Having shown a complete lack of clerical ambition over the past quarter of century, the realm of church politics is a strange and alien place. The instinct is to become immersed in the business of parish life, John Keble’s ‘the trivial round, the common task’. The decent and Godly people of the rolling miles of the rural parishes are warm and welcoming; their conversation the real stuff of life: birth and death, sickness and health, income and expenditure. Things easily understood, things that cause neither hurt nor frustration.
Yet having been a political enthusiast in college days, and still following election results with an anorakish enthusiasm, church politics should be as engaging as the stuff of parliament, more so, perhaps, more most of it is a matter of complete insignificance compared with questions of budgets for education and health care.
Sometimes there is a sense of being unsure which self is real. Which person am I? The one who hides away drinking tea in rural cottages or the one who has repeatedly checked the results of the elections in Britain? Perhaps neither.
The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin ‘persona’, meaning no more than a mask; being a person by its very nature is about concealment of our true self underneath.
William Shakespeare understood the difficulty of discerning what is real, what is of the essence of someone. In As You Like It, he writes:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
Playing many parts is at the heart of working in a parish; it would be a strange priest who assumed a similar manner in every situation encountered. But it’s not the question of playing different parts that is troubling; it’s the question of playing on different stages. The stage of the parish is safe and secure, in sadness it is a place of friendship and support; even walking from a church at the head of a funeral cortege, the faces of those standing at the door are the faces of people standing with you. The stage of ecclesiastical politics is an altogether different place.
In the end, of course, none of it matters. In The Tempest, Shakespeare writes:
Our revels now are ended.
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
In the meantime, there is the question of preparing for the stage that is General Synod.