August 2011 Letter

Busy, busy, busy...


I think I've thought of a new way to finance the Church of England.  I shall simply carry a small money-box around with me and every time someone starts a conversation with me with the words, 'I know you must be so busy, but...' I shall charge them a pound.  Or perhaps I should charge myself a pound, because if I were really too busy to have time to talk to the people in my parishes, I wouldn't actually be doing my job.


The trouble is, everyone knows that I am the vicar of 7 churches here, and so it is a natural enough assumption to think that I must be doing seven times as much work as a vicar who only looks after a single church.  If that was true, I wouldn't just be busy, I would be dead!  The fact is that part of my job is working out what my job is... in other words, working out what the things are that my gifts and my training and calling as a priest really mean that I should be doing as a priority and then working out how the rest of it is going to get done – or if it should be done at all.  Sometimes, we realise that the 'essentials' are more negotiable than we thought.  I am very aware of that as I write this in Scotland, having had to hurriedly rearrange half a week's worth of appointments when my mother was taken ill.  'Life happens', as they say, and God knows that better than we do!


Of course, I rely hugely on the Churchwardens and other lay members of the churches, who do so much more than they would ever have expected to do in the past.  Maintenance, fund raising, chairing school governing committees, leading lay worship and family services, arranging music and managing rotas – all these things are done for the church on a voluntary basis by people who have lives as busy as the rest of us but generously give their time because they believe that village churches should stay open as places where all of us who live there can come closer to God and find the peace and strength which He offers us.  So if pieces start to fall off the tower, you are fortunately not dependent on my non-existent maintenance skills to arrange for them to be stuck on again.  Together, we know a man – or a woman – who can.


Of course, that opens up another question – what if those people are having too much asked of them?  In that, we have to work together as a team, and not assume that just because someone has done something before, they will automatically do it again.  Lives change; grandchildren arrive; jobs come and go and move and there is no shame in saying, 'Not this time' when God is asking you to spend more time on the people in your life or in other areas.  And similarly, I have to accept that I won't be able to do all the things I would like to do; attend all the concerts, all the fetes, knock on the doors of everyone in the parish to say hello.  The best advice I was given by my vicar when I was first feeling the call to ministry was to accept that you couldn't do everything, but try to be alert to the things God was leaving on your doorstep.


So what AM I here to do?  When I moved to Honiton as a curate shortly after being ordained as a priest, I discovered in a little cubby-hole above the fridge in the curate's house three items that had been missed when the previous curate left or perhaps even from years before that.  They felt like a message from God, and in fact I preached a sermon about it on my first anniversary there.  The items I found, mysteriously enough, were an old  wooden tray, a chipped enamel bowl and an ancient electrical extension cord.  So what do those three miscellaneous objects have to say about the work I am called to do here? 


The tray reminds me that before anyone is ordained as a priest, they are ordained as a deacon – and the original deacons of the New Testament were ordained quite literally to 'wait at tables', serving free meals to the widows and others in the Christian community.  So the practical business of making sure that as a Christian community we take care of those who need our help is still very much my business, even though I need everyone's help to carry it out.  So if your 'I know you're busy but...' was going to be a request to visit someone, that's absolutely part of what I and Chris are here to do.  It would be a very unusual week where I couldn't find time to pop in on someone for half an hour within a day or so.  It is always really helpful if you can give me their full name, address and telephone number as often it takes longer to find out that information than it does to make the visit!  And the same applies if you are feeling desperate for some practical reason that may not seem to be anything to do with 'religion' – if debt or family problems or marriage breakup or caring for someone is driving you to the edge of breakdown and you just want to talk, that is a spiritual issue, and although the vicar may not be not the best person to provide the practical help then together we can work out who can.


The bowl reminds me of Jesus washing the disciples feet, and telling them that leadership in the Christian community was very different from how the world sees leadership; that he came not to be served but to serve and that they should follow that example.  Any community needs leadership and vision to progress, but for the Church it should come through loving each other and working together to make best use of all our gifts, not by saying 'this is how I want it to be.'


And the electrical extension cord is the most important of all, reminding me that the biggest reason I'm here is to help put people in touch with the real source of power – God – and that nothing I can do is any use at all unless I am plugged into the mains myself!  That's what all the services and sermons and school assemblies are all about, and that's why I'm never ever too busy to talk about God and your relationship with him, or to help you get over any of the inevitable stumbling blocks we all encounter from time to time.  That's why funerals are such an important priority for me, as we come face to face with all those big questions that we rarely ask in happier times.   And that's also why I'm always delighted to spend time with those planning a wedding or a Christening, knowing that God works through these landmarks of our life's journey to bring us closer to him.  And it's also why I make sure I take time for my own spiritual life, to keep that contact with the power source without whom none of what we do is any use.


So please, when you find yourself about to use the 'b' word, remember that there are some things I'm happy to be busy with.  And if being busy with those things means that I'm sometimes less efficient at others, I hope you will forgive me; and never feel embarrassed to remind me about something I seem to have forgotten.


Rev'd. Karen Spray       01392 877400

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