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Posts Tagged ‘church of england interregnum’

Did I mention that we are in another interregnum? Not sure I did. It is my second in 3 years. After our lovely Rev Fred departed to become a hospital chaplain (a role he finds really challenging, but fulfilling), we survived a thankfully brief six months unscathed.

The Rev Keith when he arrived was a very different sort of Vicar. To start with, he was evangelical. Shock! Horror! Or do I actually mean… How refreshing?! Most of us loved his full-frontal attack. My favourite atheist was outraged at the idea of a country parson actually talking about Jesus Christ.

Anyway, very sadly, a bolt out of the blue came down and took him away. His lovely wife was hit by a serious illness and he had to stop being a part-time, badly-paid vicar, and become first a full-time carer, and then a full-time better paid bread-winner out in the wider world.

So, since last autumn, we’ve been in interregnum again. We are very lucky to have had the regular support of a retired vicar from the nearest market town to come and take our twice-a-month services. That continuity has been very helpful: no scrabbling around from week to week to find someone to plug a gap. He has had time to get to know us, and our congregation has got to know his little foibles too (we all have them). And do you know what? We’ve been fine. Not lost a single service, nor a single member of the congregation.

I was panic-stricken when the Rev Fred departed, and didn’t know how we’d cope. When Keith dropped his bombshell I was sad for him, but not devastated. I had already learned that it is the people who ‘own’ the church, not the vicar.

That may not be quite how it happens in a single parish set-up, but I can tell you that in the countryside, where a vicar has the ‘cure of souls’ of four, five, six, or even more parishes, it is the congregation, the PCC and in particular the Churchwardens who hold it all together. Vicars come and go (as I now know) but Churchwardens remain.  Again, this is particularly true when your vicar lives in the one remaining vicarage that the Benefice clings on to, and it is in the next-door-but-one village.

Because as far as the non-church-going villagers are concerned, I AM ‘the Church’ in the village.  It is me (and the Churchwarden’s Terrier of course) who they see trotting off to church clutching the big key each morning. It is me they see putting the bin by the gate once a week. It is me they see leaning my not-inconsiderable weight on headstones to see if they’re still safe (!) and me they see stuffing leaflets about our next fundraiser through their letterboxes.

So for the last few months we have been back in interregnum.  But again, a thankfully short one. (I fully appreciate that year-long – or longer – interregnums can be really challenging.)

We already have a new vicar on the horizon, who will join us in the summer. I am pleased, but also fairly sanguine about how long this one might last. He’s stepping down from a high-powered role in another Diocese and he is sort-of-semi-retiring to our Benefice. It may be that we have him for just a year or two. But if that is how it is, then we’ll be fine. I’ve learned that. Because it is always ‘our’ church. The people’s church. Not the vicar’s.

 

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The Rev Fred is leaving. As soon as he rang my mobile and asked to see me on my lunch break I knew what he was going to say.

He is headed for pastures new, but I feel rather better about it because he’s not forsaking his multi-parish Benefice for another nicer, richer, more interesting one (which would make me feel bad). Instead, he’s becoming a hospital chaplain at our nearest big city hospital. Apparently the more he visited the villages’ sick and dying in hospitals around the region, the more he felt drawn to this sort of work. And I know he’ll be really good at it.

Of course we shall miss Rev Fred and for sure I’m concerned about the Interregnum. But it’s also started me off on the question: why do vicars stop being vicars? I mean hands-on-vicars in parishes like ours?

On the wall of the south aisle is a list of our Rectors dating back five or six centuries. Each incumbent’s stay spans decades until the list reaches the 1960s. But the list of names for the last 40 years is almost half as long as for the last 400 years, with stays of two, four, five or seven years interspersed with lengthy interregna, one of almost two years.

Before everyone jumps up and down, of course I know that the original system of life-time posts in the gift of the landed gentry (or rich Oxbridge College) regularly resulted in a complacent Rector boring the pants off his congregation for 30 years, and no-one could do a damn thing about it. But I’m also sure it equally regularly resulted in a good Rector faithfully serving his community for 30 years in a mutually supportive and happy relationship.

I don’t know of any local Rector/Vicar being in post for more than six or seven years. Is this official Church of England policy, does anyone know?

Or is it that no Rector can cope with the stresses and strains for more than a few years before burning out, as if they were a City trader?

Or is it that care of a country parish is seen as a stepping stone onto greater (better paid?) things within the Diocese, or at the Cathedral? My impression is that there are as many administrators wearing dog collars in our Cathedral city as there are Vicars serving the parishes around it.

Or is it that the stipend is so low that few Rectors can live and raise a family on it? So that they leave for better-paid jobs with more regular hours – such as hospital chaplaincy like the Rev Fred? He tells me his new four-days-a-week contract – plus one weekend a month on call – will pay him the same as a full-time stipend.

Answers on a postcard please?

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