I am a huge fan of The Vicar of Dibley. Like so many others, I enjoy each year’s cycle of repeats. I had also guessed that it must have done a lot to promote the cause of women priests – the comforting warmth of its humour is genuinely engaging and without guile.
This truth has apparently been confirmed by the publication of the story of ‘the real Vicar of Dibley’, the Revd Joy Carroll, who back in the early Nineties was the inspiration for Dawn French, or perhaps it would be better to say the minister whose life and work persuaded the actress that here was a character worth playing, who showed her that a woman vicar was a person worth taking seriously, and therefore capable of being gently mocked.
It seems, as Miss French followed her around observing her life, that the clinching moment came at a funeral. After the service was finished, the Revd Ms Carroll sat down next to the widower and simply put her arms around him. Good for her. What a simple, moving gesture of concern.
And yet. I cannot help wondering how much of its pastoral effectiveness came from the fact that she was young and very attractive, with plenty of charm and sex appeal. I may be charmless and ugly (and male), but I was once young, and youth has a grace of its own. I used similar ‘tricks’ to make up for my inexperience, simple spontaneous gestures of warmth, and many of the widows in the parish loved me for it.
There is a formalizing of informal gestures that seems to occur if one takes this approach too seriously. With the inevitable danger of diminishing returns. Our forthcoming Diocesan is not having an ‘Enthronement’ because that title has ‘connotations of lording it over people’. Instead he is asking people to join him as he walks to a ‘Service of Welcome’. It is the connotations of that which I could never live up to.
Grumpy as I am, I feel I need a badge saying, Sorry, I don’t do ‘Nice’. At best I am only a minister of word and sacrament. If I don’t have the charm to pull off the touchy-feely bits now, how much less will I have in ten years time?