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?