Monday is the day off, except when it’s not. On the first Monday in May, there was a wedding. On the second Monday in May, there was a funeral. On the third Monday in May, there was a meeting two hours’ drive away. So tomorrow is the fourth Monday in May, and may provide the first day off in a month.
This is not to complain, many farmers will work Seven days a week for month after month and they will have no guarantee of pay at the end of each month; it is more to point up the significance of a day off when the prospect of one arises. Tomorrow, 28th May 2012, there is nothing in the diary, nothing except cutting the grass. Cutting the grass in the two acre back garden means three hours driving a ride on mower, clearing jams caused by the thick moist grass, emptying the grass box dozens of times, wondering where in the Bible it says that following Jesus means fighting the incursions of briars and brambles, wondering where in the ordination service there is any requirement to mow a lawn that could have provided sites for a dozen or more houses.
A Church of Ireland committee is looking at the question of clergy housing, but it’s not a committee that is needed, it’s a bit of common sense. Why should anyone have to live in a vast Eighteenth Century house, built on three floors and subject to so many preservation orders that even double glazing is not permissible, making it unheatable in winter?
How is the mission of the church facilitated by providing rectories suited to another age? It is argued that the provision of glebe houses facilitates mobility among the clergy, but many clergy spend twenty years or more in one house, (sometimes up to forty years!). Job mobility is probably far higher in other sectors than it is among clergy who may be inhibited from moving to another parish by a reluctance to leave a rectory in which they may have invested a lot of their own money, or by the prospect of living in one that is unmanageable or poorly maintained.
To question the whole system is likely to cause more offence in some circles than would doubting the existence of God. There is a deep attachment, in many communities, to the idea of having their priest living among them, the priest becoming talisman-like, as though his presence might ward off evils that might otherwise befall the parish.
Of course, there is a ministry in simply being among people , sharing the realities of their daily lives, but must that presence be so demanding? I wonder how many farmers would be happy with the opportunity of a day off being marred by the need to cut the grass in a garden not even their own?
The committee will undoubtedly produce a report, and the report will be discussed, and nothing will happen, and there will still be grass to be mown.