Friday, 16 April 2010

The last day at work / Self-supporting Ministry

The odd person (odd in the sense of a few, not the other kind of odd, although one or two were) thought I was giving up this secular job which I am leaving in an hour and ten minutes* to be a full-time clergyperson.  No.  I'm off to do another secular job.

And in the same line of work, as well.  Admittedly with my experience my alternatives are IT or (if there are any stipends left) the church.  But it's not just another job in IT, but I'm still going to be in Retail.  That's all I've ever done, and it's what I do, and I love it.  I don't think I could work anywhere else.  I've always said that the day I go into full-time ministry is the day that I wake up and think "I don't want to do retail anymore".  No sign of it happening yet.

It has been tempting at times over the last four or five year to think that I could drift into a working backwater - stop worrying about developing my career and just do as much as I need to, to get paid and then concentrate on the "more important" stuff of being a priest.  But if I did that, I might as well be a full-time minister.  So I'm not gonna do that.  I still want to progress my career, still want to learn new stuff, still make people's lives better (and sometimes worse) with new and improved and more innovative systems.  Still want to be the best I can in my day job - and in my self-supporting post - and also in that shady nightmare half-world where Eileen lurks and broods and my "alternative" creative side can creep out.

It's a four-way stretch, doing what I do.  I have a wife and kids, a job and a ministry in the parish.  The ministry in the parish always comes last - sorry to spoil dreamy-eyed views but, it has to.  If I didn't put my energies into my time with my wife and kids, and do my job as best I could - what kind of priest would I be?  One who gives the message that it's OK to duck your responsibilities for the Kingdom of God.  Too many people (priests and others) can put too much time into their Church as a way of running from their other responsibilities.  I try, as best I can, not to be one of them.  And if you think, "he spends a lot of time blogging for someone with no spare time" - yes, true.  But it's something I can do with the family around and while I'm talking to them or they're watching the Simpsons or whatever.  I'm old-fashioned.  I think plenty of time with the children is more important that "quality" time with them.  (And I type and think pretty fast, as well).

By the way - I said a four-way stretch and only listed three.  I never noticed the other one for a while in my ministry and then one day I did and it made me jump.  See if you can work it out.  And it's not "God".  I've assumed that he works in everything I do anyway - even when I do it badly.  He's not part of the stretch because "in him we live and move and have our being" - at work, at home, and even in the church.

So when I spend my time at church, it's precious.  And when I'm refusing to attend somebody's latest dearest project, it's not because I'm nasty and don't care - it's because I am restricted in the time I can offer (and I'm fierce in restricting it).  And the thing I've really found is this - I hate meetings.  Meetings sap time and energy and the chance for ministry.  Meetings are the cancer that eats away at church.  I was at a meeting where they were asking - practically bullying - for volunteers to go to county-level ecumenical meetings, and I just wanted to say "Stop! Nobody needs to attend this!  Nobody needs these meetings!  The walls will not fall down if nobody goes!  If nobody wants to go, then scrap them!  Go and see your wives and husbands, or read a book, or work at the Daylight Centre or walk round  a lake - but stop multiplying unnecessary meetings just because you think you ought to have them!" Stipendiary people probably hate them as well, but their time, although it's eaten into, doesn't seem to be eaten into in the same way.  Maybe they have more flexible lives the rest of the time, but possibly it's because many of them don't seem to be any good at time management.  If my diary is clogged up with meetings, the taxi meter in my head that shows my time availability for other stuff is running.

But I love doing baptism visits.  Because I have something in common with the people I visit for baptism visits - working in a typical job for our part of the world (retail and distribution) I am where many of our baptism visiting people are.  I took reduced hours because we were in a recession.  I was made redundant (the day before my Selection Conference, as it happens).  We have common ground.

Other people say of me "well he has a ministry at his work."  Nobody's ever spelt out to me exactly how they understand that ministry as operating.  I'm not the chaplain - I'm a project manager.  Unlike the guy at Sainsbury's (see below), for whom I have the utmost respect, I would get thrown out if I wore a dog collar to work.  I have to measure projects against timescales, and against money constraints, just like any other project manager.  I bring Christ into the workplace just like any other Christian - which normally means badly.

And there's a gap here - the bit I'm still trying to work out - which is what they're is that's special about being a Priest at work in the secular, non-public sector, non-caring-sector world.  And sometimes I think the answer is that there's nothing special about it - I really am just another Christian in a secular job.  But there's a dilemma in that

But when I come to the Mass I bring that whole world that I know - the world of IT and Retail, of shops and Distribution Centres and lorries - and offer all that up.  When the Credit Crunch hit, and the jobs were going, I was bringing all that to the Mass.

But I am aware that, in some respects, people like Mike and myself may well be a large part of the future of Christian ministry in this country.  If I were looking at it from a worldly perspective, I'd be thinking - "SSMs - they're cheap, some of them are blokes, they earn a decent wage they can tithe from and once they're retired we'll have a nice supply of ministers with more time on their hands and we won't need to pay their pensions either."  I can see a cathedral-style ministry model creeping in where the full-time vicars are managing fairly large teams of young retired pastoral assistants doing the pastoral stuff, while most of the non-retired priests are working at secular jobs.

If you're interested in the concept of Self-Supporting Ministry, there's a book called "Tentmaking - Perspectives on Self-Supporting Ministry".  Well worth a read, and I wish I'd read it before Ordination - in fact, before selection.  There's this Church Times article - but although it asks the question "how are Christians in special ministry being supported" - I don't think it answers it very well. And I notice that the SSM in the article is a judge, not a web-designer or a shelf stacker..

And next time you meet a young-ish SSM please don't smile at them and say "it's a shame - maybe they'll let you have your own parish one day".  Maybe, just maybe, we don't want one.

*It's alright, they know I've got nothing to do today.


Sally said...

well said Gary. I think you are right abt the future of ministry and Methodism has much to learn, we simply spread F/T clergy thinner and thinner. Breakdowns are common.

It begs the question of valuing the prieshood of all believers, and indeed of what ordained ministry is for.

Thanks. I valued training with so many folk, lots of "blokes" who were going to be SSM's. Big difference between that an NSM's!!!

G said...

Methodists have such a tradition of Lay activism which I think should be a massive strength.

I've spent a while since ordination defending SSM as opposed to full-time ordained ministry. But here's a thought. 99% of what an ordained minister considers his or her job, can be done just as validly by a non-ordained minister. The act of service is one for the whole priestly ministry of the church.

Kathryn said...

Thanks for posting this...It hasn't actually helped with my attempts to describe what is going on with my own SSM curate - because he seems to be pretty much detached from the life of the parish, as opposed to the Sunday congregation - and to be very clear that his ministry IS focussed on the workplace...But it did reinforce my sense that the Church hasn't got a clue what it means by ministry, what ministry God requires of us! And that meetings are the scourge of my life. And that my time management skills are non existent. I want a meter...gimme, gimme, please...