How to be a Vicar – practical tips they never gave you at college.

Driving to Manchester recently my wife Jackie and I got to talking about the range of silly to disastrous mistakes vicars can make simply because they had not been prepared or advised on the basic practicalities of vicaring.

We quickly came up with a short list:
– how can I not offend people when saying “no” to something on my day off?
– when is the best time to take my annual holidays?
– how do I choose between text/email/phone or face to face communication?
– what is the best way to effect change?
– shouldn’t I try to keep everyone happy?

It soon became clear we had the makings of a series of blogs or even a book. We’d love to hear from you if you think this is a good idea and if you have any questions you would like us to cover.

How Often Should a PCC Meet?

The legal requirement is for a PCC to meet four times a year but I know in General Synod recently we had a debate about reducing that but I don’t think that has been enacted yet.

Churches, other than the smallest, having a number of activities and sub-committees working well will find it does not need to meet more than 5 or 6 times a year. However, this does mean trusting the committees (assuming they do a good job!) and not revisiting all the discussions of the committees in the full PCC otherwise there can be a lot of duplication and time wasting.

Many churches these days have a leadership team of some description. Whilst it is a legal requirement to have a Standing Committee there is no requirement for them to meet. Mine was elected every year but only met once in 22 years – the Ministry Teams (committees) and Leadership Team really made it superfluous.

It is important to understand the legal position to ensure you are not in breach of the law, but beyond that it is best to establish a pattern of governance that works best in your situation.

Dealing with Baptism Requests with Integrity without alienating enquirers

I can give no guarantee with this topic that my advice will secure the objective of not alienating enquirers but the quest for working with integrity is a right instinct!

The short response is to quote Paul, and this is advice I shall probably return to on many occasions because it is a foundational principle for life and ministry – we must always speak the truth in love. (Eph. 4:15).

I have heard so many horror stories where clergy have been harsh, giving the impression of being too busy to be bothered, where people have left an appointment feeling utterly rejected and for reasons they cannot comprehend.  Here’s how I think Paul would want us to approach it.

We must never compromise on truth.  Too often, when we feel we have to say something that will not be received well. we go round the houses, rather like a politician avoiding a direct question.  So we dress it up, we make our excuses, rather that simply stating the truth in a clear and convincing way – this is how it is.

We must never compromise on love.  There are ways of saying things, and ways of not saying them.  We must find the way to say what has to be said in a way that expresses love and compassion for the person we are talking to.  That will come across when it comes from our heart, when we demonstrate a genuine love for a person, whilst being true to ourselves and to scripture.

So in this particular instance – dealing with Baptism Requests with Integrity without alienating enquirers – we must genuinely welcome all enquirers.  We need to be completely transparent about the truth of the meaning and implications of baptism and we must express it lovingly, offering them a welcome and a positive way forward.

This may cause disappointment, assuming the person who asked this question practices a policy of not baptising the children of non-Christians, but expressed in the right way it can lead to an ongoing relationship and future opportunities for them to come to faith, provided they see in us a person of truth and love.

I have had people in similar scenarios tell me how they were upset at the time, but respected what I had said and the way I had expressed it, and in time thanked me for being honest with them as they grew in faith.

How to avoid offending people when saying “no” to something on your day off.

This is the first of my promised blogs and all of them will be my personal opinion, I am not representing anyone else and you are free to disagree with me.  We have all made mistakes in ministry, and I have made a lot of those I shall blog about, and that is one important way we can learn.   I hope through reading this blog you will avoid unnecessary mistakes, or recognise the ones you are making and do things differently, even better!  You never know, writing this blog might turn out to be another one of my mistakes!

If I write about something you have done and you know me, be assured you are not the only one and I am not having a go at you – I’ll tell you to your face. That is an important principle I will come to in another blog and on more than one occasion.

Our church members will fully expect us to have a day off and it is important to include occasional reference to when your day off is in your newsletter or other general means of communication e.g. web site.  That way most people will try to remember to avoid contacting you or try to make commitments for you on your day off.

So what is the issue with days off, how can we offend people when talking about our day off?  All too easily!  The point is this, the vast majority of church members serve and attend meetings in their free time, their “day off”.  They don’t understand the pressures of “living over the shop” and we can’t expect them to.

It is important that we are sensitive when declining to attend meetings and events on our day off.  It’s not that we shouldn’t have a day off, of course we should protect it sensibly, but as with many things it is how we do it that is important.

I rang a Vicar on one occasion, I didn’t know when their day off was, they answered the phone and before I had finished my friendly greeting they snapped:  “It’s my day off, ring me tomorrow” and then put the phone down before I had even been able to apologise.  That is an extreme example to which I did not react very well in my spirit! 

But often I have seen church members raise eyebrows when we have been trying to arrange a church meeting or event or a personal meeting and a clerical colleague has said “I can’t do it then, it’s my day off”.  The church member is thinking “you expect me to do things for the church on my day off/free time”, but too often clergy do not seem to be aware of this cause and effect.

I have learnt to rarely decline to do something “because it is my day off”, rather I say “I’m sorry I’ve already got a commitment then” or “Sorry, I can’t do that day”.  Phrases like these, which include an apology for not being available, seem to be so much more acceptable and sensitive, and are completely truthful – my day off is one of my commitments to my spouse/myself and therefore I can’t do something else that day.

When it comes to answering the telephone, why was that Vicar I rang answering the phone on their day off?  Don’t do it!  Use the answerphone but please don’t say on the message “I can’t answer your call as it is my day off” – the answerphone message should simply say “I am not available” – that message then applies throughout the week.  I shall be writing another blog about when it is appropriate to use the answerphone and when it is not!  If you have a spouse or family who may want to answer the phone on the day off they can simply say “Sorry, he/she is not available today”.

You should be willing to change your day off for something exceptional, sometimes it is necessary to make a church commitment on your day off – it is then your responsibility to ensure you take another day as your day off that week or the next – no one else can do it for you.  But don’t get into the habit of doing this frequently or no one will ever know when you day off is and so try to avoid it.

Next time I shall be writing on an issue raised by someone reading this blog: dealing with baptism requests with integrity without alienating enquirers

If you have any suggestions for topics do let me know!

Martin

© September 2014

Take it Steady – project progress

Thanks for the responses so far through comments here and on Facebook.

It is a little early to be placing orders for the book though!  Let’s see if we can get some blogs written first, but thanks for your enthusiasm.

The suggestions for content have been quite wide ranging and a number of them for quite deep topics, we had originally only anticipated writing about very practical issues but we will give thought to the deeper issues to.

Suggestions received already include:

  • handling issues of human sexuality from a pastoral perspective
  • ethics of leadership
  • what do you do if no one wants to be Churchwarden?
  • dealing with baptism requests with integrity without alienating enquirers

Keep the suggestions coming and I will soon start writing some blogs!