Thoughts on how we can work together in a parish.
Ten Things a Vicar Needs To Hear...often
Our parish has been living through a long vacancy. It’s been a mixed bag. Being a parish where the Eucharist is the main service we have relied on neighbouring clergy to help out. The upshot is we’ve experienced many different personalities and styles and it’s helped us see the validity of traditions different from our own.
Vacancies are risky times. Statistics published by London Diocese indicates that few parishes emerge from a vacancy period, certainly not long ones, without some numerical losses. Our numbers are down. We understand why in some instances, but without a Vicar at the helm people do fall through the net almost unnoticed.
But it’s been a valuable time. Each of our last three Vicars all found our parish a ‘challenge’ in different ways. We needed to better understand why and demonstrate that our lay leadership could work harmoniously. We were helped having put in place a PCC structure served by four sub-committees (Plant & Fabric, Mission & Worship, Fundraising & Activities, Finance) and as PCC members realised they could trust their colleagues, things have ticked along well.
One of the issues was preparing spiritually for the next phase in a parish replete with smart, opinionated lay people who don’t always appreciate the effect their tongues can have. James rightly called the tongue an ‘unruly member’. So as well as guarding what we say it helps to cultivate speech habits that build up and affirm.
I recently shared with our congregation 10 statements their new Vicar needs to hear....often.
1. ‘How can I be praying for you?’
Prayer is the very heart of what the vocation of priesthood is all about. In a very special way a priest is an intercessor. They will no doubt have a prayer rota which includes specific people as well as wider concerns. But prayer needs to be reciprocal. We need tell our Vicars we are praying for them and it needs to be informed prayer: ‘What have you got on this week that I can pray about? What else?’
2. ‘I'm sorry. I got that wrong. Please forgive me’
We all get things wrong. We often are not careful in the way we speak. Sometimes we are apt to forget our Vicar is human and things said and done feel like a slap in the face. If you get something wrong say so, especially if it involves the Vicar, say so. It will be appreciated.
3. ‘Enjoy your time away’
A Vicar’s holiday is sacrosanct and vital for well-being, So too are days off. Many lay people only see their Vicar on Sundays and some mistakenly think that’s their only working day. In fact a Vicar’s day-to-day workload is constant and can be very demanding. Research I read recently from MODEM said the average Vicar works 63 hours a week. It’s in the interests of lay people to make sure your Vicar has time to read, recuperate and enjoy family time.
4. ‘Let's give it a try’
New Vicars will take their time in sussing out what works and what doesn’t. But soon enough they will begin to suggest changes. There is nothing more deadening for a Vicar than being told ‘we tried that and it didn’t work’. People in congregations can be quite skilled at saying ‘no’. Not every idea a Vicar suggests will work, but it’s far better to say ‘let’s explore that’ or ‘why don’t we give this a try.’
5. ‘I was interested in what you said in your sermon about.....’
It’s nice to say I liked your sermon’. It’s even better to say I very much liked the bit where you said...’ Preachers love it when you engage with the substance of what they have been trying to get across, even if you disagree. It shows that you were listening and it reminds Vicars their role as preacher and teacher is valued.
6. ‘How can I help?’
Vicars love it when someone comes up with an offer to help with no strings attached. One of the things lay people learn during a vacancy is just how many routine jobs are needed to keep parish life ticking over.
7. ‘Is everything okay?’
Vicars and laity in parishes become quite familiar with each other, Lay people soon acquire a sense for noticing days when the Vicar doesn’t seem in top form. Showing concern and not criticising will mean a lot.
8. ‘Be yourself’
We all have our image of the ideal Vicar and there is an ever-present temptation to cast our Vicar according to what we’d like her to be. Remember your Vicar is unique, with a unique blend of skills and experience.
9. ‘Whatever time you can make it is fine by me’
Vicars are invited to many events, not least family celebrations, and they love to be asked. It’s true too that they often have a lot to fit in. So don’t be offended if they can’t manage much more than a token appearance or turn up towards the end. Let them know you understand.
10. ‘Don’t be afraid’
There will be times when Vicars feel reticent to try things, risk either failing or upsetting people who are pillars of the church. Let’s never forget, risk is a necessary part of ministry. These are hard times for the Christian church in this country. We cannot afford to be risk-averse.
John Martin is a Media Consultant and the Gen Sec of Fulcrum. Adapted from an article published in Cornerstone, magazine of St Barnabas Church Ealing W5.
John Martin is Associate Editor (Global News) with the US-based Living Church and has been a member of the Fulcrum Leadership Team since its inception.