I don’t know about you, but at times it seems that we’re always being expected to chase things up. It’s like we’re living in a culture of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”.
In church life, experience tells me, that a personal challenge or request for assistance gets better results than general requests in the notices, and in the case of pew sheet and parish magazine articles, possibly the least said about the typical response rate the better! Or have I just had bad experiences over the years?
I remember many years ago in a church plant, we tried for months to get a second team together to lead the worship band on a rota basis, rather than doing it every week. It was only when my mother died, and we simply weren’t available for several weeks on the trot, that something happened; hey presto a second band had formed, and the result was a rotation of musicians/bands in the years that followed. Situations like this possibly contributed to the fact that, whatever the context I was in, in the years that followed I tended to ask lots of questions of people to try and get answers, get things done, move things forward, for me or for others. It didn’t always make me popular.
When I started ordination training I thought I’d try a different tack. I decided to be less pushy, and not to make myself into the total pain I feared I’d been in Reader Training. I’d wait to see what guidance, support etc I got, given that much was promised from various sources. Some things did quietly materialise in the background, but in other respects, nothing.
I’m not blaming anyone, because I think the cause was largely unrealistic workloads on those meant to be supporting us, but, for example, the building of a support network linking college, sending parish and student, didn’t materialise. I quietly got on with using the one I developed for myself. History is repeating itself though, as I know colleagues the year below me are also having to be self-reliant in this respect. If this is acceptable, perhaps the college ought not to create the expectation it’s needed in the first place?!
The same seems to be true of getting essays marked, at least at M-level. Because the few of us doing it are meant to pick and chose (with guidance) our portfolio subjects, we’re only ever an odd one or two people doing a subject and each to their own essay title or portfolio focus. Hand-in dates aren’t set in the same way, and getting marks back has never yet happened without me asking, nor within the two week period laid out in the course handbook.
At times colleagues have described to me how they don’t feel their Diocese, via their Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), is interested in them. They start college, residential or part-time, and have a sense of abandonment especially in the middle year (if they’re on a three year course). Decisions made at one point aren’t followed up with a “how’s it working out?” type conversations.
That is unless, like me, you get to a stage (in my first year of two) where you have to shout for help because for whatever reason, things have gone wrong, and you’re not coping. I am now very, very glad that curate friends made me go see my DDO and tutors last year when things were getting out of hand – they made it quite clear you had to ask for such such ‘pastoral’ support from your diocese. That was the point where I gave up being less pushy and as a result have received great support and encouragement from my DDO, but I know of others who have simply decided that their Diocese don’t care (which I don’t think is the case, or I don’t want to think is the case).
But it struck me the other day, reading Archbishop Welby’s speech to General Synod, that this doesn’t really balance with the God of abundant grace that we’re expected to model. The Archbishop was talking about the need for cultural change within the church, and the way in which different traditions/factions approach each other within the church. Specifically he identified the Church of England as
… an untidy church. It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places. It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that. It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.
Oh boy, is he so right with respect to how different diocese select, support and appoint clergy!
I know I’m a simple soul, but it strikes me that if we don’t model love, abundant grace, taking time for people, asking for and listening to their needs and points of view, etc… towards the ‘young’ newly fledging, church’s leaders of the future, how can they then be expected to model it onwards into their own ministry and relationships?
If the church doesn’t resource modelling the first steps on the ministerial journey with the appropriate staffing levels (be that at diocese or in colleges), then we fall back on the life-style of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”, and we’ll never manage to show the counter-cultural, grace-filled, heroic and courageous ministers and churches that we are called to become.