A colleague from former times used to tell of meeting a young couple about their impending marriage. A serious man, he was very diligent in his preparation of couples and talked at length about the meaning of the marriage vows and the changes married life would bring. At the end, he looked at them and said, “Now, have you any questions?”
The young lady looked at him and said, “Yeah, my ma asks are there gratings in the church floor because we’re having high heels and they can get stuck if there’s gratings”.
The story probably resonates with most people who have tried to address serious issues with listeners who are not really interested.
Facing the prospect of seeking another church appointment, chilling memories of a string of past failures rise to the surface of the consciousness. The appointments process revolves around a group of four people called parochial nominators. Each parish has its own set of nominators, they are elected for a three year term at the annual general meeting of the parish. It is their task to meet with suitable candidates and then to attend a meeting with representatives from the diocese to form a board of nomination; to be appointed to a parish, you must secure seven of the ten votes at the board meeting.
A process of being refused by a series of parishes in the early 1990s culminated with a meeting in our drawing room with four gentlemen from a conservative rural parish. They were hardly the most talkative of people, but did appear to be listening as I talked about ministry in my own parishes; about the special occasions where our three churches would combine to generate large congregations; about our attempts to have worship rooted in the life of the farming community, about the importance of pastoral care in the scattered farmsteads. It was not a bad piece of reflection, if I say so myself.
At the end, I said, “I hope that makes sense. Perhaps you have some questions?”
At the end of the settee sat a man in his dark Sunday suit with shiny black shoes, his appearance let down by the brilliant white socks with coloured stripes around the top that were revealed as he stretched out his legs. He looked at me and said, “Do you play bowls?”
“Do you play bowls? Our last Rector and his wife were great bowlers and great members of our bowling club: do you and your wife play bowls?”
“Ah, I see. No”.
It was the moment when the most useful thing to have said would have been, “Thank you for your time, gentlemen. I’m sure we now all have better things to be doing”.
At the time of Disestablishment in 1870, one commentator complained that the future of the church now lay in the hands of men who were better able to judge livestock. It was an unduly bitter comment, but perhaps, in part, anticipated white-stockinged men asking about bowls.