Sabbatical

My time away from the parish has begun. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring further the relationship between priest as ‘leader of a worshiping community’, and priest as ‘leader of a commercial enterprise’. In other words how do we balance out the expectations and demands of being ‘a proper Vicar’ and ‘keeping the show on the road’.

It’s easy to treat both sides of this coin as it they are in competition. There are many times I’ve heard people opine that “we’re a church, not a business” as though wishing away buildings, finance and management as some nasty conflict with our “core activities” will make everything better.

All of this, of course, sounds like I might have gone native with the kind of management speak many of us find a bit bonkers. So a good part of my time will be spent contemplating what is the ecclesiological basis of how we run the Church, what can we learn and how can we do it better?

This isn’t something new. These two distinct, but complementary roles are set out whenever a new parish priest is instituted (or collated) and inducted into their parish. There are two elements made very visible.

Firstly, the Bishop shares with the new priest ‘the cure of souls’. The parish priest received the ‘Spiritualities’ of the parish – oversight and care for the celebration of the sacraments, prayer, pastoral care etc etc etc.

Secondly (and the bit that normally gives us the giggles) is when the Archdeacon (or their commissary) takes the new priest by the hand and places it on the door of the church, leads them to toll the bell and places them in their assigned stall. This is the gifting of the ‘Temporalities’ of the parish – legal title to the possession of the benefice and the responsibility to care for that too.

It is this interplay between spiritualities and temporalities – a ‘conjoined twin’ role that I’ll be thinking about. It strikes me that as clergy we are (generally) well prepared for the first role through our training, both in theological college and in our title parishes. It’s the second role though, which often consumes a great deal of our time, for which we have little or no preparation.

Against a background of mission imperatives, and the growing agenda of ‘Renewal and Reform’ I want to suggest that the care of the temporalities is an important part of priestly life and work – and examine how we can learn to do that part better, be trained and resourced better, and so be freed to flourish.

So for the next few weeks, there’ll be occasional posts, the odd thought or two on other matters, part travelogue, part reflection, part testing and part ramblings on my part!

How do we organize a parish for the 21st century? Is it a case of buy a nicer set of vestments and say another mass? Or is there something deeper in the nature of our vocation and ministry that we need to learn?

 

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