Sometimes people think we clergy live a sheltered life. It’s an image fostered by some of the fictional TV vicars who are other-worldly and fairly useless. But I’ve been in the Ministry now for over 50 years and I would say that clergy often see life in the raw. As a young curate I was chaplain to a geriatric hospital where a good number of the patients were senile. What I didn’t experience in there in terms of behaviour and states of undress aren’t worth experiencing! I took a Communion Service in one of the wards and in one of the prayers I saw out of the corner of my eye a mobile hospital screen behind me falling on top of me. I caught it in one hand without missing a syllable. I’m sure the old ladies thought it was part of the ceremonial.
I’ve had wedding couples row in front of me, a bridegroom, bride and bridesmaid pass out in mid- service. I’ve had mourners screaming and wanting to leap into the grave and a funeral director’s man fall into an empty grave in the middle of the burial! I’ve taken many tragic and deeply distressing funerals and attended numerous dead people. I’ve frequently been thumped in the teeth by babies at christenings! I’ve counselled people in all manner of distressing situations.
I’ve been entertained in homes ranging from filthy huts in rural Africa and South African Townships to 10 Downing Street, Lambeth Palace and a royal palace in Ghana (and a wide variety of homes in England in between). I’ve visited prisons and psychiatric hospitals and been involved in attending traumatic court cases.
I’ve experienced bombs going off nearby in Jerusalem and driven down roads on the West Bank where we broke the speed limit to make ourselves a more difficult target for snipers.
I’ve been involved in high-profile General Synod debates clashing over serious issues with archbishops, bishops and many others, and been strongly criticised, including in the media, for so doing. I did loads of radio, TV and newspaper interviews on highly controversial issues, which could easily have blown up in my face. I did his to uphold biblical teaching and values.
I can’t say: “And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it” even though I’ve had many wonderful experiences too. But – a sheltered life? No way! The Ministry means you have to get involved, in the midst of all the degradation, violence, pain and sadness of life as well as the joys and celebrations.
God became man in order to get involved amidst all the dark side of life and to do something about it – to share the pain, endure the violence and bear the penalty for the degradation. God became man in the person of Jesus at the first Christmas in order to be able to die to save us and to give us the sure hope of eternal life as we trust in him.
A good response would be to pray the words of the carol: “Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray.” The verse finishes with “And fit us for Heaven to live with thee there.”
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction