“A luxury?” she said, flabbergasted.
“Yes, a luxury,” I replied.
“What?” I said.
“Of all the things”, she said. “how can that one be a luxury?”
We’ll pause there. The characters are me and the good lady wife. So what are we talking about? A new car perhaps, or a PS3 game? No, it’s work. New clergy dresses or a brand new gilt-edged leather-bound copy of the latest liturgical publication? Nope. Erm, a new laptop? A book by Nick Baines? A parish administrator?
We return to the discussion.
“You think walking round the parish and praying for it is a luxury?”
I see now this seems ridiculous. Keep reading. True story.
“Erm, yes I do. In the sense that I would love to do it, but I just can’t.”
“A luxury is an added bonus. Praying for your parish is not an added bonus. It is not a luxury.”
“Ok, I know that”, I said, beginning to backtrack, the frailty of my position becoming clear even as I began to justify it. The words tumbled out. “I want to, I do. Each time I do then God speak to me…”
“That’s your prophetic gifting being used!” she helpfully interrupted. I was still going…
“…it’s just that I have got rotas to draw up and funeral visits to do and forms from the diocese to fill out and an assembly to prepare and a meeting to plan and I’ve been asked to speak at another church and there’s the light party and memorial service and I need to think about Christmas and there’s hall hire bookings and money to pay in and services to plan…”
She went to make a coffee, watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer then came back. I was still going.
“… and my office is a mess and I need to visit this person and do the craft for toddler group and I’ve got 58 unread emails and this person is waiting for a response and I’ve got to order new paper and do the notice sheet for Sunday so yes, wandering round the parish praying is a LUXURY OF TIME I DO NOT HAVE!”
Triumphantly I finished, the orchestral fanfare playing a dramatic crescendo in my mind. It turned out to be the ringing in my ears.
I could tell you what happened next, but I’d have to kill you. Buffy-style.
I know this is a familiar discussion among the clergy. One of my problems is that I am capable of doing lots of things and holding it all together. What a hero. But one of my spiritual giftings, to a greater or lesser degree, is listening prophetically to God for an area, and for people. What is that? Simply hearing God speak to me as I walk around. Pointing me in this direction, or up that road; sometimes literally leading me up the garden path. In doing this I have fixed gateposts for strangers, cleared dog poo, chatted to hoodies and sometimes just got very cold and disheartened.
This is much harder than holding everything together though. Because it takes time. It takes open communication between me and God. Which despite being a vicar, with an alleged ‘hotline to God’ (no more than anyone else!), is not easy. It is about being not doing, tough for an activist. But this is how God speaks. This is how God chooses to use me. It is not quantifiable, and it is hard to justify to people who don’t get it. Much easier to complete a rota or a tax return or write a witty blog. Despite the best efforts of every other worthwhile (and less worthwhile) job pressing on my time, this is the one that should not go, but is always the first to go.
“Without it, you can preach, but not prophetically. Without it you can pray, but not prophetically. Without it, you can be a vicar, but not a prophetic one. And if you’re not one of those, you shouldn’t be one at all.”
So today I began to walk again. Past the cheque cashing shop that promises you only pay £125 for every £100 borrowed. Past the Bingo hall that was featured on last night’s Panorama about problem gambling. Past tidy gardens, and messy gardens. Past mums, people with mental health problems and drink problems. Past people off to work at the hospital. This is not a luxury. This is my patch. This is what I do.