There are different forms of multi-parish ministry, and the churches here on Sunday were being reminded about the pattern which exists for the priest we help support in Zimbabwe (whose seventy-fifth birthday it was). He has nine churches scattered across a wide District serving subsistence farmers who are the poorest of the poor in the most unpromising situations. His latest letter tells of using a donkey cart to reach the closest and using buses (followed by a walk of several kilometres off the main road) to reach those furthest away. They had forty-two candidates at their latest Confirmation.
I wasn’t there, but instead playing a Rural Dean’s role authorising a new volunteer Parish Lay Minister in Cleethorpes. There I fell back on the diocese of Derby’s old formulation that ministry is not what ordained people do and are helped by lay people but it is what baptised people do and are helped by ordained people. I didn’t this time fall back on my habitual reminder that this is worked out in the often large churches like the ones we are linked to in Zimbabwe which expect to be self sufficient most of the time and look to the visiting priests to add value in advice, care, word and sacrament.
Bishop Alan’s comment on my last post (that the incumbent’s skill is no longer like performing well from sheet music but now more like improvising well as in jazz) reminds me that our Bishops point out that the key skill incumbents here need is the ability to deal with the complexity to which this all gives rise; this is simply not something called for by the basic labour of being a priest in a single parish or in a small group of parishes or even as a visiting priest for scattered self sufficient parishes.
The Principal at Cuddesdon had emphasised the 'labour' of parish ministry (the value of which it is difficult to explain to outsiders) in contrast to 'work' and 'action' (in which the unappreciated priest might seek more visble achievement; 'show me a priest in his 50s and I'll show you a building project'). The training incumbent who made a presentation about work in the neighbouring multi-parish benefice spoke of protecting the deacon there from too many parishes and in particular from the one which is most challenging. I can see genuine wisdom in aspects of these thoughts and approaches, but I don't think my basic discomfort was simply having just turned 50 and finding it hard to juggle all the visible developments and projects in which I'm engaged.
I’m also grateful for and fascinated by the Principal of St Stephen’s House comment (which is that senior inspectors of theological colleges may still be expecting the best practice of their own day); I’m certainly aware of the way in which league tables and inspection regimes can skew the lives of schools and colleges.
The picture from the church at Iffley was taken on my way to Cuddesdon.