow, all by herself, and she has just moved from her farm to a cottage in town. You can never know what troubles or fears such people have, and I went. It turned out that the problem was her kitchen sink. She told me, considerably amazed that a reversal so drastic could occur in a lawful universe, that hot water came from the cold faucet and cold water from the hot faucet. I suggested she might just decide to take C for hot and H for cold, but she said she liked things to work the way they were supposed to. So I went home and got my screwdriver and came back and switched the handles. She said she guessed that would do until she could get a real plumber. Oh, the clerical life!

Changing the handles of the taps?  The Reverend John Ames had a considerably greater skills set than I.  He might have got a job as a plumber’s mate.

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  1. I’d never think of asking a Minister to change my taps. Fix my leaky roof? Perhaps its a symptom of small parishes where you’re expected to be jack of all trades. Frankly, I haven’t had a priest or a vicar knock on the door for 25 years. Ours seem to stay in their friaries, getting fat on the charity of others and saying mass six times a week. A comfortable life indeed. I don’t think any of them could even bend over far enough to start a lawn mower!

  2. Baino,

    I only call at the doors of people who claim to be church members. I would consider it intrusive to knock on anyone else’s door without good reason.

  3. Ian, have you read Haldor Laxness’ book, Kristnihald undir Jökli (Under the Glacier/Christianity at Glacier)? It came to mind when I read Baino’s comment, actually. Laxness’ took a subtle, but hilarious poke at clerics. I absolutely LOVED it. I laughed aloud as I read. Yet through all the sarcastic wit, there was so much truth. Sometime faith isn’t tied to things ethereal. If a person isn’t warm, or clothed, or fed, if their roof leaks or their mother is sick, if they have to bury their dead in the glaciers, they have things on their mind that call for a more practical service. Is there anything wrong with faith/and ministry being tangible? Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Lit. in 1955, but wrote Christianity at Glacier after that – in the late 1960’s. If I haven’t already given my copy away, I’ll put it in the post on Tuesday. (We have Presiden’ts Day on Monday.) It’s true what you say about the skills gained from six years at University not being transferrable to another occupation. The cynic in me says that’s a calculated plan inherent to clerical training, but on the other hand . . . . do you really want to make tents?

  4. Gram,

    I think we would probably have a good deal more credibility if we could make tents. I think I would be quite good as a home help (not sure what the American term would be – a person who goes around to housebound seniors and does chores and makes meals for them)

  5. How about Ms Trollope and The Rector’s Wife – obviously not in your case! but you get the point. Your point about faith not being tied to ethereal matters is very good. If we cannot help each other what is the point?
    Sory for the rushed note.
    btw what’s the best way to fix a tap that won’t stop dripping?

  6. I found ‘The Rector’s Wife’ very depressing, but perhaps that’s my prejudice against the Rector in the story. Never having advanced beyond the first rung, I have never had the chance to be ambitious!

    (You need a new washer.)

  7. a washer? Herself indoors will not be impressed

  8. OMG – you have it all wrong. The best way to fix a dripping faucet is for Herself to get new Himself that knows that answer without having to ask the Rector. Sheeesh, y’all! 😉

  9. Getting a half decent replacement Himself would be even harder than finding a plumber.

  10. And he had more skills than me……..I can change tap heads too….but could I write and orate a sermon?????? No

  11. You could probably preach a better sermon than some I have heard!

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