A novitiate monk, having taken a vow of silence, was told that he could talk but once a year, to the abbot. At the end of twelve months he entered the abbot's study and was invited to speak. 'Well,' he said 'I've had an excellent twelve months and I find the contemplative life very agreeable but I wonder if there is something you could do about the porridge at breakfast. It is terribly lumpy.' The abbot promised to attend to it.
After a second year the same opportunity arose. This time the novice suggested that the porridge had been over-thinned and was now too sloppy. Again the abbot promised action.
By year three the porridge was too sweet and by year four too salty.
The novice was looking forward to taking full and lifelong orders but was shocked to discover the abbot was not recommending this. At his five year interview he was dismissed because he was constantly complaining.
To Keynsham today then for a 'Conversation morning' with my Bishops. Makes me sound jolly privileged but I have to tell you there were 80 of us there. All privileged then. Gosh I can creep.
Bishops Peter Price and Peter Maurice (Bishops Peter? The Bishops Peter? Peters the Bishop? Peter our Bishops? Help) are giving four mornings aside to discussing with diocesan clergy the progress of the Changing Lives project into which I appear to have parachuted.
I think the collective noun for a group of clergy should be something along the lines of a prattle, or a cynicism. One recently ordained woman came up to me afterwards and asked if I had any advice as to how she might avoid turning out like the rest of them. I think there may have been a compliment, or perhaps even a chat-up line, hiding in there somewhere.
So we had an introduction setting out some starting points in terms of values and then a time in groups, as a result of which the things our group wanted to say, and the things we wanted to say as individuals (we had been warned to prepare for this) were annotated onto Post-it notes and placed on tables.
The promise was that the notes would be read, grouped and responded to; some immediately, others over a period of time. I went and read them during the coffee break. Given the opportunity to express thoughts of great grandeur and clarity to two bishops who had promised to listen, someone had used their Post-it note to write, 'This is not a conversation...'
I avoided the temptation to write, 'Why do you say that?' on a note underneath.
I acknowledge an occasional outbreak of cynicism and prattling but please, brother and sister clergy, if the Bishop phones don't spend the whole conversation telling him he never calls.
The porridge may be lumpy, salty, sloppy or sweet but is it just possible there are more important things to say when the occasional opportunity arises?