Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Chat with Myself

Interesting Clergy chapter session yesterday on burnout. How do you keep yourself sharp, enthusiastic, on top of your game and in it for the long haul as a minister?
Priesting 1985
Stuart Taylor was our guide for an hour or so and one of the first things he asked, which I had to stop myself carrying on doing in the meeting in order to engage with the rest of the material, was this; what would your current self want to say if you could go back and talk to your self on your ordination day? For me this goes back twenty seven and a half years and I realised I had quite a lot to say. I thought a blog post might be useful, especially for those preparing for ordination (thanks Adam for the encouragement).

The sub-title of Stuart's presentation was 'Working pastorally with highly dependent people.' I think 'highly dependent' is another way of saying 'awkward'.
Late 1980s. Oh dear, oh dear
The first two things I would say to myself are these:

1. Don't make any highly dependent people highly dependent on you. There is a limit to how many you can cope with and all will distract from church growth. The people highly dependent on you have a special name - family.

2. Approach all people with a sense of curiosity. What makes this person tick? Why are they angry all the time? What is the best way to say things to them so they will hear? How have they been fearfully and wonderfully made? Then they become your learning project. They will teach you to be a better communicator. The fact that they are a pain may be mildly irritating sometimes but it is not within their gift to make you angry. Your own anger is your responsibility. Do not allow others to control it.

But now to some bigger things. Steve (St was not born until 1998ish) in 1984 was a bit impatient. He had more time than he thought to change the world. Even if he couldn't finish the project in his own lifetime he could still infect a few others with his opinions (a Clucasism) and hope they caught the vision. I'd tell him:

Don't brush your teeth using the bathroom water. It's from a stagnant tank in the loft.

Late 1990s - facial hair gone
Start your writing career now. Don't wait.

One day you will do funerals well without stress, excessive preparation or nerves. That day will come much sooner than you expect.

Despite the apparent kudos resist the alluring job at CPAS. It will break you. But that will mean a sacrifice for your family so consult them carefully on your third job.

Ignore the doctor's advice about your bad back. Don't rest if it hurts. It is hurting but there is nothing wrong with it and it will stop hurting if you exercise through the pain barrier. You'll get four years of your life back.

Money will be alright in the end.

Never touch the flowers in church. Never exhibit any skill at practical tasks.

If you have nothing to do, do nothing.

It is not a sin to go to the cinema when it is not your day off.

Only do what's urgent and important. Sometimes sitting down and planning a five year strategy is urgent and important.

Throughout your ministry people are going to think it's great that someone like you is a clergyman. Sometimes that will be because you're normal; sometimes because you're not. Live with it.

Learn to spell edgy before you start using it.

The best gift you can give your children is to love their mother.

Nailsea Licensing 2006














Over the years you will feel that somehow you have been black-balled for preferment, speaking opportunities and selling books. You may have been but you'll never know. This despite everyone, most of the time telling you you are a good speaker, writer and leader. It's not important. You will find that it is because God called you to the grass roots and wants you there come what may. Promotion is a blind alley. Who cares what's down a cul-de-sac?

After about ten to fifteen years you will be able to do all occasional office preaching without notes.

When you have an average day you are still good. Try not to have bad days though.

Never come back to work on a Sunday after a break.

The best manager to managed question is, 'How can I help you do your job better?' (Richard Owen)

Put time in your diary to write notes or minutes after the meeting.

Leave a space in your diary after appointments if you anticipate they will leave you thinking.

Pick your battles. Choose ones you can win. You will lose some. Choose ones you are prepared to lose.

Reconciliation is way better than compromise.

Know the difference between real and apparent work (Clucas again). Some of your job you will enjoy so much it doesn't feel like work. Some of your private life responsibilities you will not enjoy so will feel like work. Don't do all the things that feel like work on the same day.

Index your quote book. The job will get worse and worse and in twenty seven years time you won't be able to find anything or imagine ever having the time to do it before you retire.

You will write the only Christmas newsletter your friends look forward to reading. This is a good use of your time.

Use aardvarks wisely. An aardvark on a list will help you to remember the thing you didn't put on the list. An aardvark is the mistake you want everyone to spot so that they don't see the mistake you don't know you've made. Never reveal this thought to a soul.

Also, put aardvark in your mobile contacts list (you won't know what a mobile is but it will be important) and give it your own mobile number. Then you will never be in trouble when you accidentally sit on your phone in a meeting.

Know that one day you will be able to write your thoughts on twenty seven years of ministry and put them in a place where anyone in the world can read them without leaving their desk or paying. Stop laughing.

Thanks Stuart.

7 comments:

Sally said...

I think my good friend Stuart is saying that clergy are human beings who have minds and body's that need looking after and apart from the inevitable individuals personal responsibility to look after their sacred God given life, the rest of us need to let self care happen instead of the old fashioned idea that clergy are blessed with super everlasting energy sent by God. Enjoy the cinema trip! Like the pictures!

Jude Munday said...

that's good stuff. do you have to go to vicar factory to benefit from the advice or is it free to anyone?

St said...

Helpself Jude.

Doorkeeper said...

Someone very wisely said to me that you must look after the one who looks after everyone else.

(But the most important thing in your list from a basic survival point of view is never to touch the flowers in church!)

Chris B said...

Brilliant - I shall show this to my husband. But not till tomorrow - today is his day off!

Fr Matthew McMurray said...

Thanks for this Steve. Somebody sent me a link to this post related to something I posted on Facebook today. It was a very encouraging read for me in my first (diaconal) year of ordained ministry.

jante said...

Thanks for this Steve- as an Ordinand due to be ordained in July I found this an inspiring and encouraging post