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View from the Pew II 23 October 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Changes, Church, Faith, Ponderings.
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(Being another post pondering the process of a changing ministry).

It could be said that perspective is a matter of where your seat is, and as I write this I am not in my usual office, just as I am writing about not being in what was formerly my “usual” place. On 1st September I became Full-Time University Chaplain. Eight weeks on I can confirm that yes, I still love it, and know that it is the right thing.

Nevertheless eight weeks is not very long when compared to the patterns of twelve years in full-time ordained ministry. Or maybe I should say eight weekends. While I can’t say that I was desperate to get them back I certainly saw them as a real bonus. Certainly the concept of two concurrent days off every week is a marvellous one. In practice they are slightly different. I still haven’t got the hang of quantity time off at the same time as the children, not that is, when confined to the same four walls as usual (rather than, say, being on holiday). When in the Parish there was always that temptation, that option, to go and hide in the office behind the veil of work. Not any more. A mid-week day off resulted in less overall time, but, ironically in a greater proportion of personal time. I’m still working on that one, and wondering how to create the writing and creative time I wanted.

Then there is the strange business of being in church, seated in the congregation. Given the realities of the calendar I have now been to the GLW’s church once (as a guest musician), the same Anglican church thrice (as a pew filler), had one working weekend at the University (Welcome Weekend), and one weekend off (an occasion when I was meant to be an PRG Convention in Sheffield but was stymied by my beloved car playing up).

It’s interesting being on the “wrong” side of things in church, but more than a little disturbing too.

It’s not that “they don’t do things the way I’m used to.” That is to be expected (although I never thought I’d find myself wishing we’d sing the odd hymn – really, even just one would be quite nice.)

It’s not a wistfulness for being recognised: I am becoming known, and not just as me, but as a minister with Permission To Officiate. In fact that has led me to ponder the difficulty of welcoming newcomers to a large church, especially when not everyone comes every week. After all no-one really wants to ask if you are new only to discover that you’ve been coming for months, or even years, but have never over-lapped!

It’s not (totally) the perplexity of feeling that the preaching is aimed at non- or new-Christians. How on earth you meet all the needs of a large and diverse congregation is never something I’ve really had to grapple with. (Although I found it interesting being told that there’s not usually an altar call.* In our three visits there have been two, both sensitively done, but nevertheless, there).

It’s not even that I am particularly wanting to do something: the church has a a large staff team and lots of lay involvement. (Although having said that not only are they officially in Interregnum, but this week the Assistant Curate with responsibility for the over 50s also announced his move… so that puts more stress on the other Assistant Curate. But that’s for a different time).

The odd thing is the feeling of disempowerment. I’m not especially sacramental, far from it. There are no official expetations upon me of any Sunday ministry. Indeed there is another minister with a diocesan post who worships there when that post doesn’t take him elsewhere. It is simply rather odd. And maybe intermixed there is also a nagging feeling of guilt, especially when I know of colleagues who struggle with constant demands and unrealistic expectations in theit parishes.

I am a University Chaplain. That is my call. My challenge is to learn how to adapt to that… and maybe to learn in both my head and my heart the truth that I am already working hard at that, and if others are to be believed, harder than I ever did before.

I am also a husband and father, one who has had opportunities to hide behind the obligations of work, and who needs to learn how to deal with the changes!

(Must also blog about formality in informality too).

*Altar Call: Evangelical Christian speak for invititing members of the congregation/audience to decide to follw Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in an explicit manner. Traditionally invloved asking people to come forward to signify this. Ironicially most churches of this stripe don’t have or believe in having altars! Often now the invitation is simply to whole-heartedly assent to a certain prayer and make yourself known later.

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