Saturday, 24 December 2016

Don't they know it's Christmas?

So Angela Tilby has got people muttering about her, and it's not her (when I was at Cambridge) trademark 'must have' raincoat that's being discussed but clergy and the 'day off'. Of course the day off in question this weekend is this Sunday, which is Christmas Day.

She makes a nod to the fact that some will cancel their early Communion so that they can be at home with their families and bemoans this act of 'family-olatry' and points to something quite interesting that is perhaps lost in the noise. She makes the observation: "Family worship, it seems, can tip over quite easily at this time of year into worship of the family."

The problem is, I don't think she's got it all wrong. I know some will point at her and make mention of the fact that she's single (or was when I regularly encountered her) as if that precludes her from having any right to make an assessment or comment of stuff that concerns family. But surely she has family of some sort and regardless of the actual status of the woman, she also has the right to an opinion.

Some years back, whilst servicing my title post we had a fellow Curate who felt that a midnight service and two services on the next morning were too much and so, having complained about workload, family time and 'getting tired' was given a retired cleric to come and do the services for them. Many around me sneered at this whilst I merely despaired of it all and joyfully went about my Christmas daily tasks with joy and excitement.

More recently I knew of another Curate who took the Christmas Eve off so they could spend time with their family! I have to say that I was as appalled at that as I was unsurprised at their actions :-(

Our family has always protected meal times and this was, and remains, the only time that the telephone goes unanswered. The family time around the table and the 'how was your day?" conversations with our four children and us two parents around the table was, and is, important. The problem is that we live in a world where clergy are comfortable reporting the fact that they don't attend a church service when on holiday as they confuse their faith with work and workplace!

Where we are we do the Christmas services, and often do a 'don't be home alone @ Christmas' meal too, making Boxing Day our family Christmas. We don't get to go off visiting family because they're too far away and no sooner would we arrive than we'd need to be back to do midweek Communions, celebrate feasts and holy days and do the occasional offices that crowd in directly after Christmas as the mortuaries are emptied. The 'post' wotsit week off can come when it can and will be used to let us to our visiting then! Simple, innit?

The reality is that Christmas Day is a working day and it is either arrogance or ignorance that causes people to assume that they have a right to veto what is rightly demanded of them in the role they have made theirs. If medical staff decided that they wouldn't work on a Christmas Day because it impinged  upon their family rights the world would be up in arms. Consider the response should ambulance technicians, paramedics and drives all decide that family came before the job; would we sit happily by and applaud this I wonder?

As annoying as it might be to some, I have to say that I think Angela Tilby has got it right, and some of my colleagues need to take a moment to realise that we are not in an office hours work environment where we can decide that the answerphone goes on with the early evening news and is turned off when the BBC Radio Four 'Today' programme is ended! The old chestnut regarding emergencies and the fact that they usually are not an emergency and can therefore waits until the next day - or as a colleague recently said (to nods of affirmation), "If it wasn't an emergency during the day which should it be something I have to get involved with during the night?" Complete and utter tosh!

Our children were between the ages of two and eight when I entered the Anglican ministry - we worked out ways of doing Christmas which fitted into the fact that there were a number of services on the menu. The luxury (not a right) of being able to modify one's work to suit what we want is a privilege many clergy seem to assume is a right - perhaps we need all clergy to go to 'a real job' for a couple of weeks each year so we can make real the demands of commuting and being stuck in an office or a factory and living and working to the clock and the whim of workload, workplace pressures and unsympathetic management.

A comment passed by a much younger cleric indicated that Angela Tilby was reel a 'dinosaur', a relic of a time gone by and totally unrepresentative of 'today's Church'.

Could it be that the reason the Church (at large and the CofE in particular) finds itself beset by so many problems is that we have changed calling into a job and forgotten that first and foremost we are merely laos (God's people) who have the privilege of worshipping God as believers first and foremost  and as ministers of the Gospel by dint of the calling we claim is on us.

Perhaps the homes where 'church' is the job one partner does whilst the other has little or nothing to do with it - and I know clergy homes where the non-ordained partner refuses to answer the 'work' phone - could this be part of the problem?

Or perhaps reducing services to maintain a perceived proper personal quality of life at the expense of the preaching of the Gospel; applauded as 'looking after their family' whilst ignoring the fact that the family of God and the needs of those who are far off are neglected by those of a similar mind and vilifying Tilby because her views are not yours.

There has to be a balance (says the bloke who forgets to take days off) and being Anglican there has to be a via media - but the problem is that too many clergy are servicing themselves and the demands that they have created with regard to family rather than the rightly-discharged presbyteral ministry.

Feel free to disagree - but here I stand with Angela Tilby and her unpopular views. It's always good to realise that we often grow more by engaging with people with whom we might disagree than those who say and think no differently from us: May God help,us all to dialogue and discover God's words above the noise we all to often create.


ps. The only Office hours clergy should be keeping are the daily office hours :-)

pps. At the end of the day we need to dialogue, step back and think - we all make our own decisions and want to be right, but the execution of this right on our part does not confer 'wrongness' on the other person,


Name intentionally withheld said...

Vic, yours is one of many responses I have read to the original article.

I agree in essence with you. Having been a nurse now married to a vicar, Christmas Day has always been a working day, it is what we expect, accept and as you say we do family way before or after Christmas and DD, DH and I have our own traditions worked out around services.

Both nursing and ordained ministry are a vocation, a way of life and not a 'job'.

The tone of the original article was however, I believe, intentionally inflammatory, but I think that debate would be better done face to face when we next meet. I do confess to being a clergy spouse that doesn't answer the home phone, but being out at work 5 days a week, I am not at home ignoring it, a phone call at an unusually early or late hour or during the night always gets answered and responded to.

Again, having been a nurse and worked unsocial hours that is a given and accepted part of it, as it is for DH in his 'calling'. Much love xx

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Looking forward to to it - the problems with Tilby's piece, as with the responses, is balance and the fact that words alone are not always helpful - they are always an invitation to a conversation (which is why I shout as some books, I'm not totally mad- honest!).

The need to balance work and family life - it is not just a clergy problem but a problem for all who work - but the ability to modify work patterns and what we do is an exceptionally privileged ability that many take for granted; we just need to ensure that what benefits us does not disadvantage the ministry we do.

I think the words on the blog, "At the end of the day we need to dialogue, step back and think - we all make our own decisions and want to be right, but the execution of this right on our part does not confer 'wrongness' on the other person," sort of say it all. But they do offer an obvious invitation to dialogue internally and with others and that is the key.

And as for the multiply phoned vicarage - again it's choice and each does as they do (I'm hearing of churches where the study is separated from the house so the cleric has to leave home to go to work - another positive on one hand and yet a step further into something challenging. But as we both live over the shop we know the perils of the Vicarage first hand, don't we?).

Somewhere in all of this is that via media of which the CofE is so good at.

If you don't answer the telephone then you are protecting the time you have with the BB and DH and your own sanity (and we all know that there is no such thing as the 'just a quick one' when it comes to crises what aren't). The problem is that the thin line that separated in the beginning is, for some, now a brick wall. The separation that protects slowly becomes wider and, in one conversation I've had this year, the policy of offence being the best defence was taken up to the stage that the person ended up under effective siege.

Balance, dialogue, balance, dialogue - and then hopefully the 'ion' moment = solutION or confusION.

The blog is a scratchpad for my thinking and helps me to scribble thoughts, lay them aside, and pick them up later (hopefully having dialogued externally and internally). Thank you for being part of that dialogue - makes seeing you guys even more attractive.

Thanks for the comments and food for thought love to Fr and the BB :-)

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

And I meant to say - the comment about when it is answered was sublime - the separation of mundane and essential and the lumping of all calls regardless ii one of my greatest unease moments.

J said...

I'm not sure I totally agree with you but can see the point you are making.

Think we all fail to see words as an invitation to dialogue at times and are too ready to see them as an invitation to a fight.

Thanks for your honesty and courage with this,