Why do I go on doing the job in a way I know it can’t or shouldn’t be done? A conclusion of my last post was that incumbents are mad to go on trying to run parishes rather than giving them creative oversight, but that is in fact what I try to do most of the time. That post referred back to an earlier one which identified the things we can settle for in place of real priesthood, and, yes, I settle for them a lot of the time as well. I can think of the beginning of at least four answers.
First, I don’t try to run the parish and settle for inferior priesthood all this time. Indeed, I’m aware of the way not meeting the expectations that I should do so creates dissatisfaction particularly in one of the three churches. The development of a Shared Ministry Team in the parish, and the times when we do actually work through it, is an indication of this. The rare moments of genuine ‘kingdom seeking’ in the church and community witness to it.
Secondly, an important part of the Bishop of Grimsby’s paper referred to in the last post is about ‘cognitive dissonance’ - the way in which the new ideas to which one gives intellectual assent crash against the way the old ideas have actually formed one’s character, habits and understanding. Particularly when under pressure, people revert to instinctive ways of behaving which probably don’t rely on their most recent thinking.
Thirdly, if there was to be a total change in behaviour there would need to be substantial changes in the requirements of the job. The legal framework of being an incumbent is quite demanding, and I spent some time yesterday fulfilling routine responsibilities as Rural Dean and a Surrogate for issuing Marriage Licences on top of these. We have even discussed whether if we are able to appoint a new colleague, the post should be as a ‘Priest Missioner’ rather than as a ‘Team Vicar’ to spare him or her this trap.
Finally, I enjoy a lot of it, including extraordinarily much of the care of the ancient buildings and their churchyards. The other day introducing some school children to the architecture and digging through my predecessors’ old registers to help someone identify a family grave felt more like a hobby than a displacement activity.