My Grandad put on an old brown coat which he tied around with twine, pulled his familiar cap onto his head and stepped into a pair of Wellington boots, before picking up the hurricane lamp he had lit and stepping out into the darkness. It was cold and raining and the barton was deep in mud, but the cattle needed checking. The cattle made no exception for the fact it was Christmas.
Seeing a young couple this morning about their wedding next summer before they return to their jobs in Europe tomorrow; trying to think of words for a funeral on Friday morning; and trying to prepare the parish magazine, which is due out on Friday; I know my Grandad would have had little sympathy for any complaint that I had hoped to get a day off. Farming was a life, not a job; and the church is a life, and the day it becomes a job is the day to start looking for something else.
The Church of Ireland has traditionally been a pastoral church. We have never been much good at preaching; we aren’t great at providing wonderful music; we aren’t a people who are very devout in our prayers; we don’t have a tradition of profound spiritual reflection; we have little scope for scholars and have produced few theologians; we don’t score highly on excitement and innovation; we are small and dull and unexciting. What we try to do is to look after our people, no matter whether they attend, no matter whether they are saintly people, they are the people we have been given to look after.
There is a trend towards ‘professionalization’ amongst some clergy. I know of one who works set hours and who is uncontactable during time off. In a parish where the Sunday morning congregations would have totalled 400 hundred twenty years ago, numbers are now down to a hundred.
My Grandad would have thought the explanation for church decline was simple – if we don’t look after our people, then we lose them. If you don’t like dark, cold and muddy nights, get off the farm.
Time to start the photocopier.