I am 2 weeks a deacon now, and 2 weeks a curate in the Parish of Witney. Today has been my third Sunday, but as I begin my third week it feels like now is a good time to reflect on the last two.
My first Sunday was wonderful, visiting the village church at Hailey and then back to St Mary’s in Witney. Two very different services with different things required of me as a deacon. I was warmly welcomed at both churches, particularly by the Junior Church – who had a song with actions to welcome me, along with welcome cards, activities and bookmarks and Groundbreakers – who had made me a Hawaiian ley out of paper flowers and butterflies. The Mayor was very jealous of my garland over his bling, I’m sure!
There was a moment at one of the churches where I picked up the silver chalice and saw myself in the reflection. There I was all robed up in white and green, and it was a significant moment – my ministry reflected back at me as I set out to give out the sacrament as part of my diaconal duties.
Some of my family were still around and came to the service, and from what I gather they were made as welcome as I was! We went for lunch afterwards, and I was back in time for Evening Prayer.
Monday was, again, another full day! Morning Prayer and then Collective Worship at the (na na na na na na na na) Batt School. I spent the morning getting car insurance before picking up new car whom I have named Alban, on account of a car sticker depicting the eponymous saint and because my car is red and St Alban traditionally has red hair.
This was followed by meeting Ness, the incoming Team Vicar who begins in September, and then shopping and cooking with Ness and Toby (my TI) for the team of 30 women who have faithfully organised the Food Festival for the last five years and are now handing over the reins. I managed to snatch an hour of introvert time at home. 3 full days of meeting new people is wonderful for someone as sociable as I am, but it drains me! So when I got home, watched the emotive last episode of Doctor Who, and got into bed – I burst into tears! They weren’t sad tears or happy tears or angry tears, though I think I was processing all those emotions. They were tired tears.
Fortunately, Tuesday to Thursday was our deanery residential, hosted at the home of the Mother’s Union where Mary Sumner held the first meeting. I met other priests in the local area, some excellent speakers talked to us about church growth, and we had gloriously sunny weather. I even managed to get some improvised storytelling in there because the three curates were called upon to organise the entertainment! All in all, a lovely and insightful three days which acted as a bit of a retreat after the mad first three.
Friday I can’t fully remember apart from that we shopped and cooked for 50 people for an evening social for staff and governors from the (na na na na na na na na) Batt School. I had my introvert time after Evening Prayer again but halfway through as episode of ‘Friends’, my phone rang and I had my first pastoral crisis to attend to. With Toby tied up in the kitchen with the 50 people descending on him, I was sent out to a dying woman called Joy who had requested the last rites. Toby talked me through his bag when I picked it up: the anointing oil, the liturgy, the stole… And off I went, picked up by an older lady (the -er is important) from Hailey church, who grew up with Joy, and was a welcome comfort to me throughout that mad time!
I was very nervous throughout the encounter, but it was a very special moment. I think I have been fortunate in that she is ready to die, which in some ways is more comfortable than talking to someone who is in denial. It’s a funny thing to do because you have one shot at it, you’re juggling different books and readings, whilst trying to remain present and faithful. A peculiar mixture of chaos and silence.
And then the weirdness of leaving that place and returning to a party…!
Saturday was my day off. I pottered around the house, drove Alban around the area so I knew where I was heading the next day, and I went to the cinema to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming which was awesome. I sent one work-related email because it made sense to, but slapped my wrist regardless.
Sunday introduced me to the church in Curbridge, a beautiful painted church with a small and faithful congregation. It’s very sweet there. Each church has its own individual charm. Then St Mary’s again for 10.45am, where I was a lot more comfortable and confident in my role as deacon. I am genuflecting at the right moments and laying the table for communion with increased certainty that I am doing it right!
We also had welcome drinks afterwards for all the new people at church, myself included! Lovely to chat to other people and to remember some names from the previous Sunday. The hospitality of this parish has been amazing, and I hope these new parishioners are feeling that love too.
The seconds week ran along with much more normality and routine, but still lots going on. On Monday, I had dinner with some of my Curate’s Landing Group (people assigned to look after me), then a second dinner with the Junior Church/Groundbreakers team.
On Tuesday evening, we went to the Archdeacon’s Visitation, which was a great service that could so easily be dull. However, with a sassy registrar and a solid liturgy delivered well by the archdeacon, it was actually a fabulous service celebrating and commissioning the deanery’s churchwardens.
Wednesday was very full with another St Mary’s school Collective Worship led by a former headteacher, coffee/hot chocolate with said former headteacher, deaconing at the 11am Mass, followed by the Mothers’ Union Garden Party… And to celebrate an evening off, I went to the cinema to see Baby Driver, which is another incredible film.
Thursday felt a very prayerful day, despite starting off by visiting the toddler group at Holy Trinity church, ‘Acorns’. Then I shadowed our Assistant Priest, where we visited a local prayer chain and then took communion and a prayer shawl to a lady called Elizabeth who can’t get to church anymore. She seems a very wise and special woman. In the evening, I had my first Governor’s meeting at the (na na na na na na na na) Batt School. I didn’t have much of a clue what was happening, but saw some familiar faces from the social and am excited to learn what part I can play in the governance of this school.
Friday I had to myself, so spent the morning with my aunt which was a very special time. And I spent the afternoon doing some visiting. Joy, the lady to whom I delivered the last rites, hadn’t yet died (did I do it wrong?!) and had requested another visit, so I visited her friend in Hailey to chat about it. Good to drive again, and actually really good to visit Hailey. Anyway, I took home communion to Joy this Sunday afternoon.
It has been a mad fortnight, and I am beginning to notice some trends and patterns that I need to reflect and consider. Wearing the clerical collar doesn’t bother me too much, but people notice it more. I am reminding myself that if I catch people looking at me, it is unlikely to be because they are trying to catch my eye to flirt (arrogant young male that I am!).
I am also noticing the loneliness. I have met some wonderfully friendly people through the church, and some may become friends, but right now they are tied up with work. I have no one physically to be a friend, with whom I can have that easy banter and speak utter nonsense. I hope it will come, but I am going to have to manage long solitary evenings carefully. My cell group chat over Facebook has been helpful for airing these concerns, and also for sharing other feelings with seem to be shared.
Finally, I am realising that for some colleagues, it was at college that they suffered the Imposter Syndrome. I think for me it is going to hit me here in ministry that I am not adequate or good enough. And in many ways, I am not good enough. But God is with me. God has been with me for the last 27 years, the last fortnight, and He will remain with me for the duration of my ministry.