27 June 2011

Judging books by covers

As I think I may have mentioned, sheringham has a few elderly inhabitants, and today I got to 'go solo' and visit 2 different couples who are longtime members of the church to which I am attached. It's very tempting to make assumptions about people before you've spoken to them properly, and it's easy to dismiss people on the basis of their age and infirmities. I'm sure I've done it in the past, though I make a conscious effort not to.

One of the conversations I had today was with a retired military man. We talked and talked, covering lots of varied ground from old testament source criticism, the new atheists, the use of military idiom in civvy life, local history to Greek philosophy... In the end, I was there for nearly 2 hours, and had a really nice time. I'm not sure if that's the aim of a pastoral visit!

My point is, though, that it's easy to forget that in our congregations, there are many elderly people who we neglect on an intellectual level, and who need to be cared for in more ways than just the physical ones. I know when I get out in to full time ministry that my time will be pressured, but I hope I can make space to do what I did today; to sit and talk with people who don't often get the opportunity to exercise their intellects in that way.

20 June 2011

Retired clergy - what do you think?

Sheringham is a retirement town of some note. Lots of people come here for family holidays for years, and when they get to retirement age, they decide to make the North Norfolk coast their home. This also means that the local churches have more retired clergy than the national average. At St Peter's there are two in the ministry team, and others who simply attend services.

Retired clergy are a gift in many ways, but their presence in parishes is not always positive. For one of my pastoral portfolio* pieces I am thinking of concentrating on retired clergy, and I wondered what you wonderful folk might think about the subject. I have lots of my own ideas, but would be interested to hear other viewpoints.

I'm interested in all perspectives on this matter, so feel free to chip in to the comments below with any of your thoughts, positive or negative, about retired clergy and their role in the church. I'd also be interested in any non C of E angles too.

*the pastoral portfolio is a double unit that all Westcott students have to take, and it includes 3 pieces of work based on one's pastoral experiences during training.

19 June 2011

Back to the coal face

We returned to sheringham last night after a mad dash to cambridge for the back end of leavers' week at Westcott, and for DrLanky to lead her OU tutorial in Chelmsford. Lots of miles, lots of jobs, lots of goodbyes.

Neither DrLanky nor I are very good at goodbyes. We tend to prefer to slip away from things like the leavers' party without having to get too emotional. The truth is, though, that whether you're there for all the hugs and kisses or not, the emotion is still present. In one year at Westcott, we've made some really good friends, some of whom have now left to do what they've trained for. It feels very right, and also very hard.

The good news is that there are many friends who will be at Westcott when we return for another year of madness, so the world isn't quite as scary as it was at this point last year.

So we're back in sheringham again, and today was full-on. I went to all three services at St Peter's, and ended up in the choir for the taize service, and canting the verses for a sung psalm. It was good to be there for pretty much the whole day, to see what it's really like for the parish priest who ends up involved in everything on a Sunday. I feel like, after today, I'm starting to become more known and integrated into parish life, and even in the short time I've been here, I'm starting to feel a sense of belonging.

Tomorrow kicks off with a diary meeting for the coming week. I know I have funerals to be involved with, and I'll be interested to see how they go. I'll keep you posted, so keep checking back for the next installment.

13 June 2011

An amazing privilege

Today's round of pre-funeral visiting has reinforced a view I already held about priesthood; the feeling of privilege at being allowed into people's lives at the most difficult of times.

I felt enormously privileged to be able to be with people as they planned the funerals of their loved ones. Both women we visited today were truly grateful for the visit from the parish priest and me. Watching my supervisor and the way he operated was truly educational, and I feel lucky to be working with him, but the real privilege was being permitted to be with people; not delivering pithy answers or platitudes, but simply being with them for a little while, and letting them know that they mattered to the church and to God.

One of the things that has stuck with me from the Pastoral Studies course I sat this year is that, as a culture, we have forgotten how to grieve. Today reminded me that a large part of the church's role in a place like Sheringham is to give people the support and the structures in which they can be allowed to grieve. I always knew funeral ministry was important; today just confirmed it for me.

The good thing about a 2 month placement is that with these, and probably the next few funeral visits I'm involved in, I will be able to be involved in the funeral itself. This is important for me as funerals have always been my emotional achilles heel (I'm a bit of a blubber when I get going). But as I get further into training, I feel like I'm starting to bring it all into a kind of professional perspective. That's not to say that I think I can turn off my feelings - I hope I'll always feel things deeply - but I think I'm starting to see what my role will be as a Priest. Just don't ask me to define it just yet.

12 June 2011

Seaside placement update

Today is Sunday, traditionally held to be the only day of the week when vicars actually do any work. Having been highlighted during the 10am service as 'our student on placement' and also as 'son in law of Fr Andrew', I had no shortage of people who wanted to talk to me over coffee. It's a peculiar thing I've noticed before in even the most lovely of churches; when you're identified as someone in a parish, you're suddenly inundated with greetings and interest.

I have been to many services at the church, as my father-in-law is a member of the ministry team. DrLanky is known to those who've been around since before she went off to uni, and I've always just been the husband-of and son-in-law-of someone else. I'm not saying I haven't been welcomed in the past, but I simply notice a difference in welcome when you're identified as someone.

The same thing happened at my attachment parish when I first arrived. People are perfectly civil and polite to you, but when they find out who you are, there's a queue of people who want to talk with you.

What would it be like if churches greeted everyone who we didn't recognise as if they were someone? Sure, some would run for the hills, but I'm guessing most would be flattered and affirmed. What do you think?

10 June 2011

Another world

So I've arrived in Sheringham to start my 'long' placement, and ironically, it's the first time I've been able to sit down and blog for ages. My incumbent has Friday as his day off, and as I'm shadowing him, it's my day off too. A day off? What's that?

In many respects, Norfolk is another world; even compared to the peculiar city of Cambridge. Time is slower here; people say hello to each other (that bit's like being back up north), and there are no motorways in this neck of the woods, so getting anywhere takes a while. The northern coast of Norfolk is a haven for retirement, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to come here. Having spent the last 12 years of my church life involved with a university chaplaincy, I felt a bit disconnected from real life; in particular, the end of life. My placement here will give me plenty of experience of working with the elderly, and I feel that's important.

As I read all the fuss about ++Rowan's recently espoused opinions, I find myself frustrated that I have not yet been able to track down a single copy of the New Statesman in Sheringham; I would actually like to read it for myself! Having visited 4 different sellers of newspapers and magazines, my prejudices have been reinforced. I'm in the Daily Mail belt, and I'll have to remember that as I get further into my placement. It will be interesting to see if the sermons on Sunday refer to ++Rowan.

Anyway, LittleLanky is stirring from her afternoon nap beside me. Time to do daddy duty. Stay tuned for further updates from the seaside.