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.