Letter From The Clergy

 

September 2019

From the Archdeacon of Bromley & Bexley …

 In the June of 1979 I was ordained, and over the 40 years I have been in ministry I have worked in a number of contexts, in a wide variety of parishes and with a good cross-section of church communities.  Since 2003 that ministry has been expressed in my role as Archdeacon, and in some ways I have become even more aware of what parish life is like through actually not being at the ‘coal face’ – this is because I have had brought to my attention across the Archdeaconry the ups and downs, hopes and fears, both of clergy and the church communities they are called to serve.

I am conscious that All Saints is currently at something of a crossroads.  Having said farewell to Rob who, although he had only been the parish priest for a relatively short period of time, enabled a number of outcomes which will provide the next parish priest when he or she arrives a firm base for the church family to work together for the common good.

Jesus said many things to his disciples and to the crowds, but one of the key messages was his command that all should love one another.  Now that is often easier said than done because love can be demanding, it can take us to places we would rather not be and sometimes we just don’t know what to do for the best – even though we may want to be part of a loving and supportive community.  This means there are challenges which every member of the church family at All Saints needs to think about.  Somebody described the Church as a ‘community of pilgrims, not a bunch of passengers’.  In the 21st Century, what the local church looks and feels like is very different, both in terms of its own aspirations and the expectations of those on the outside from when I was ordained.

One of the unique aspects of pastoral ministry is how it affects and defines all areas of life.  Work, family and personal responsibilities blur together through the week so that pastors (clergy) have difficulty distinguishing when the are ‘on’ and ‘off’ duty.[1]

I think it has been a steep learning curve for the community at All Saints Church having a priest with a relatively young family.  It has probably been many decades since you have had that experience, and how a church looks after its parish priest and family in order for the parish priest to look after the church is a delicate balance.  Sometimes we get it right, but sometimes we don’t.  However, there is no doubt that parish ministry is very demanding.  I would again like to quote from Bob Burns’ book Resilient Ministry (see footnote): “Expectations and demands for service are at an all time high.  Resources and time constraints constantly push against congregations’ expectations.  Disappointing people is a reality.  Harvard Professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky have summarised that as, ‘Exercising leadership might be understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.’”[2]

I think the reference about leadership is actually true for many organisations, not just the Church.  For some people, what their parish priest has to offer is always very acceptable and they are well served and pleased with what happens.  But for others this is not always the case: some of this can be attributed to the chemistry and rapport between individuals which sometimes works well and sometimes doesn’t, but always behind this interaction is how do we love each other? – and there is no escaping that very challenging but simple question.

Ministry leaders need to consider self-care as ‘a way of ensuring that we will remain effective in the great work God has given us to do’.  With this perspective in mind, self-care becomes another manner by which pastors actually care for others.[3]

If you take care of yourself, you can take care of others.  If others take care of you, then it is a win-win!

The two great Commandments state that we should love God and we should love our neighbour as ourselves.  That is the charge that I would put to the community at All Saints as you think about the sort of parish priest you want to lead you, and the values that ought to be core to the worshipping and witnessing life of All Saints Church – and if you can get that right then everyone will benefit, but it is something we need help and grace to do.

So I pray that during this vacancy lessons will be learned, opportunities will be seized and there will be an expectation that All Saints will move into a new phase of its Christian life, both for lay and ordained people, in order to bring about a deep sense of what it means to be a lively, growing and Spirit-led church, called to serve the good people of Orpington.  Amen.

Paul Wright

Email: archdeacon.bromley@rochester.anglican.org

[1] Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman and Donald Guthrie, Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving, Published by InterVarsity Press (IVP), Illinois, USA, 2013, p.15

[2] Burns, Chapman, Guthrie, Resilient Ministry, p.27, quoting Leadership on the Line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading by Heifetz and Linsky, Published by Harvard Business School Press, USA, 2002

[3] Burns, Chapman, Guthrie, Resilient Ministry, p.63