Clear memories remain from this day ten years ago, a drive from Dublin to Kilkenny and a meeting with representatives of a parish who clearly did not want me as their rector. 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.
Perhaps their preoccupation with their crumbling buildings was an honest reflection of what the members of their churches wanted. Most parish ministry could be managed more efficiently by partnership of a good clerical assistant and self-motivated janitor.
Few activities in parish ministry required six years of university education. There were no real skills, nothing that could not have been 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.
It always seemed odd that people sought priests for roles which appeared nowhere in any programme of theological training and which required no knowledge of anything taught in any seminary. The experience in 2010 was a far remove from the parochial nominators in my first parish in 1989 who wanted a priest who would teach their children and visit their sick and bury their dead; perhaps such things no longer mattered in the scheme of things, perhaps the faith that had undergirded a belief that such things were at the core of ministry was no longer there.
I remember turning to Marilynne Robinson, one of my favourite American authors, and finding 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 possessed a considerably greater skills set than I had. He might have got a job as a plumber’s mate.