A curate reflects on his ministry thus far
I write as a curate, not long in Holy Orders. I write anonymously so as to protect the modesty of those involved. I write because since arriving in my parish a strange and remarkable thing has happened: attendance at Mass has increased. We are bucking the trend; confounding the critics; defying the doomsayers. Eight months ago, attendance at our main Sunday Mass averaged around seventy. We are now regularly achieve attendances in the low nineties: not a massive increase numerically, but a solid base on which to build. In the TV sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth, Lieutenant George suddenly reveals a previously unsuspected talent for painting, onto which Blackadder latches as a potential way out of the trenches of the First World War. ‘Why didn’t you mention these before?’ Blackadder asks. ‘Well, one doesn’t like to blow one’s own trumpet,’ replies George. ‘You might at least have told us you had a trumpet,’ argues Blackadder. In similar vein, I write this not to blow my own trumpet, but to suggest to the wider Church that our parishes do at least have some trumpets.
I write also because what has happened in our parish puts the lie to so much of the contemporary thinking about Mission in the Church of England. There are no Fresh Expressions of Church [sic] in our parish. We have no Bishop’s Mission Orders, and no internet churches. Alternative Worship is what the Methodists do. We make very little use of the massively overstaffed Church House. I am the proud possessor and/ or author of a working agreement, a learning agreement, a Statement of Particulars, a Role Description, and of course a Bishop’s license. With the exception of the last, none of these make the slightest difference to my work in the parish or to the growth we have seen.
Day to day roles
What, then, do we do? Well: we do what the Church does, and go where the Church goes. We pray the Daily Office in Church, and offer Mass every day. We visit our parishioners at home, and we take the Sacrament to those who are housebound or hospitalized. We visit three schools each week to conduct assembly, and we each sit on at least one governing body. We run Advent and Lent courses and we prepare those who present themselves for Baptism and Confirmation. We solemnize marriages. We bury the dead, and support the bereaved.
As a parish we put on a wide variety of social events through the year which are attended by church-goers and future church-goers alike. As the parish clergy, we make ourselves known to the shopkeepers and business-owners of our parish. The clerical colour is black: by this we are recognized as clergy; by our efforts we are known as individuals.
One parish, one priest
I do not wish to claim any of this work – or its fruits – as my own, although it is clearly true that my brief presence has not proved so massively offensive as to drive people away. What I wish to claim is that our experience proves that what brings people to church is the presence of clergy among them: praying, visiting, teaching, being. I have been of some use not because of who I am, but because of what I am: an extra body present amongst Christ’s people, thereby enabling his kingdom to be proclaimed more extensively among them.
What does not bring people to Christ is an ever-burgeoning corps of bishops suffragan, archdeacons, deans of women’s ministry, mission advisors, finance officers, deputy assistant DDOs, and the like. Priests bring people to Christ, because priests bring Christ to his people. To do this, priests need to be present in the parishes. The unceasing amalgamation of parishes and reduction in parochial clergy is nothing more than the management of decline. The way forward is clear: one parish, one priest. Nothing else matters, and nothing less will do. ND