Friday, 30 September 2016

Passionate about ministry

I’ve been encountering the clergy appointment process a lot recently both as a recruiter (we are about to announce the appointment of a new Team Vicar) and looking from the perspective of an applicant (among other things, having a Curate who is in the fourth year after ordination in which most move on).

Paying attention to all this again reminded me of a paragraph I posted in February 2012:

The absurdity of many adverts for clergy posts was pointed out to me a long while ago by someone who suggested the simple stratagem of mentally reversing the redundant phrases to reveal things like “lazy priest, with a poor track record, a tentative hold on faith, and an marked indifference to both young and old, sought for a contracting and unsupportive parish in an unattractive part of the country”.

But it is the prominence, almost ubiquity, of the word ‘passionate’ in such adverts which has struck me most recently.  Perhaps parishes are right to want their prospective parish priests to be passionate about something, but I guess that, while they may rationalise this as a wish for a form of attractive Christian commitment, they simply don’t realise that they are replicating relatively recent American-sourced secular Human Resources speak (which has given us ‘passionate about customer service’, ‘passionate about quality’ and much more).

In fact my inner fear is that many have gone even further in being totally captured by the norms of a consumerist society (as unrecognised as a the air we breathe) which sees such forms of competitive recruitment as simply natural.  What might it look like instead if the task was vocational discernment with a counter-cultural model in mind (perhaps the sort of model which  has been branded as ‘wounded healer’ and ‘suffering servant’)?  I'm sure it is what many do in fact strive for.

I continue to be challenged by a quotation form Bonheoffer which I posted in May

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great general disillusionment with others, with Christianity in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves

but the fear is that any mature Christian who fails to suppress such a perspective and instead sell hard a perfect picture (or ‘illusion’) of him or herself would be unlikely to get appointed.

The problem isn’t actually new.  The whole ordination selection process which the Church of England still operates  was one originally designed immediately after the Second World War based on the secular good practice for the selection of Army officers (albeit much developed since).  I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg: that Vicars were operating as Officers in command of troops (alongside what they might half imagine were the NCOs and foot soldiers in parishes) so the approach to recruitment seemed to fit well, or that it was the recruitment process itself which unconsciously identified as future Vicars those who would be more likely to replicate this sort of model as if it was self-evidently normal approach to ministry.

Anyway, I was ordained deacon thirty-two years ago today, and the picture was taken almost a year later when I was ordained priest on Michaelmas Day 1985, three-fifths of a lifetime ago.

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