I wheel this out every couple of years for those about to be ordained. First written fifteen years ago at least:
The day after I was ordained I went into my study and wondered what a curate did all day. If this happens to you, enjoy it. Things come along to fill your time. But if nobody has sat you down and offered you any tips and hints for making the most of your title parish then how about these? Most of them were learned through failure and inadequacy rather than taught by a wise mentor. Perhaps they might make your life a little easier for the next three years. At minimum you might have as much hair at the end as you have now. And it will be the same colour. Grey hair may be a crown of splendour and a sign of a righteous life but it’s not the only crown or the solitary sign. So try these:
1. Meet people. Don’t have a newspaper delivered. Go and pick it up from the same shop every day. The newsagent knows what’s going on so is worth getting to know. Every three or four months buy one of every paper and compare them. It’ll help you to know how everyone in the parish is thinking. Go to the same pub at the same time every week. Then you’ll become a regular. Take your glasses back and you’ll become a popular regular.
2. However broke you are, never compromise on the quality of your food.
3. Remember that your vicar/rector is not always right, but apart from matters of grave heresy you’ll find your curacy a more pleasurable experience if you treat her/him as if (s)he is.
4. Have a talk up your sleeve for the unexpected occasions when you’re asked to say a few words. Change it every few weeks. Learn a couple of unusual prayers and graces.
5. Wear your clerical collar everywhere for the first six months. It will help you to get used to it and stop feeling self-conscious. Once people know you, wear anything else; otherwise people end up talking to it, not you. You will be breaking canon law but it won’t be the only way so don’t worry unduly. Most changes to laws happen because people start breaking them.
6. Have a whole day off and another night off as well. Don’t go looking for extra work on Saturdays and Sundays. It’ll find you if it needs to.
7. Activate voicemail. Ignore phones during meals. Don’t leave it on when you’re on holiday or you’ll give the impression that you’ll be phoning back in a few minutes and have twenty or thirty annoyed people to call. Don’t leave a message about being on holiday (I know it’s obvious but I did meet someone who did) or all your favourite things will mysteriously vanish by the time you return and the back window will need repairing.
8. Pray and read your Bible a lot. It is work. What a privilege. Always offer to pray with people when you visit, but don’t do it without asking.
9. Walk to as many places as you can. Stop and chat on the way. Ask for 10% of the saving on your expenses claim towards a good new pair of shoes every year. You won’t get it but it makes the point. Always claim your expenses in full, monthly. If not paid you can get tax-relief on them. If you don’t need the money, gift-aid it back.
10. If you’ve got school-age kids then take and fetch them as often as you can. Talk to the other parents waiting outside.
11. Never say, ‘As I’ve said before’ during your curacy. You’ll have plenty of time for repeating yourself in later years.
12. Have a few pieces of music that absolutely guarantee to calm you down (or big you up). Mine, currently, are by a Norwegian band called Undergrunnen
13. Give people your full attention. Even after church services. The worst thing in the world for someone talking to you is to see you looking over their shoulder for the next person you want to ‘just catch’.
14. Remember that there is no difference between real and apparent care. The parishioners need to know that you care. The best way to do this is to really care but cultivate the skill of apparently caring for those days when you don’t.
14b) Infinitives may be split when necessary.
15. Collect postcards and send them to everyone at every possible moment to say thanks, how are you, I thought of you…
16. Never suggest ten steps until you’re sure you can’t think of eighteen. If you think you might have three things to say announce you have four and then stop early if you run out. It'll get a laugh and give you an undeserved reputation for brevity.
17. Become an expert in some small thing. Cemetery wildlife. John chapter 4. Clerical wear 1880-1900. That sort of thing.
18. There are another 200 or so of these on Twitter at #ministrytip
I’ve managed to spend thirty-one ordained years not being the incumbent of anywhere so remember you are ordained for ministry not the vicarage.