Not just in the usual ways which I recognise – I take those for granted. Nor, I suspect, in the ways hidden from me by my blind spots – if there are any attentive readers of this Blog they will take some at least of those for granted. But in a way which I actually remember writing up twenty years ago when I was responsible for clergy in-service training in the diocese.
There has long been a recognised phenomenon of clergy ordained quite young who reach their middle fifties with thirty years experience of ordained ministry behind them but with possibly as much as a further fifteen years in front of them. Given the ‘career structure’ (more on this sort of terminology at the end) is very flat - that is, the vast majority of clergy end up and remain as incumbents rather than ‘move on’ to one of a handful of ‘senior’ of ‘dignitary’ appointments - a question often recurs of how the church might encourage and get the best out of them as they continue to do much the same thing for a number of years yet.
They may well already have had all the appointments which evidence ‘career progression’ (for all I know when I wrote this up I may have actually included a list like the one which now turns out to be my own - in chronological order, responsibility for clergy in-service training, membership of the General Synod, Team Rector, training incumbent, Canon of the Cathedral, Rural Dean, Hon. Fellow of the local College of HE and FE, membership of the Bishop’s Council) so a diocese is quite out of fresh gestures of affirmation or ‘promotion’.
They may well be doing the job in a way which was imaginative and cutting edge when they were ordained thirty years earlier or when they took on a substantial parish fifteen years after that but which doesn't quite make the impact needed now in a rapidly changing church - so a next (perhaps final) appointment is, for the first time in their ‘career’, likely to be one with less apparent ‘seniority’ since it is not only key parishes which seek an incumbent with energy and with a track record of leading previous parishes into growth.
And suddenly, there are hints that this is me. Not hints, actually; more like warning claxons going off all over the place.
First and most explicitly the invitation came to go to a retreat house this autumn on a course called Celebrating Wisdom. I recognise the provision (obviously - I used to suggest it for others) even if I don’t recognise the branding (which reminds me of the trainer of Bishops who told me all those years ago that he had increased episcopal take up of courses by ceasing to call them Refresher Courses and starting calling then Master Classes).
Secondly and much more implicitly, I sat down last week with one of the diocese’s Discipleship Development Advisers to look together at this parish’s Mission Development Plan, the next iteration of all the initiatives taken over the years here which haven’t actually moved things forward in the way I might have hoped. She was encouraging, wants it re-expressed with one year objectives on a diocesan Growth Plan template, and is generously arranging for a Bishop to come to a parish event in the autumn to focus it all again for us.
And, finally, this week (I really couldn't have forged a more finely pronged illustration if I had tried when writing this up twenty years ago), I learnt that my new Archdeacon is to be someone who was first ordained in the year I was made a Canon of the Cathedral. Sometime such appointments are the result of a Bishop genuinely celebrating having available the wisdom of a well respected senior priest already serving in a diocese (put out of your mind the picture of me with my eager hand jiggling high up at the back of the class with a face scrunched up and eloquent with ‘ask me, me, me’), but in truth it doesn't happen that often and we do need able and well qualified Archdeacons like him.
So I’ll see where ‘Celebrating Wisdom’ takes those of us who go. It will be good to have a few days at Launde Abbey again anyway. I suspect at least part of it will be a reminder that all those words tediously enclosed in inverted commas above are fatal borrowing from the culture around us and have nothing at all to do with priesthood or vocation - I know this because I have taught it to others really quite often.
The snails were on a gravestone in St Nicolas’ churchyard when we launched the new guide there in the week.