Saturday, 16 May 2015

So what's it like being a Vicar (First Service)

Having set the backdrop to this I think we need st start with the most obvious bit of the role: Services - and as this is what the majority of people seem to think we do, I guess it is as good a place as any to get the ball rolling.

Many people make the 'never heard before' funny about only working one day. It's a joke that never gets old (if you're telling it) and for those hearing it for the umpteenth time there's always a laugh which, like Pagliacci (an opera about a clown of the same name) and behind the smiles and clerical garb, masks something often very different if the conversations I've had are anything to go by!

Let us consider the simple Sunday round of services - which for this example, although we will perhaps have three, we will consider the first (early) service first - and the effort involved with that:

First Service
Now this is usually a simple 'said' service and so you might think that this requires nothing more than to turn up - lay up* - make sure that someone (if present) has put the service books or sheets out - sort out the sound (if present) - light the candles (if you have them) and then you're good to go.

Of course the readings change every week (especially if you're a lectionary** church) so you need to make sure that those reading know what they are reading as well. The calendar changes and so to does the Church's calendar as the various seasons (Advent, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity) and the feasts and festivals (saints days, epic moments in Jesus' life and all that stuff) also pass by and need to be marked and kept. This means that we change elements of the service, even if we keep the actual service quite static.

We change collects (the pray for the day which gathers all up and leads us forward) on a pretty much daily basis and these can be traditional (Thees and Thous) or contemporary or using an alternative collect (they added a fresh, more christcentric set a few years back) and there's even a special set for the Book of Common Prayer (BCP - which means the 1662 services, still THE prayer book of the Church of England)  is you fancy them!

Add to this the bits we say before the confession and penitential section of the service and the words preceding the reading of the Gospel and then we hit the Peace and after that the words before we do communion, Eucharist or Lord's Supper (take your pick - three labels - one event). There are a variety of different combinations, permutations, options and alternatives - it's not (as a Pentecost friend said recently 'the vain repetitive babbling' - no spree, we leave that to those who have no fixed liturgy and so remain pretty much static in the way that they do their services! 

After communion the words used vary according to the time and season as do the dismissals and blessing too. So if you though Sunday was a doddle - best start thinking again, and that's just the first service sorted! 

But wait a moment - what about the sermon? Does that just come out of a book? Not in my experience for the sermon requires reading and consideration and time taken to see coherence in the three readings and the variations used in the service and the collects and post communion prayers and the intercession and all the elements that conspire to make a service happen.

having mentioned the intercessions, whoever is doing them still needs to be able to lead intelligently regarding the Church - those in authority - world issues - local issues - the sick - the dead and those who remain to mourn - and that, if done properly isn't a moments work!

So that's the first service sorted. Well you still have to clear away the books, sheets, blow out the candles and take stuff back to the vestry. Hopefully you have helpers, but many clergy do much of this on their own (so here's a hint about volunteering) and, unlike the Royal Airforce, the person standing in front of the fighter jet that is Church, doesn't always have a large and able support team. Like many things, the one hour event can take a working day (or more) to make sure the liturgy is right and the Gospel is preached well.

So remember this for the final analysis of what being a Vicar is really like. I hope this has helped give some the beginnings of a clearer picture of the role.


*Laying up is the term used for setting out the altar or table for communion. It usually means laying out the linen cover, putting the chalice and patten (cup and saucer) on the table, adding whatever linen covers them and then placing the elements (the bread and wine) and the water to wash your hands (the ablutions) to the side ready to do the cooking later in the service.

**The lectionary is one of the strengths of the Church in that it ensures that over a three year cycle we get to read all the Bible and not just the bits we like to read. It brings a good discipline and often means that those who use the lectionary are a more polished and able people of the word. Something many outside of the CofE miss!

No comments: