Tuesday 18 November 2014

5 Things I miss about being Laity

Don't get me wrong, being a priest is wonderful. It's a privilege, its an awesome vocation, and it is quite a responsibility to live up to. (I've always been very grateful that the vows at the ordination service are couched not as 'Yup, I will totally nail that' but as 'With the help of God, I will'.)

But there are always some things you miss about your old life when you change it, aren't there?
Here, in no particular order, are five things I miss about being a member of the laity:

1. Kneeling to receive communion.
              I guess this may vary from church to church, but wherever I've been I have usually been the only priest 'up front', and it is therefore me who is presiding. Sometimes I receive communion from a server, and sometimes I may even get to kneel, but I miss the experience of going up the altar rails and kneeling down and receiving communion as a guest rather than the host. In my last job I used to nip across to the cathedral for a lunchtime eucharist once or twice a week, but even just being a couple of miles further out that stops being a practical option. Very occasionally I have been able to do this in my own church, and it is wonderful. But even with only two churches, it is surprisingly rare.

2. Distributing the chalice.
            Staying with communion for now. As a lay person, I loved being on the chalice rota. There is something about it - the silver of the cup, the lights reflected in the deep red of the wine, the careful attentiveness to the communicants that is needed to see how each one intends to handle taking the cup and whether you are pouring too much down their throat or not letting them get to the wine if you are tipping it yourself - that speaks deep within me. But in big church services, the convention is that the priest distributes the bread, while the lay chalice assistants do the wine. I secretly love the tiny little services that mean I get to do the wine too!

3. Being able to miss things.
            OK, this and the next one on the list are more about being the vicar than being a priest per se. But as a lay person, even when I was very involved in the church - on PCC, on deanery synod, or when my husband was a churchwarden, for example - if we were on holiday, or ill, we simply didn't attend the meetings that happened that week, and other people did the stuff that was needed. Or if we really didn't fancy a particular church social event, or were knackered after work that day, we didn't go. As a priest-on-the-staff, though, that just doesn't seem to be acceptable. If I am on holiday, the meeting gets rearranged for a week when I am free. If I have a headache, I go to the pie 'n' pea supper anyway. This is exhausting.

4. Having a staycation.
          Living in a vicarage is many things, some good, some bad. One of the really, really bad ones is not being able to have a holiday in your own home. Maybe some people manage it, but I find it really hard to switch off, even if I shut the study door (which isn't really practical if I want to do anything else that uses the computer, like write my novel, or google the opening times of an attraction). The whole house is a symbol of my work. A holiday in it is not really a holiday. This is tough on the rest of the family, who would love to just lounge around at home - it is also tough on the budget, as holiday cottages are expensive if you use them for 5 or 6 weeks of the year!

5. Using my gifts and talents in the church.
          But aren't I doing? Well, sort of, yes. But being a lay person meant I could really be me in the church - I wasn't responsible for a whole raft of stuff getting done, with any personal flourishes being an add-on at best. As a lay person, I did what I did well - ran a massive community passion play for the millenium, or a parish panto, for example. As a priest, anything I do that I am doing because I am me seems to instantly draw accusations of being distracted from my 'real job'. Even if I do it in my day off, or in my (theoretically) one-free-session-in-three-per-day, it is seen as time that I clearly could have spent visiting more people, or doing more church stuff, since I was 'free'. I particularly resent the (often well-meant) line 'Oh, we know you can't do more, you've got a family': the implication being that if I didn't, I should be working 24/6 for the parish. I try to tell myself that the point of being ordained was to set me, in all my particularity, aside for God. But I miss the freedom to be myself for God that I probably never fully appreciated when I was a layperson.

What about you?


  1. Strictly speaking, you don't stop being a lay person when you are ordained. All these things are still open to you, and in some other church traditions (including mine) they would be normal. It is the polity of the C of E, not its theology, that has separated ordained people from the laity, and it has been disastrous for both mission and ministry.

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  3. The accommodation isn't free. It is provided as part of your stipend, which is accordingly set at a lower cash level than you would expect (I earn 25% of what I earned in my previous job). Clery are thus unable to buy their own homes and consequently face many difficulties in retirement - a final salary pension is only as good as the final salary it is based on. It is certainly not self-scheduling (wherever does that idea come from?) and, these days, is not a job for life. The expectation that week in, week out, you will work six days a week is heavy and the 2 sessions out of 3 idea doesn't work for any priest I know.

  4. Andrew,

    People who work standard Mon-Fri jobs get 132 days off a year (28 days leave, 104 days for weekends.) Clergy get 88 days off a year (36 days leave, 52 'rest days'). Add that to a set salary (lower than that a good graduate job) and living in the 'office' with no public and private division of your life. Now imagine trying to see family and friends with those time restrictions. Does it sound so desirable now?

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  6. You don't do reality either, Andrew.

  7. But you are not the host. Christ is. You, along with the laity are just his servants. In that sense, the distinction falls.

  8. Apologies Miranda. I hadn't meant to sabotage an interesting blog post - just to put another side. I appreciate your first sentence, which helpfully sets the context for your comments. I'm genuinely sorry to have riled "Anonymous." Andrew

  9. Anonymous,

    Allowing for the taxation surrounding tied houses and the lack of commuting costs stipendary priests are financially better of than the vast majority of the population. No it is not a £100k job but last time I ran the figures (a sometimes NSM) the total package was the equivalent of a £40-50k salary in the South East. That is top ten-percentile territory. If you were earning more before then good for you but every time you complain remember you are better off than the vast majority of the congregation you expect to donate to support you at a standard of living above theirs.

    Now hours. Anyone with a "day job" who is actively involved in church (be they Readers, NSM, PCC members, wardens, group leaders) is expected, by people like you, to do church on top of their working and commuting week leading to hours very similar to yours.

    Forgive me if I do no cry for you. In fact I suggest you leave the full time ordained ministry and return to your previous job. I have met a lot of clergy like you and the constant sense of self-entitlement with its associated bitterness totally undermines the church's ability to proclaim the Gospel. The reality is that you are in a greatly privileged position with a lifestyle beyond the dreams of most people you should be ministering to. If you cannot recognise that please leave now before you cause more harm.

    An Anonymous Priest (if its good enough for you....)

    1. Hello. I dont quite understand where your anger is directed here, but perhaps I should make it even clearer than I thought I had in the original post, that this is not a moan about being clergy - as I said in the beginning, its a great privilege, but with any change in life you notice things about your previous existence when you have changed job (or house, or anything- had children, got married...), and often it is the little things you miss. That doesnt mean you hate your current life or should leave it! If I said 5 things I missed about before having children, I hope you wouldnt say I shouldn't have had them!

    2. Sorry Miranda. Quite understood your post. Heck thought what you wrote was great so not getting at you at all. Like you one of the things I love about times I'm not on staff is being able to miss things. Indeed the freedom to just say it's a nice day lets go for a family walk and forget church today is one of the things I've missed.

      I was directly responding to Anonymous' responses to Andrew's deleted posts. Unfortunately with deleted posts I'm left looking like an idiot sounding off. There's anger but not directed at you. Probably its the fact that in the past year or two I've counselled a few too many tearful sessions of overloaded laity sent on major guilt trips by vicars such as Anonymous who have forgotten that time and financial pressures are not solely the concerns of the full time clergy.


  10. It seems that any expression of dissatisfaction or concern for clergy welfare is met with the cry of 'well leave then'. 'Self-entitlement and bitterness' are not what I see when I meet tired clergy who are struggling to work long and unpredictable hours, or to save for a retirement house while heating an enormous old rectory with poor insulation. That is, however, not the stuff the blog was really about, but a rather sad comment (now removed) made stipendiary ministry sound like such a sinecure someone had to respond.

    Miranda's post makes her points well - the choice to turn up or not and the matching of task to gift are things clergy miss out on. Describing something is not bitterness, it's just how it is, and anyone considering stipendiary ministry should think on these things.

    Certainly clergy should not expect laity to work endless hours on top of their day jobs. Perhaps if we all did a bit less 'church stuff' and paid more attention to living well instead, life would be better for everyone. In my experience, high expectations are held by congregations who are often not aware of the pressures of multi-parish roles, all of which include some commuting by definition. The stereotype of the one vicar one parish where vicar lives next door to church is rare outside cities. The vicar hurtling between four or five churches is unlikely to be living a dream lifestyle by any definition.

    Of course ministry is a privilege, and it is a privilege whether you are lay or ordained. Stipendiary priests are highly qualified people who have worked hard to get to that position. A little more understanding would go a long way.

  11. On receiving communion kneeling, my area bishop attends my church when he has a Sunday off, and I (a Reader) have served him communion as he kneels. So, Miranda, maybe in the future you will be able to kneel to receive - as a Bishop!

  12. Being able to smoke in public, unopposed.

  13. I have deleted a couple of comments above that I felt were unduly negative about other commentators or about life in general! Keep it friendly, please, on here.

  14. I found (5) the most interesting. I've heard vicars say, 'when I trained for this role I didn't realise I'd spend almost all my time on the church organ appeal/church tower fund/church reordering scheme'. And I think this is a real problem - one aspect of the job takes over completely for a while and then there's frustration that the thing you think you are strongest at - whether that be pastoral care, wedding preparation, preaching - gets squeezed out by something. And I really don't understand how a priest responsible for 4 or 5 parishes, trying to juggle a service rota so that all can have a slice of him/her, can survive, let alone flourish. Time perhaps to rethink the relationship between the buildings and the people?