It must be great being a church minister. Whether you call them ‘vicar’ or ‘pastor’, it’s hard to deny they have a cushy job. Imagine only working for a few hours a week! Sermon done and dusted, communion distributed, parishioners greeted and then it’s time to put your feet up for another six days – or six and a half, if you only have a morning service.
There might be a few ministers grumbling at the screen now, saying that they work hard all the time, but it’s easy to see that they’re actually short of things to do for the rest of the week. After all, Rev Richard Coles recently took part in Strictly Come Dancing, on top of doing BBC2’s Thought for the Day. His church duties can’t be keeping him too busy. And then there’s Rev Kate Bottley; every time I see her she’s relaxing on the sofa, feet up, watching the box.
But if dancing, TV watching or grumbling at blogs isn’t your thing, there are always other fun activities to fill the acres of spare time. Think of all those lovely meetings! Church council, school governors, staff meetings. Whether it’s forging a vision or getting the pipes soldered, there are so many opportunities to take the weight off your feet and eat some yummy biscuits while you thrash the details out.
And then there are those nice church members or parishioners dropping in! It’s just another opportunity for a cup of tea and a biscuit, this time in a comfy chair. You have to make sure you are well stocked with tissues, of course, in case the visitors are a bit upset by their various traumas and tragedies, but you have staff to take care of that: the position of vicar often comes with a full-time, live-in assistant known as the vicar’s wife (or husband). You don’t even have to pay them! And, of course, your assistant has to be uncomplainingly cheerful all the time, no matter what demands the position places on them; it’s in the job description.
You’re never short of social occasions when you lead a church. You’re forever getting invited to weddings! You’re expected to put in a bit of effort, admittedly – dress up, say a few words. But basically it’s just a jolly with lots of free cake and, if you’re lucky, you might even get invited to the reception to show off your dancing skills. There are plenty of funerals, too. They’re not as enjoyable, but there’s always the chance of a sausage roll, isn’t there?
Being a church minister must be a great job if you like children. Even if you don’t get the opportunity to take school assemblies on a regular basis, you can look forward to the nativity play, helping the teachers and children’s workers to herd the little bundles of joy through the story of Jesus’ birth and a selection of unrecognisable carols. You might be asked to deliver a homily, but it’s not as if you have to put much thought into that; no one will be able to hear it over the noise of your smallest parishioners.
You can’t say the same of the Sunday sermon; some people will probably be listening to that. But assuming you’re in tune with the Holy Spirit, as befits a spiritual leader, it’s really just a case of downloading it from on high, isn’t it? More like dictation than proper work. And even if inspiration is a bit harder to come by, and you find yourself working into the small hours, that’s no hardship – living in a vicarage or manse means you work from home, so your bedroom is literally yards away. The moment you finish preparing your sermon, at 4am, you can just fall into your bed. Best not to fall too violently, though, or you might disturb your assistant.
This week is Thank Your Vicar Week, an initiative of St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy. The idea is that you’re supposed to show your appreciation for your local church minister by speaking to them, sending them a card or raising money to support the work of charities like St Luke’s, which cares for the health and wellbeing of Anglican clergy. That’s a lovely idea, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t show your appreciation in any or all of those ways, but let’s face it, there’s not much to appreciate. Apart from running the church, meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation, preparing sermons, chairing meetings, overseeing staff, resolving difficult ethical and theological issues, and marrying, burying and baptising scores of people, there’s almost nothing to it. I’m only surprised more people don’t go into the ministry.