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Take my Vicar…please!

Take my Vicar…please!

More wisdom from Bishop Alan Wilson. He reflects on what really might be going on when someone asks the Bishop of Buckingham to sack the local vicar.

He writes “How to change your vicar (Part One):

Lord Runcie, when Bishop of St Albans, once stopped in a village to congratulate the butcher, as one pig man to another, on a superb carcase hanging outside.

“You can have it,” quoth the latter, “if you get rid of our Vicar!”

About four or five times a year somebody comes to see me wondering if that is where they are with their vicar. I have got into the way of suggesting a list of Four Last Things to remember before consigning an apparently unsatsfactory vicar to the Dustbin of History. Remembering these helps you achieve something worthwhile for everybody, and, I hope, prevents the Sermon on the Mount flying out the window early on.

The first of the last things is to find out what is really going on.

Is the vicar doing something seriously, measurably, wrong?

…If somebody tells you they are up to the job of being a parish priest, they are a fool or a liar. But is there some major and necessary area of work in which they continually fall short? To give an example, not being terribly good at chairing meetings is an occupational hazard fr many vicars. But not holding more than 4 PCC meetings a year, or failing to conduct an APCM, is a problem. By the same token some sermons are better than others, but failure to show up in Church or ever preach could be evidence of incapacity….

Is this really all about relationships?

It usually is. It is a truth generally acknowledged in every field of human endeavor, but especially in one in which sensitivities are raised as they are in religion, that not everybody can work fruitfully with everybody else. This is acutely uncomfortable, but as long as people are honest about it, there’s no shame in acknowledging the fact. By dint of personality some vicars are more able to making and sustaining relationships than others — many spiritually minded people are introverts, and it is not given to every vicar to be a Butlin’s Redcoat. Others are extraverts, and may seem brash and rude. Many vicars’ first reactions to having a fault pointed out is to blame theselves, whilst others “have many faults, but being wrong isn’t one of them.”

What capacity does the whole system of the parish have to transact its business?

Like families, parishes have different capacities to get along. This isn’t either surprising or insoluble. In fact the vast majority of the skills needed in this area are trainable. Are there repeating patterns in recent history? Is there a feeling of “something in the water?” To what extent is your vicar (or someone else) a lightning conductor for the feelings of others? Or not? the key diagnostic feature is bad communication, I find.

Is the problem just one of those things?

…People, vicars as well as lay volunteers can flourish in some positions and not in others and even, on occasion reinvent themselves. But to do so they need honest feedback, clear communication, and confidence in God, their calling and themselves. Backing them into a corner and beating them with rubber hoses may make some people feel better, but it rarely achieves anything in the greater scheme of things and sometimes rubs the ash into the carpet something wicked.

If so, don’t make a drama out of a crisis. Many of our parishes survived the black death, so this is probably a passing cloud by comparison….

Looking forward to reading the other three “last things.”

What do you think?

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Elizabeth Kaeton

If we had more bishops like this in TEC, we'd probably have more successful congregations.

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