Whilst I had prepared myself, to some extent, theologically and practically, I very quickly discovered that parish life was not all it should have been. Having a good solid theological background was one thing, but it was very different to the beliefs of the congregation. Yes, there were a few bright lights in each of the congregations, but nothing like the number there should have been—particularly when considering the number of years that people had attended church.
Being the new assistant, I was given the principle duties (outside of assisting in Sunday services) of pastoral visiting, being chaplain to the local hospital, and teaching scripture in the various schools. However, I was frequently told that it was good of me to visit, but where was the Rector? And going from one school to another, it became clear that the children saw Scripture lessons as having time-out from school work, rather than as an opportunity to learn about the Christian faith. As a consequence, I very quickly found myself being worn down. So much so, that one particularly night at a bible study group, where I had been asked to do a presentation on the differences between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian Faith, I very nearly walked out. Except for the fact that somehow I knew that I shouldn’t.
Being an assistant was not an easy task, particularly because I simply got handed the jobs that the Rector didn’t want to do, or didn’t have time to do. Nevertheless I struggled on, and at the end of my two-year curacy, it was time to move on to a second two-year curacy.
Unfortunately the transition to the new parish was not as simple as I would have hoped. Indeed my new Rector-to-be had had problems with his previous assistant. So he insisted on a formal interview before accepting me as his new assistant. However having passed the test, I moved, and again took up the main role of pastoral visitor, chaplain to the local hospitals, and teaching scripture in the local school.
Now I have to say here, that I have never considered myself to be gifted in the area of pastoral care. Because despite what others have told me, that’s just not me. For sure, pastoral care is more about listening, than talking, but a conversation has to begin somewhere. And that is what I had (and still have) the most difficulty with. I’ve always seen myself as a teacher, not a carer. As a consequence I longed for the day when that would be possible.
So I didn’t find my second curacy any easier than the first. And it certainly wasn’t helped when the Rector resigned to take up another position. Because in the interregnum there were those in the parish who saw an opportunity to change things to how they wanted, before the new rector arrived.
Now that is something that no assistant should be subjected to. And he/she certainly shouldn’t be subjected to a locum who is unwilling to stand up to such people, and who meekly submits to the pressure for change. But that’s what happened, and I was the one who was expected to implement the changes. So, once again, I wondered what I was doing, and whether it was really worth what I had to go through to be a minister of God.
However, despite that, I stuck to it, and having completed two two-year curacies, it was time to move again. And, as it happened, there was a parish not too far away that was in need of my attention.
Now the parish had been struggling: the people were few in number, there were no children, and there were no activities outside of the Sunday services. But before I accepted the position, I made it clear that I would only do so on the basis that the people were prepared to move on, that the ministry style would be refocussed on families, and that the parish engage in some sort of children’s ministry. To which I received general agreement.
Of course this was a very different style of ministry to what they had been used to. But they had got to such a low ebb that something had to happen. And, as it happened, family services were introduced, a kid’s programme was begun, and a youth group was established. It was a radically different approach, but one which embraced far more people.
Unfortunately help and support was very thin on the ground. Because whilst I received a great deal of moral support from the outside community, there was a distinct lack of support from where it really mattered (i.e. within the church). And it wasn’t just my own local parish that was the problem, I received little or no support from the Diocese either. Indeed despite the fact that the monthly family service attracted far more people than the communion services, I was told that I had to restore the communion service to every Sunday morning.
So, once again, little by little, I began to be worn down. But I think I could have coped with that, except for the fact that it was compounded by an unfortunate coincidence of mental health issues—in the congregation, in the wider Christian community, and within my own family. So because of the lack of support within the church, I had to call it a day.
Despite that, I did receive some help from a Baptist friend, and I did get a visit from some local Jehovah’s Witnesses, who saw it as an opportunity to try to win me over to their cause.
To be continued …
Posted: 8th November 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis