Challenging clergy work-life balance


The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed via the medium of social media that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about working hours recently. It started off as part of my own journey to discover what was the right balance for us as a family as we get used to my new role. I am of course writing from the perspective of a ‘Clergy Mum’ but I am sure that much of this applies equally to single parents, those without children, men and indeed to those working in other areas.

We seem to live in a time where many professions have such a huge ‘work culture’, with people expected to work long hours, often under immense pressure, and seemingly with less and less understanding, or support for, family life.

Perhaps you could say that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. We want or need to work and then expect our employers to fit around our own life choices? There is an argument for that, indeed why should businesses potentially loose out when their employee is making life difficult for them or not doing what they have been asked? 

But I would argue two things – firstly, that if we want the best employees, or if we want to get the best out of people, there still needs to be far more flexibility than there is now, and a greater level of understanding.

Secondly, that there is evidence that shows those who work more than 55 hours a week are at far greater risk of medical conditions including stroke & heart disease. Not only that but after 50 hours productivity dips massively.

I wonder, is this current model of work actually doing more harm than good?

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So, what’s my point?

Well, since I was ordained I have come across (at many turns) the idea that clergy work 50-60 hours a week. It’s a figure bandied around with little question – apparently that’s just what needs to happen to get the job done. And yes I’ve only been ordained for 5 minutes so you’d be forgiven for telling me to get some more experience before I criticise. Perhaps so, but as I enter this new phase of life I am frankly not prepared to spend the next 3 or 4 years figuring out that 50-60 hours a week will wreck my family life and/or my health. I want to start as I mean to go on, with a healthy balance. The church is very good at talking about the sacrifice of being in ordained ministry and I’m not averse to that in some respects, but it also seems a cover-all excuse for anything that is expected of us.

So I did a little (very scientific, not) survey asking fellow clergy how many hours they worked each week, via social media. Two things stood out:

1) That it’s not just hearsay – over 65% of full time clergy actually work on average more than 50 hours a week, and over 25% of them doing more than 60 hours.

 

Did you know that The European Working Time Directive requires requires, (amongst other things) that EU countries guarantee the following rights for all workers:

a limit to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

As I understand it this was brought in as it was recognised that working longer than this contributed to stress, mental health problems and other illnesses.

2) Secondly, there are not that many women in my situation – which is working in Full Time (6 days a week) stipendary ministry with a husband who works full time and school age kids at home.

There are of course a good number of female clergy with families working in the Church of England now, but many seem to either have older children who have left home, or husbands who work part time in order to support them or help at home, or they themselves don’t work full time. In fact in my diocese I think I am one of two women doing this.

All of which makes me think that we, as the church, need to encourage different and healthy models of working, both within ministry and of working life in general. For a start, how will we encourage younger women into ordained ministry with the kind of hours faced by clergy now?

My training incumbent has been really supportive on this and is not expecting me to work all the hours God sends. However I have found it tough being in an environment – in the wider church not just my own church – where the work ethic is so huge and expectations so high.

We could say that it is the responsbility of individual clergy to manage their own hours sensibly and they are quite within their rights to work way more than is recommended in the EU Working Time Directive, but how easy that when there is a ‘norm’ expected and worked out by many? Guilt I am sure, is a huge factor here (see previous post on this).

And actually, after all the church values both marriage and family life enormously, and yet often a healthy balance to family and work life is not modelled by the church leadership or by clergy. As one person noted during my surveys on Social Media: we are called to be counter-cultural within the church, and that being as committed to our families as much as to the church, is a witness in itself. We are called to both.
Which is why I am writing about this now. I, we, haven’t yet got the balance right yet in our family, but I am here saying that I am not going to feel guilty about stopping work at 4pm to pick up the children from school, or not going to an evening meeting because I have booked in a date night with my husband, or protecting my day off fiercely so that I get some time out. As leaders we need to model a healthy balanced way of working, and that might mean saying no sometimes or upsetting people, but I think if we can be honest and open about why, then we are being both true to ourselves and what God has called us to, as well as helping others to see that too…

 

Coming up tomorrow is a post of top tips of how to balance work/life based on advice from other clergy and clergy Mums, which has been invaluable in helping me feel ok about all of this!

Christmas as a Curate

I posted this on my Facebook page at the weekend after a long day…

and not because I wanted to be all martyr-ish but because despite it being a long day, I just genuinely love my job, it was an amazing day and I feel so privileged to be doing it. But a tweet from a friend:

‘Faceache is turning into a competition between clergy on how busy/tired/many carols sung…’

has made me think. What kind of vibe was I giving off in my status? because I wonder now if it wasn’t the opposite to what I wanted! (though Samantha has noted she thought I wasn’t moaning thankfully!)

And here’s the thing, the clergy life is fairly full, especially at this time of year, but that’s what we expect right? I mean, hello, Christmas is kinda important for the church, so I think we all knew that when we signed up (or were dragged into it by God…). It’s definitely not a ‘I only work on Sunday’ job – and note, please, I know it might seem funny but a little tip, please don’t make that joke to clergy, especially at this time of year, thank you muchly :)

Plus, of course as a new Curate I have no idea what I am doing most of the time which means, if I’m honest, a large degree of what is known professionally as ‘winging it’… I have found a big smile and a Christmas jumper can go a long way, and when all that fails the answer is always Prosecco…

And on top of that I am a wife and a Mum, as well as working a full time job, so the last minute requests for a costume 30 mins before the nativity, or a sudden desperate need to see a friend who lives an hour away, or an explosion of orange juice in the kitchen all have to be dealt with, so frankly us Clergy Mummies deserve a medal ;)

So yes it is busy (and I don’t like to use that word and there is a blog post coming on that…) with long days and a lot to get done. But it’s also absolutely wonderful. This morning I got to tell a room full of Mums and Dads, most of whom wouldn’t normally come to church, about Jesus at a school celebration. Last Sunday our church buildings were packed out all day for a series of nativities and carol services, again with loads of people who wouldn’t normally come to church. They were there because they wanted to be, because they wanted to experience something of what the church offers, plus I met so many people both from church and the wider community who I haven’t yet met. Tomorrow I get to visit a lady in her home with communion and I know I will come away feeling so blessed even though I am there to support her. And on Christmas morning I get to gather with hundreds of people who love Jesus too and we get to worship him together before I go home to a delicious roast cooked by my husband, and a lot of Prosecco…

And of course as much as there is to do, I am not the only working Mum in the world, nor the only Mum who will be working on Christmas Day, and I am so glad that I am able to say that I love what I do.

I really don’t think clergy work any harder than others that work at Christmas or with unsociable hours; for example the emergency services, NHS staff, carers and many more. In fact for many of those, it is just as much a vocation, a calling, something we just know we were made to do, to serve people. It can be tough and draining, and sometimes a sacrifice that takes us away from our loved ones, but it is also life giving and hugely rewarding. 

So… how about we all share some love around, it is the season of goodwill after all… (which is totally theological, not)…

Punters :

  1. Love your clergy! they are probably quite tired but they do love you, just tell them the sermon was lovely and don’t hang around after the Christmas morning service ;) 
  2. If you need a wee during midnight mass, please find the loo not a grave stone.
  3. Look out for those who you know are working Christmas Day. Send them a text on the day, take them a mince pie at work, drop round a plate of food, or just give them a hug!
  4. Know a single parent or a family who are both working full time? Offer to help – getting a Tesco order? you could add a few bits for them to save them going to the shops. Go round and help them wrap up pres (with Prosecco obvs…)

Clergy :

  1. Try not to moan about your job and how busy you are. Do what you can, leave what you can’t (and really there is a lot we can leave, we are not God and some things can truly wait) and enjoy the ride! Oh, and have Prosecco on ice…
  2. New Curate? get stuck in and don’t worry about making mistakes, people are (on the whole!) forgiving. Also you need to be able to smile for hours at a time and shake 6 hands simultaneously – get practising.

and have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!

 

Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry

 

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First off let me start with a caveat, especially for those who know me face to face – this is not a sob story post or an ‘I’m struggling’ post – I am fine, we are fine and I am loving my job, it’s just an honest reflection on working out a new balance…

In the last few weeks I have thought to myself on more than one occasion ‘what have I done?’. Six months into Curacy and I feel like I’m not being a very good Curate, wife or mum. I knew this transition would be hard and would take time and it is.

It’s fair to say this is always a busy time of year for us with the kids having a 2 week half term and 3 family birthdays in the space of 13 days. It is usually around this time that I either a) have a meltdown b) get sick or c) both of the above. This year it was getting ill. Of the joys of a winter cough, no sleep and the accompanying sore throat…

Thing is this year I feel it’s a bit different – it’s not ‘what have I done’ but ‘what has God done’… yeah so you know Lord it’s your fault, right?…

I never thought ordained life would be easy, and to be honest it’s about as busy as I thought it would be. Someone recently said to me that they thought it was impossible to be a wife, mum, full time stipendiary minster and with a husband who works full time in the city too. I’m not sure it’s impossible, it obviously depends how you define it and hey, with a full time housekeeper and nanny it’d be a sinch! but well, the stipend doesn’t go that far (even if I wanted it to). But either way, it sure is a hard balance that we have not got right yet, who am I kidding that I have not got right yet.

I belong to a fab Facebook group of clergy mums that is really supportive and helpful but at the same time I feel like I haven’t got a role model to look to and some of them seem to be saying the same. Most of the clergy I have worked with have been guys whose wives have been largely at home and managing the family/home, or with older kids who have left home. So I’m trying to work out what balancing the combined callings of marriage, motherhood and ministry looks like, and not really sure who to look to.

I love my ‘job’, it is one of the most fulfilling, joyous, worthwhile and challenging things I have ever done (probably only second to motherhood) and it has its hilarious moments too, like when you’re on a serious pastoral phonecall and one of your kids (who shall remain nameless) comes up and burps in your ear; or having to use up leftover communion in a pudding (don’t even bother to comment on that one…); or wondering why when you moved into your clergy house there is this picture on the downstairs toilet door…

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and then you realise after the 1st No.2… ;)

But at the same time I’m asking a lot of questions of myself and God. I don’t know if any other mums in ministry are finding the same, but there will definitely be a few posts flowing out of this blog on that theme.

Like for example:

: What counts as “ministry”?

: How many hours as I am supposed to ‘work’? what is a healthy balance?

: Which is the greater calling – marriage, motherhood or ministry? which takes priority?

: Why do I feel guilty about saying ‘no’ to things?

: How busy is too busy?

 

and if you’ve got any questions you’d like to add to that list, or would like to input, please let me know!

 

Surfing Curacy

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This post started out as ‘surviving curacy’ and yet autocorrect made it ‘surfing’, which seemed apt as whilst writing I had just come from an afternoon on the beach with the family, surfing and body boarding in the Atlantic Ocean.

Surfing, even as terrible as we are at it, requires balance and poise. Life long surfers have a second sense of when the weather is turning, when waves might appear and then once in the water, an instinct that kicks in before the brain has registered the right wave approaching. The highs are great: overcoming nature, riding through the surf, staying up on the board for the first time; the lows immense: wipe outs, swallowing gallons of sea water (and occasionally vomiting it up again), injuries or broken boards. But the ocean is majestic, powerful, beautiful, vast, I’ve heard it referred to as the green cathedral. There is something spiritual about it, an energy that goes where it will. Strange analogy for curacy maybe? Well I’ve discovered after just 5 weeks in the role that curacy is all of those things…

For a start, ministry always requires balance, usually work-life being the hardest one to master. And I’ve not mastered it, especially in the midst of school holidays. Why so many curacies start right at the beginning of summer I don’t know. We’ve all just finished assignments and essays, brain dead and exhausted. Then for those of us with kids, which is quite a high number, a few weeks after we start and the kids break up from school for weeks on end. This has been the biggest challenge for us – starting a new full time job a week before the summer hols starts and 3 weeks after moving house. There’s been an almost unsaid and gentle battle over whose work is more important between my husband and I. This is the first time we’ve both worked full time for years, and now suddenly we both have important things on the same day that cannot be changed. Who gets to go to work? Who gets to try and ‘work from home’? Childcare has been balanced out between paid things, and grannies and grandad to the rescue – for us it seemed wrong to book our kids in for 7 weeks of summer camp and activities when we have never done that before. To be honest they have had enough upheaval recently and need to know that they come first. But whilst that was right for us as a family, it has brought its challenges. That said, God has been faithful, told us not to worry and with just a few weeks to go we are managing ok. Although whilst the house largely looks tidy, the hunt for the endangered species of cleaner is not going well. Lewes is the place where cleaners can command a huge salary and a waiting list. We’re not even on a list yet. This does not bode well. I’m not sure when I’ll next have time to actually sort and plan, my home making desires and skills sidelined for sermon writing and pastoral visits. For now don’t look at the fridge too closely, or under the sofa… I know some dioceses do ordinations in September which seems eminently more suitable for all concerned!

 

So, poise. Chances are the church any potential Curate heads off to will go into summer mode, which means nothing runs as it usually does, clergy will be away on hols, as will church wardens, key leaders and the verger. So, just as you learn where you need to be, then you find out actually that’s not on this week, that’s all off until September… Oh and Jo who gave you the keys last week, she’s away until mid August so make sure you have someone else to let you in to church next Sunday morning… This is where poise comes in. You need to act like you know what you are doing, even when you really haven’t a clue, which will probably be for some time.

Like the instinct of the faithful surfer, ministers need to be able to react on the spot. Like, in the first service I led, when the video wouldn’t work last minute, there were unexpected additions to the service, an offering being brought to the front I didn’t know about and I was the one out the front… I’ve discovered that most churches are filled with people who know far better than the Curate what needs to happen and when. They have likely been worshiping there for years and you are the young whipper snapper (or not that young actually in my case) arriving to lead them all into worship. Humility goes a long way.

Of course for us it’s more than instinct though, it’s being led by the Holy Spirit and being able to listen and of course to actually hear what God might be saying is vital. I’ve now led a handful of services and most of them were founded on a prayers like ‘Lord I don’t know what I am doing, it’s all up to you, just get me in the right place at the right time, please!’. Largely, thankfully, he has. I’ve only once been to the wrong building – we have 3 churches, 2 church halls, an office and a chapter house, plenty of room for mistakes there then…

So to the highs and lows. For me, there have been plenty of highs, I am really loving my curacy, the church is fab, the Rector incredibly encouraging – after my first preach his response was ‘the girl can preach’! This cheers me and it was not my best preach (& there is plenty or room for improvement!). The staff team are also brilliant and the people have been so welcoming and lovely. My first pastoral visit, taking home communion (with my new home communion set, an ordination gift from my parents) to a lovely lady who had been ill was such a privilege and I felt so blessed by going to see her. Wearing my dog collar with pride, has also been a surprise to me as I thought I’d wear it as infrequently as possible but I actually love it and love the visibly it brings, in terms of conversations with people I meet. Another plus being, the first night in our new local, not in collar, but ending up in a conversation with some young lads about faith, God, the church. I just knew we were supposed to be here.

I’m not sure there have been too many lows yet for me, probably just the sheer volume of information I need to take in and the whole balancing act thing which is proving tricky. From others I’ve heard though, it’s not always that way. The best I have heard of was where the church had filled the new curate’s fridge with food, left flowers, took meals and popped in with freshly made cake and to make sure they had all they needed. In others not so much as a welcome, visit from the Vicar or in fact anyone from the church and an expectation to take every service & preach on their first Sunday. Yikes…

And that great green cathedral? Well for me it’s the people. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, finding out what makes them tick, who has God made them to be. That is the brilliant part. Seeing God at work in people. The metaphor of the energy of the ocean is not lost, people moving together as one in worship, but also free to move, to do as they will, ocean spray reaching out and touching others around them. Beautiful and majestic and with a very definite energy of its own!

This is God at work, in the church, in his people, sometimes unpredictable, but then our reliance on him is only increased. And where else to be on the ocean but in the safety of a divine lifeboat?

 

Reflecting over boxes…


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So, I’m just emerging from the cocoon of life that has been no wifi for over a week. I know, total #FirstWorldProblem but I think we’d all agree that life without the internet is actually quite difficult…

So hence, the blog has been quiet for a few weeks which has frustrated me as so much has gone on that I want to write about, but actually I’ve really needed that time to just focus on family and home, as we have moved house, I’ve finished my training and left my job and as a family left the church we have been part of for the last 6 years.

As part of the series of posts for ‘The Curate’s Journey’ I wanted to write about the emotions of this time and how you might expect to feel but that’s actually really hard as I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. It’s fair to say there have been a lot of tears in the past few weeks but there have also been highs and joys, moments of just sheer exhaustion, and now, well now all the endings are done and it’s just a period of waiting in which I feel a bit numb really, not sure what to feel.

The hardest part is what you’d probably expect – leaving behind close friends. At home this has meant friends we have made over 10 years living in the village we loved, some very good friends in our neighbours who we shall miss dearly, and for the younger kids, leaving behind friends they have known since they were babies and on whose door they could knock for a quick kick about, chat or play without pre-organisation. That village home had a lot of freedom for them as it was a safe bubble in which they knew themselves and were known. For the oldest of course she is at uni, but I think she was yearning for the stability of a home to return to that she knew would be there for her wherever she went, and now that has all changed.

There is much learning to do for all of us.

And at church? well I don’t know where to start really. It is a place that has become home, a family to us, that has embraced us and loved us (as I spoke about in my preach last week) nurtured us, tended to us and prepared us to be sent out. It has been a truly wonderful place to be part of and of course the friends there too are those that I think we’ve found a new level of friendship with, as we have learned to pray and support one another spiritually. Again we are all leaving behind dear friends with whom we have shared huge amounts of our lives.

At college too, I find myself realising that I have grown to love those I’ve spent the last 3 years with. An eclectic bunch as we are, we have bonded over mutual learning, community forming and of course in the bar. I love to learn but I will really miss the company and conversations of fellow learners, as we debate and bounce thoughts and ideas off each other.

But in all that it has been a wonderful season of reflection too as we recognise the amazing things God has done in and through us in the last 6 years, the true friendship we have known and the journey we have been on. The blessings God has given us in that time are too numerous to list and it is with those ringing in our hearts that we step into a new future.

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St John’s Sub Castro, part of Trinity Church where I will shortly be working…

And as we reflect (currently over unpacking boxes – I am sure this could be a spiritual exercise as memories are unearthed, treasures found and in some cases rejected!) we look to the next step. Here too are blessings as we have a gorgeous new home, and an exciting town to explore. The South Downs within 10 mins walk one way and the shops 10 mins the other. The joy of finding a corner shop open all hours within 3 mins walk is an immediate and simple pleasure of town living, and even better a lovely local just down the road (with a menu of 50 craft beers, husband is well pleased with that one). And what’s more whilst new friends are being made the ones we know, and love, and rely on are actually only 20 minutes away.

I know we are meant to be here and whilst the differences remain and the heartache is still there, the boxes stacked up, huge amounts of house admin yet to be done, no gas or wifi, there is a wonderful peace upon us. God has brought us here and he will sustain us. For a short while it feels like we need to huddle as a family, share in the pains and sadness that only we know, and find our new ways together.

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View from one of my daily prayer walks around the area. Love the colour of the garages against the downs!

 

More Joy from God

Ok so as you must know by now ‘Joy’ is my one word for the year – read about why here.

I have seen reminders of joy everywhere and just feel God’s gentle nudging at times not to let his joy be robbed away from me (in what is a slightly stressful time!). So imagine my delight when I saw this poster…

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AND… not only that but it’s for an event in the town we are moving to, so the words I first saw are JOY and LEWES ! seemed like a little reminder from God that his plans for us are perfect.

But that’s not all, then I noticed the dates on the poster – 25th June is the day I get ordained and 26th our first official Sunday at Trinity! I was so excited when I saw that, it was like each time I saw the poster God showed me something more.

And then this morning I noticed that the posters (which we had only seen in Lewes) are now on the roads around where we live too!  I cannot fail to be reminded of Joy every day at the moment!

God is so good…. :)

Transitioning

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I’m feeling really kind of strange of late. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just feel unsettled, or have an ongoing low-level of anxiety, or maybe I just need more sleep, who knows. It’s just that it’s a funny time approaching curacy. It’s normal to have been assigned your curacy well in advance, in my case almost a year ahead, so I’ve known where I’ll be going for a long time. Which is great in one sense as the stress of not knowing and all the paperwork and complicated stuff is done so that you can concentrate on finishing training. But in another way it’s frustrating because you know where you are going but can’t really do anything about it!

So for a long time my husband and I agreed that we would not even think about the new place until after Christmas (I start in July), which was fine until January when it was ‘after Christmas’ and we really did need to start thinking and planning ahead. So to be honest we’ve been busy and I have probably stuck my head in the sand too, and it’s now March and I find myself feeling ‘kind of strange’. 

 

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In modern churches we refer to the bit between the ‘worship block’ and the preach as a ‘transition’, and I guess that’s where I am, in transition. When you lead a service like this, it’s quite an important time as you are going from one key element to another. I find it really tough because you can’t plan exactly what to say or do (and I am a Monica-style-planner), but on the other hand it’s so great because you just have to be led by the Holy Spirit.

So here am I, going from one thing to another and trying to hear God and be led by him. And to some extent I am, I mean I feel so close to God right now, and in my own spiritual walk I feel like I’m growing in some areas, so that’s fab, but I still feel odd. 

So here’s the thing, I finish my current job in 2 months time (EEKKKK!!) so I am winding down there and handing stuff over, which means for the first time ever my ‘to-do list’ is actually shrinking rather than having things added on the end. In College terms I have three essays left, one study weekend and a week away, I can actually count them in one sentence now! There’s nothing new to plan, no new schemes to be putting into practice (and as a pioneering type I love new stuff!), no big projects on the horizon. It just feels strange and not all that comfortable really. 

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So I’ve been trying to think about how I handle transition at church in a service, and the truth is I just stop, do nothing, and listen to God. And perhaps that is the best preparation for the new season anyway? I don’t want to go into it rushed off my feet and with a head full of stuff, I want, need in fact, to go into it refreshed and revived and knowing God by my side. And the one thing that won’t change in all of this: Jesus. Yep, the answer’s always Jesus, right? We all know that. And I know it’s kind of obvious but right now I think that’s what I just need to keep reminding myself of, that no matter what I’m going through, he is a constant. Unchanging and unfailing.

 

The Curate’s Journey : The ‘O’ Word

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This CartoonChurch.com cartoon by Dave Walker originally appeared in the Church Times

 

So, let’s just recap:

: 6 months of crazy as I thought I was going insane

: 3 months of finding some peace (well, attempting to)

: a year of the discernment process, followed by ‘a year off’ to get over the remaining crazy

: 2 1/2 years of study (so far)

and, yes ladies and gents, the day is nearly here.

Yes, it’s the ‘O’ word – no not that one – I mean ORDINATION. Yes it may be a few months away but suddenly it’s all a bit real. After a visit to the Bishop’s Palace a few weeks ago I now know all that I need to know and boy is it scary.

My brain has been in overdrive: what do I wear? what do I say? who can come to the service? what happens if I faint? Will it matter if I cross my fingers? (jokes. well, slightly) Where is it? When is it? Am I going to lose it? will it matter if I have snot pouring down my face when the Bishop does his stuff? arghhhhhhh…

Ok, I may have slightly begun to lose it. I think the truth is, it’s the sudden reality that I am actually getting ordained. As much as I may have prayed for God to shut the door he hasn’t. In fact I think he’s probably standing there holding it wide open smirking at me smugly.

This is the culmination of years of prep and planning and of course an absolute mountain of prayer but talking of the thing itself makes me come out in a cold sweat. All those old thoughts: Am I worthy enough (no of course not), Does everyone think that? (probably but if not they should do) Can I do this? (doubt it – only with God’s help), what on earth was God thinking? (well you could ask him), and so on…

I know the service itself is really just a point on the horizon, end of training but beginning of doing it for real, although as I already work for the church it’s more like a job change. As a family we kind of had this ‘thing’ of not really thinking about it all until ‘after Christmas’ (probably just a neat way of sticking our heads in the sand) but the thing is, now it is ‘after Christmas’ and there’s no more putting it off. We have to plan. We need to rent our house out, think about moving to a new one (if they ever find us one…), plan for new school runs (although thankfully the younger two are staying at the same school so that’s one less worry), plan for leaving my job, planning handover, saying goodbyes. Oh yes it is real and time is flying by.

Suddenly there’s stacks of forms to fill in, yet another DBS check to do (seriously I have about 4 already), certificates to find (yup. any qualification needs to be prove, cue one trip to the back of the loft cupboard for the husband), and meetings to be had. Not to mention the 5 essays I still need to hand in.

Then there’s the whole service, to which we get given a grand total of 20 tickets. Yes just 20, in a cathedral that must seat about 1000. This means we basically have to rank our friends in some form to decide who gets the tickets.  As for the other questions, I guess we will find out on the day whether it matters if I totally lose it or faint (but please pray that I don’t!).

So perhaps by worrying about the service itself I am still sticking my head in the sand, but that’s my current focus and I shall enjoy it thank you very much.

But I do now know exactly what I need to wear – which for a charismatic like me was an interesting discussion, I can tell you – but I can now name the items I need to wear. Why thank you, yes I do deserve a medal. I mean really, what is an alb when it’s at home? and why is it such a random word? and whilst we are on this (and I defo don’t need one of these obvs) but biretta? I mean surely that is some kind of Italian mobsters pistol no? and oh my word but have you seen some of the clerical wear out there?

 

clerical1

yellow? seriously?

 

clergy3

er, just no.

 

clergy2

ok so let’s not comment on which environment this shirt might be better suited to…

And, I rest my case…

Anyway thankfully I shall not be wearing it all that much and I’ve gone for simple and minimal. And I really do thank God for that because DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IT ALL COSTS? well, a flippin’ lot basically. I mean this is probably one of the worst paid jobs ever (which is not something that I am bothered about I’m just making a point, just so you know) and yet the ‘uniform’ costs a small mortgage. There is, I am glad to say, a grant to get you started with this, but I tell you I will be wearing my clerical shirts until they are thread bare (funny I just managed to correct an awful but very funny typo in that sentence before going live…).

 

So if you see me in the next few months and I seem, well, a little distracted or I start twitching inanely then perhaps you will understand why…

 

 

The Curate’s Journey begins…

a good one to remember at this point!

Well to be fair it actually started about 6 years ago when God called me into this crazy nonsense that is Ministry in the Church of England. Some may baulk at the word nonsense and of course there is a tongue firmly stuck in my cheek when I say that, but if you’ve read my Guide to the Discernment Process you will know that sometimes it’s all just a bit bonkers. But for me, I’m approaching the end of that crazy process as in just 6 months time I will be ordained. The ‘O’ word has been looming and I can’t quite believe I’ve got to this stage, but as with discernment I wanted to blog about it all, because I know from experience there are others going through it all and feeling a bit like ‘what is this?’ so a new part of the blog is starting here: The Curate’s Journey. Now it might be a little thin on the ground post-wise in the next few months as I don’t start my curacy until the end of June but there is plenty of build up to write about so it starts here!

And of course I haven’t even written about how you find a curacy. It was so hush hush I wasn’t allowed to say anything for ages! So, how does the whole process of finding a curacy work? Well I don’t know about all the dioceses but down here in Chichester, it works a bit like this…

In spring of the year preceding ordination – so if training part time this will probably be the 2nd year of study, or, if full time (unless mixed mode) the first year – now that is scary! (means you’ve only been in training for about 6 months before you have to think about your first post), then your diocese will be in touch with you and ask you to fill in form Appendix B. Yes, yes imaginatively titled I know, but I’m not sure we can’t expect much more from the CofE. Appendix B is about as exciting as it sounds, one might hope for a list of deep and searching questions aiming to get a clear picture of you and what you might offer any potential church, but sadly not. No, there are very few options to express a personality, those that do are tick boxes asking you to clarify what kind of ministry you are training for, which style of churchmanship you might best minister in, what type of area you might want to go to (e.g: urban, rural etc) although even these are rather vague, I mean what even is ‘semi-rural’ or a ‘country town’ – I’m not sure we’d all agree on those so how do you know what to tick?! So as you can see not much chance to express an opinion. Then you are pretty much at the hands of the diocese, trying to match you up with a church where you might both be able to work together in beautiful harmony and friendship, (ahem) or more likely just to able to get on for 3 (or 4) years and not to do any lasting damage.

So, for me having filled in this form it was some months (from memory I think about 4) before I heard anything at all from the diocese. At this point I received an email from my DDO in which the training incumbent of my potential curacy (aka: title post) was copied in and we were asked to meet each other to discuss the possibility further.

KVM_trustThis was relatively straight forward. I met him and another member of staff, we chatted in detail, we got on, both agreed to think and pray about it and talk a week later. We both agreed we wanted to go ahead and then passed that on to the diocese to formalise it. Easy peasy. However this is not the case for everyone and I know of several ordinands who have not yet been placed. This happens for various reasons: not enough curacies available, they can’t match you up with a suitable place, or some agreed curacies then change last minute if the incumbent (i.e. person in charge of where you are going : The Vicar) is ill or gets a job elsewhere, or just changes their mind – has been known. The thing is whilst we are of course at the mercy of God in this whole process, and the word: TRUST looms like a beacon over your life for some years, we are also at the mercy of the powers that be: The Church of England (and it’s not unheard of to wonder sometimes if they are more powerful than God…). They literally hold your life in their hands and it can feel very disconcerting, especially if the process of finding a ‘title post’ does not go smoothly, and whilst I shall not go into it all here I have heard of more than one case where frankly you wonder whether they actually care at all or have any touch with the reality of family life. But enough on that. Look it can be tough, really tough, and let’s face it if you haven’t got a thick skin yet you are going to need one.

Of course, I did talk to my husband too and whilst the job looked perfect we also weighed up what it meant for him and for our kids. They usually send you a parish profile with plenty of info about the church and area, including what housing you can expect so there is a bit of info to help you decide. We were fortunate that we knew the town we are going to, but if you don’t, do some homework before jumping right in! Google is your friend…

Now then, if for whatever reason you do not get ‘placed’ then you will probably be released from your diocese – which means they give up on finding you a job (sort of) and then you can look elsewhere. This can actually work very well as the constraints put on you by having been in the same diocese for years are then gone, you get a chance to actually look around, speak to other dioceses and see what is available. So it’s definitely not the end of the world. In fact some people I know have actively sought to do this for personal reasons, e.g: family, work etc and have then gone on to find postings elsewhere successfully.  Life’s circumstances do change and the church is aware of that and can make provision for it.

So for me then, the curacy was all finalised in September last year and announced in October, although it was frustrating having to wait to tell people! The usual form is that you don’t publicise it until it is formally announced. Frustrating as that may be, it is not without reason, and allows both the sending parish and the receiving parish to let people know at the same time, avoiding any of those awkward conversations, which may sound silly but my own Mum attends craft fairs at one of the churches in the parish I am going to, so you can just imagine her saying to someone ‘oh did you know my daughter is coming to work here’ before anyone had officially heard. However it is usual for people do tell those closest to them rather than wait months and my mother was sworn to secrecy! 

Then basically nothing much happens for months on end. It seems very strange to have it all worked out, to know exactly where you are going and everyone knows that and then you just carry on with life for the next, in some cases, if you have it sorted early, year! I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me ‘so, when are you moving?’ in an almost bored tone, and to be fair to them, I think in some senses we prepare ourselves for change and then stop. So it is a bit of a strange time really. For me I have chosen to try not to think about where I am going at all, I know what I’m like and I would get all excited and want to plan and do things, when actually I have a job I love, a home I love and we are settled here, for the time being. For others you may need that time to prepare, to plan etc so it can be useful.

Now I find suddenly in January of the year of my ordination things are starting to happen and that will be the next post as this one is long enough as it is. 

I would love to hear from others who’ve been through this recently, if anyone wants to share their experiences? I know it can differ across the country, and if this is going to be a helpful resource like the discernment guide, then I could do with some more input, so do get in touch.

 

PS: if you didn’t know, I shall be off to ‘Trinity’ in Lewes, which comprises 3 churches in the town, and we are really looking forward to it :)