Sunday, 19 December 2010

Err, sorry, got a bit distracted

I'm very aware that I haven't written much on this blog since I started. There are a number of reasons for that, but most are to do with adjusting to the pace of life as a curate.

I've spent the last few weeks thinking that I should write something, but without knowing what to write, and I'm still none the wiser really, so maybe I'll just share some of what's been going on in my head before bringing you up to date in other articles.

1. How much can I say? While it's never been my intention for my blogs to be a 'dear diary' style, it's actually really difficult when you are meeting people day by day and finding out something about them to be able to come home and write, even in general terms, without identifying them in some way - after all the communities I work in are quite small, and what might seem fairly abstract descriptions to town and city dwellers (e.g. "I was speaking earlier today to a young mum of 2, another one on the way...") actually pinpoints somebody in a village. And anyway there is a requirement that many of the conversations and encounters I have will stay confidential, so I can't write about them anyway.

2. What is my role? As a new curate I am still grappling with the new identity that I have - not only am I a husband and a father, but where previously I went off to a job in an office somewhere, I now wear a label around my neck that makes me public property, and wearing that label means I need to make sure that everything I'm seen doing is appropriate for somebody in my position. And there's a difference between behaving how people would expect clergy to behave and doing something that might challenge their assumptions about the Church and God.

3. The job itself. Most crucially, it's taken me this long to get to grips with the rhythm of the week. Church life can be heavily linked to the school terms, in terms of the availability of volunteers, but also in the weekly work that you do with all children and young people. As soon as there is a school holiday, even if just for a week, my week is instantly more relaxed. I've now taken several funerals, and realised along the way that each time I get a funeral there are going to be 7 or 8 hours of work associated with that - visiting, preparing the service, writing a tribute and an address, taking the service, getting there and back, and sometimes going to the wake afterwards.
Each week I will usually have either a sermon to deliver or a service to lead. A sermon for me at this stage will easily take a working day to prepare. Most services I lead are new to me - not necessarily in terms of general content, but in terms of 'how we do it here', and I'm only just getting round to doing the same service on the same Sunday of the month for the second or third time in each church. And then you have to remember for each churches whether it is you or the organist that chooses the hymns, and will somebody be expecting to deliver their carefully crafted prayers or rehearsed reading only for the curate to stumble in with his.....

In hindsight it's easy to see that I've needed a bit of time to work it all out, and I hope that creative juices have now been unleashed. Many more articles to follow!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

September - Go! Go! Go!

August was a bit of a slack period - Sally allowed me total freedom in setting my holidays this year, with the result that I was away whenshe was here and vice-versa. We didn't see each other for a whole month, and Lacock's congregation saw us both on alternate Sundays.

Church activities generally go very quiet in August anyway, so when I wasn't actually working there was plenty of time to keep things ticking over (i.e. preparing for 'next Sunday') and to start to think about September.

And looking back, what a busy month September has been compared to July and August. That's partly because some new stuff has kicked off, and partly because things were already slowing down for summer when the newly-ordained arrived in parishes in July. And here it's a busy team of country parishes, so it's frantic just trying to keep up with what is happening, never mind taking part in some of it. At the same time I'm working out what it means to be a curate. what people's expectations are of me, and how the different contexts I'm in have different expectations of me....

One of the new things that has been started is 'Messy Club', in partnership with Lacock primary school - it's an after-school club that uses messy (paint, glue, water, if it's sticky we use it!) activities to explore a theme. Some talented ladies work out the activities, I turn up to help and draw it together at the end with a few minutes of explaining the relationship to the theme. We're working our way through the creation story - week by week we're taking the six days of creation and we'll have a day of rest in half-term! So far we've done Light and Dark, Water, and Land. And I've already learnt one of those details that had skipped my attention so far - that Water and Land were created at separate what was under the water then?

It's straight away the largest club in the school (by a factor of 3!) and is great fun. It's effectively bringing Sunday School to the people instead of waiting for them to come to us.

So Mondays are fully accounted for. Typically I meet Sally for prayers and a staff meeting just after 9am - she likes the fact that there is now staff that she can have a meeting with! After that I'll look at what Messy Club are doing today, and prepare my input for that It's not ideal to be preparing this close to the event, but it's the reality at the moment. Lunch will be followed by Scuffs - our weekly toddler service, where I'm making a few small friends, and immediately after that it's Messy Club. If I'm lucky there is nothing further, because I'll already be exhausted. If I'm unlucky there will be a PCC (Parochial Church Council) meeting to attend - which demands alertness and sensitivity which may not be present by this part of the day.

Actually, Mondays seems to be the only day on which there is some standard routine. Which is good - the rest of the week needs to be flexible. And the fact it's so tiring means that I appreciate my Tuesday Day Off more!

Monday, 6 September 2010

The first few weeks

There's been a bit of a delay between starting this job, and writing about it. Not least because this isn't a job with regular hours, or a standard pattern, but a huge variety of everything.

It's not a 9 to 5 job, nor one that can be made to fit that pattern. And it's certainly not a case of only working Sundays. We are heavily reliant on volunteers - all churches are - and that means that a lot of business is conducted in the evenings. So while the daylight hours are occupied with funerals (and the preparation for them), midweek communion services, getting ready for next Sunday etc, etc, the evenings can also be busy. We could work all the hours available, but then our families would never see us, so we have to strike a balance.

I have the luxury of being able to take children to school or to be around when they get home and for dinner, but dinner has had to move to an earlier time, as I'll often need to be out by 7pm. It's a pattern that's still being worked out - and it's not easy....

A lot of time in July was spent hanging out with Sally - not quite going everywhere that she went, as there were also other people to trail too. The diary for the first week looked like this:

Monday 5th July (day after ordination) - Day off. What a great start, but a much needed opportunity to recover from the overwhelming weekend!

Tuesday - prayer and a briefing with Sally, home for lunch, then back to Lacock to spend time on the Blue Bus (more of that another time). Home for dinner, then a Ministry Team meeting, where I met the other ministers working in our group, either Licensed Lay Ministers (formerly known as 'Readers' or other clergy who are either retired or are licensed to serve in our team, including a former Bishop.

Wednesday - assisted Bishop John at a communion service at Corsham. Spent lunchtime at a 'chapter meeting' - a gathering of the local clergy of Chippenham and surroundings. In the evening went to the 'Team Council' meeting - where representatives of the Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) of the five churches in our team thrash out issues of common interest - the current topic of interest being the recruitment of a new Rector for Corsham, vacant since last November.

Thursday - Sally came round to train me how to lead Evensong - as I'd been scheduled to lead a type of service that I'd only ever been to once previously. Following that, a funeral at Corsham with Victor (a recently retired vicar) followed by a trip to the crematorium. After lunch, back to Corsham for a wedding. The two extremes of life in one day...

Friday - 'study day'. As curates we have time reserved for studying anything that takes our interest that's relevant to our job. We'll start with this as a particular day of the week and see if it works like that, or if I need to spread the hours around the week.

Saturday - a trip to the cinema was followed by another wedding at Corsham. At this stage I'm just observing weddings and funerals!

Sunday - my first proper Sunday in the job. I lead the main Lacock service and Sally preaches. I'm very nervous, for a variety of reasons, but Sally fills the gaps and it seems to go well! After this, a picnic that's open to all the churches as an opportunity to meet me and the family. In the evening, that Evensong service, including a micro-preach as my first chance to expound on the Word of the Lord in Lacock

The second week has an induction day in Bristol for all the new curates, a funeral, a burial of ashes, a leaver's service for Lacock primary school, a meeting with the National Trust (who own pretty much all of Lacock except the church), a wedding rehearsal, and a men's breakfast.

By the third week I've taken my first booking for a funeral, had two PCC meetings, met a nervous wedding couple, and visited a residential care home. And bought a car.

In the fourth week I collect the car, attend another funeral, take that first funeral, and pack for my holiday!

A Country Curate

If you're a reader of my old blog, welcome back. If you're not, there follows a bit of background - for more information than that, follow the link and enjoy the read!

After being a volunteer youth leader in Dorset for 5 years, God decided that he had plans for my life that didn't involve working in electronics. I followed his lead, and I've just spent two years at theological college in Cambridge doing the necessary academic training in order to eventually become a Church of England priest, with the ultimate target of becoming a vicar.

After academia, it's time to get some practical experience (not that the course was exclusively in the library - see the old blog again!) living and working in the real world, being trained alongside somebody who has been there. So having been ordained in July I'm living in North Wiltshire, licensed to the Greater Corsham and Lacock team as their curate.

The team comprises five churches, and I'm working across them all, although I am heavily focussed on Lacock in order to give me a fixed point of reference and the chance to get to know a congregation well. I'm attached to the Vicar of Lacock, Rev Sally Wheeler, who in the role of 'training incumbent' is responsible for making sure I get exposed to everything that is necessary for my professional development.

I'm here for up to four years - that's partly dependent on how well the training goes, partly on what positions are available in 2013/14, and partly on my children's life choices with the timing of GCSEs and A-levels. As it's a really busy team of churches there is no lack of experience to be had here - there are 35 weddings this year, and I've already been to more funerals in the last 2 months than in the rest of my life previously.

I hope to use this blog to share a flavour of what it's like to be a curate in the English countryside. I know several readers of the previous blog were considering or were about to enter training, and I'd like to think that what I write here will help give them a better appreciation of what the curacy phase can be like.