I did a funeral for someone this week (in fact, in the last month I have led more funerals than at any time in the last 15 or so years).
I was walking through one of the villages where I work and someone came up to me. I had briefly chatted to them on a few occasions over 10 years & they told me about a relation that died. They asked me to lead a funeral for them.
I was checking a few details with the Funeral Director and she said ‘That is lovely. That is the way it is supposed to happen- ‘vicars’ are walking around and people bump into you; they know you & ask you.’
That was refereshing to hear. A year or so ago my denomination produced a report that spoke about how funerals detract us from our ‘real’ work. Thankfully that was thown out and received the contempt it deserved, but its still left a bad taste. Recieving affirmation from outside the church was powerful.
Some of the best and most lifegiving bits about what I do (and am soon to leave) have happened when I am just walking about in areas where I am known. I guess most Revs who do that kind of thing would say the same; and it takes time to build up that kind of presence.
And when it happens it is so lovely.
I have been listening to this again partly through my son Ben.
He ‘gets’ music in a way that the other two members of the family don’t. He will listen to stuff far above him and work on it until he can feel it. He sings stuff by Rodriguez, Spiritualized, Pink Floyd, Damien Jurado etc etc as he has heard me playing it and is intrigued. By and large he does not like the obvious- straighforward stuff that everyone else listens to.
It is great working late at night as he falls asleep and listening to his bedtime music.
He likes this track- at least partly as it mentions ‘sex’ and is working his way through the ‘Searching for Sugarman’ film.
I am looking forward so much to when he gets older and he takes his own musical path..and then listening to the music he has found.
I took this picture of my son when he was 6 and messing around.
This seems so long ago- he is 11 today: halfway between deconstructing ‘Hallelujah’ and its complex biblical allusions and at the same time personifying pg tips monkeys. So childlike and yet with a wicked line in double (and even triple) entendres. Dependent and yet growing independent.
Time is marching on, and I am so blessed and so, so proud.
I like this story so much. The writer relates a story about her friend who was looking to visit her but could not find her house. She was lost and late, so she sped up in desperation. She was stopped by the police and asked why she was speeding. She said that she was lost. The police officer said this:-
‘..what made you think that hurrying would help you find your way?’ (p134)
Years ago, someone who appraised me told me that I was very well organised for a Methodist Minister. At the time this made me shudder: I knew myself, I knew what I left undone and how many plates I was vainly trying to keep spinning. I had also had a previous career in management: I knew what I was leaving undone or badly organised.
In hindsight that got worse- or the sensation got worse. I take my day off (but it is still only one day off out of 7) and some days I may only work 5-6 hours in the daytime (but I am still out working additional hours in those evenings). I know many can cope with this (and have much larger appointments, with more responsibility) or thrive on it, but I increasingly couldn’t. Over time, I became more and more worn down: I couldn’t always get the sensation of being ‘off’ when I was ‘off’- in a large part, mea culpa.
So reading that question, as I reread that book bought me up short- you can’t sustain a lifestyle of ‘push a little harder and the kingdom will come’, or listen to others talking about how hard they work or trying to sort out admin at 10pm forever. Something has to give.
And it did.
This is part of occasional series on the above book. I read it a couple of years ago and it really moved me. It confirmed some of what I was thinking but could not yet put words to. And now I am on a similar path.
Ok: I am not ‘leaving church’ as such. I still remain a Methodist Minister; in fact I could not be employed by the NHS trust I will work for if I wasn’t. But my days of pastoral charge are over: if not forever, at least for a while.
I had another career before I was a minister: I was a housing officer and manager for 9 years. I loved it, didn’t want to leave it and imagined I would be doing it until my 50s and then retiring. From the age of 20 or so, however, I felt the vague pull to ministry, so in one sense, my whole adult life has been leading to pastoral ministry… and I am about to leave that: I am not simply ‘changing jobs’.
The writer of the above book quotes (p122) someone else:-
‘The world for which you have so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God.’
‘By leaving church I was about to leave everything I knew how to do and to be. I had no way of knowing whether my choice would turn out to be a good one, and by the time I discovered the answer there wouldbe no going back.’
I like both those quotes, as they reflect something of what I feel and how I experience the ‘now’. I have never found God in the ways of certainty and don’t always trust those who do. I do not know the way, but I sense God somewhere in it.
So I rocked up to a church on the countdown to leaving. Just before the service someone came up to me & told me that he hadn’t been to church for months: they told me about being very ill- they were still not out of the woods and nothing was guaranteed. They wanted to say something.
They stood up and began to speak about their illness- not the details, just the fact that they had not been well and were in no sense ‘better’. But then they said ‘In a strange way I felt that God was closer’. They continued by thanking the people there for their prayers and for their love. A few more words, voice begiining to crack with emotion, and ‘thank you’.
Sometimes it hits you; ‘Who am I to even claim the right to speak to these people in the name of God?’ And then ‘I am going to miss this’. You realise again that the most broken people speak more truth than those who want to pretend that they have it all together.
I was in a meeting this week. Someone was talking about what I will do when I have ‘finished’ (last services 2 weeks today people). I really don’t know. On one level it feels like the most ennervating thing ever, being nearly 49 and at a time in life when nice middle class people are supposed to be ‘settled’ to suddenly have everything up for grabs. On another level, it feels damn scary.
Maybe we are not meant to give our kids wealth and a life of ‘enough’, but a sense of life to the full with risk and trust. Maybe it is good to pray and tell your kids ‘I don’t know: and that is ok’.
Anyway…back to the subject: that person in that meeting was talking about ‘church’. To that I really don’t know.Part of me wants to crawl into a hole and lie low, emerging sometimes only to go to simple, early morning Eucharists. Another part wants to be a normal, regular church attender, not saying anything but just trying to be faithful and if I ‘do’ anything, just simple background stuff. Still another part is restless and looks around thinking ‘that could be started…. there are those people who are open…prayer, a few friends and we will see what happens…’ ‘Place’- where I live, is terribly important and I don’t want to start ‘commuting for a blessing’.
Mind you; I have often felt like that anyway!
I genuinely don’t know: and that feels exciting…whilst these last few worship services I am leading feel bittersweet.
At the top of a slide,
Where or how (or if)
You will land,
Feels like what you were born for.
Strangely, The Who passed me by as I grew up. Sure, I heard some of their songs on the radio, but never owned or listened; really listened to anything.
So I found a cheap copy of ‘Who’s Next’ and started to listen. And listen. And listen.
I am still listening and struggling to wonder how I could have missed them. Listening to this track all the way through was akin to a spiritual experience. It is the reason I listen to music, attempt to play it and seek out new music.
I have met leaders who only really seem to talk to other leaders. Having a real kind of relationship (apart from ‘me parent, you child’) with someone below them is too threatening. Anyone outside that leadership circle is subordinate: at worst they rebel, ‘do not see the visiion’, ‘need help’ or are just obstructive; unable to see things as clearly as the leader.
Ok: maybe an exaggeration, but it highlights the need to realise that it is not just you who contributes to the ‘success’ of anything (I cringe inwardly, and sometime outwardly when a vicar/priest/pastor/says ‘I turned this church around).
Each time I do panto I am reminded of this. At first I was so nervous, I just concentrated on getting the lines right (never managed that yet) and being less wooden than the scenery. Then, as I realised more of what was going on and how some things just seemed to ‘turn up’, I came to see that what happens on the stage is a minor part of the whole procedings. That is not an exaggeration: it would be nothing with props, costumes, lighting, directions, scenery. But there are also the large number of people who know the tradition, have been around for years and watching you do hesitatingly do roles that they did years ago.
The Good Book does talk about never getting puffed up with pride and how true leaders are servants. Sometimes it needs a panto to wake you up to that.