Being Reverend – A Diary Matt Woodcock CHP 2020
At Sarum College a significant part of our work is in the formation of women and men for lay and ordained ministry ( see a little of our work here https://www.sarum.ac.uk/ministry-training). I enjoyed Matts last book (Becoming Reverend) which charts his progress, survival and flourishing amidst the ups and downs of theological College in Durham. So I came to this volume of dairies expecting to be stimulated and heartened – and was not disappointed!
However, I also opened up the text with some other questions in mind – does training for ministry equip people for the work ? How do curates put their learning ( and possibly even theology ) to work in their early years? What enables people to thrive in ministry ? Given the steady decline in Church membership since I was ordained in 1985 what are the prospects for public ministry and its engagements with communities and culture. A tall order – I know – but lets see what the book does and doesn’t do !
So – in these breathless reflections of first 18 months of ‘dairy keeping’ of being a curate in Hull what do we discover? I promise you will be warmed, enlarged, surprised and perhaps even mildly shocked by Matts pen….. Here are nine interconnected reminders of the shape of ministry grounded in Matts evolving life as a curate.
First – ministry is grounded in place and is committed to the seen and unseen variety communities of people that make a place. I have never been to Hull but feel I have as a result of these reflections. We need to know the places where we work and be able to describe their texture, colour and perplexities. Gods grace is powerfully at work when we attend to place and the people. Our groundedness begins when we really bother about peoples lives. The spark of human kindness is transformative !
Second – we need to pace ourselves and remember that it isn’t all about us! We didn’t invent the Church or the Gospel. We are inheritors of a story, extraordinary buildings, a kaelisoscope of attitudes and people who with all their limitations and foibles have kept faith and loved the Church. Our energies and enthusiasms and frustrations need a sense of the longer view. It needs perspective and a steady heart. Managing change is a complex business. It isn’t always helped by a disregard of the past. It takes time to get to know people. We are all a funny old lot and need to take care not to take ourselves too seriously.
Third – its very generative to get confused, baffled and even cross. Matt names the barriers to our sharing the Gospel and living the Kingdom. Looking backwards, a lack of energy for sharing the good news, a tardy inability to bring our passion and care into life all contribute to some of the inhibitors of faithful service. Clergy, congregations and Bishops all need a bit of a kick into a reality check.
Fourth – we need enthusiasm and a taste for adventure. We need to be bold and find ways of both thinking and doing ministry differently in a way that listens and connects. So watch out for camels in the live nativity, a beer festival, an erotic fashion show, football, boxing and what happens when you are collared and present in the pub. This may be ministry for the extravert and adventurer but we are (I feel) in these pages invited into asking ourselves abut what brings our faith to life – and commanded ( by example ) to share that life with others.
Fifth – we need to be able to talk about what faith means – show it, expound it, articulate the Gospel and meaning of following Jesus Christ. Theology matters and it matters most when it is shared. So expect these diaries to show you the importance of time for study. Books are opened and pondered over – Michael Ramsey, Philip Larkin and R S Thomas are three writers that seek to deepen an open and questioning and growing faith.
Sixth – we need to create time for advice, support and correction. Keeping in touch with friends and family, the discipline of a spiritual director and colleagues keep us grounded and real. We need people around us who can tell us to stop – or remind us if we are just mistaken ! We need a discipline of prayer and worship that provides a bedrock of stability in the Gospel.
Seventh – the things not written in the dairy are as important as those that are. Family, our children, friends shape, anchor and give us a groundedness in our fragile, human, provisional, vulnerable selves. We need discipline and balance that come from those who can help us to roar with laughter about ourselves. We need also to be ready to admit mistakes, say sorry and befriend our vulnerabilities.
Eighth – ministry takes us into the most extraordinary lives and situations. They build us up and tear us down. There is disappointment and failure. We can never have all our expectations ( or needs ) met in ministry. Often the most transformative moments are hidden and we shall never know what difference we ( of God through our presence) make. The young couple who has lost a baby. The silence at a deathbed. The heartbreak of love lost. The anger of being misunderstood. We do God in and beyond these moments. They shape and misshape us. We carry them in our hearts forever. It is the profoundest of privileges.
Ninth – we need to balance our tendencies towards the judgemental with a very large dose of self deprecating salt ! It is good to get angry. We need good humour. We also need a heart for the wonderful shape of human life given to us through those we seek serve.
You will find all this – and a little more – served up in these diary entries. Hold onto your hat – its an exhilarating and enlivening ride. Thanks Matt for being (mostly ) reverend. All I can do is to promise you is that some of this will find its way into our work here at Sarum.
Will there be a third volume?