The Parish Pooh-Bar – Part 1

[A two-part letter written in 1976 in the parish magazine, one year after being appointed Rector]

Pooh-Bah was a character in “The Mikado” who held many offices at once.    And the clergyperson traditionally has been such a person.   That is why most parishes hope for their incumbent to be the Archangel Gabriel.  

In my 75 hour a week job in Hawkwell I’ve been Preacher, teacher,  pastor,  evangelist,  marriage counsellor,  artist, musician,  administrator,   editor,  youth leader,  travel agent,  taximan,   delivery van driver,  healer,   childrens work expert,   child guidance expert,   fund raiser,   cheer leader,  theologian,  psychiatrist,  gardener,  architect, writer,   diplomat,  ombudsman,   lawyer,  and a few other things!  And I   shouldn’t  have been!

I  can hear the  comments?   “Huh, he’s not like the clergy of years ago.”   The trouble is I am – finite that is.     But today is a vastly more complex situation.

“But the church has always paid the parson to do the work of the church.”    Is that Scriptural?

“Sounds like he doesn’t like the job.”    On the contrary I regard it as a high privilege.   Much of it is exciting and fulfilling.     If I’m honest, the idea of being the parish Pooh-Bah has its attraction.    Pity it’s both impossible and unbiblical.

“Oh well, he must want an easier life.” No.    The job I think I ought to  be  doing will be just as full-time as the job I am doing.     It would be doing the right and the best things for the Lord and his church, though.

“Well, he must be an anarchist-then.” Wrong again!       I firmly believe in a full time ‘Minister’ presiding in a team of leaders.     I see this as including real authority.

The old service when the rector is instituted and inducted into a church is misleading.    It tells the people they are to help the rector do his work.    But this reverses the New Testament teaching.     (Look at Ephesians 4:11-12 and the list of spiritual gifts given to  every member of the church in Romans 12:5-8;  1 Cor.12).   The New Testament speaks of church leadership being plural not singular.    The distinction between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ is false in many ways.

To be the parish Pooh-Bah may boost the parson’s ego and calm his insecurities.    But it holds back the church and frustrates the work of the Spirit.  Gifts are not dis­covered.    Responsibilities are not given.     Training is neglected.

No.  I do not see myself as Pooh-Bah in the Parish Mikado.    Rather I see myself as the conductor of the orchestra.  I am here to draw out and co-ordinate the gifts and ministries of the  church.  I am not here for you to help me do the work any more than the orchestra is there to help the conductor play all the instruments!  I am here to help you do the work.  And that’s a full time job!

So then I give greater priority to training and ‘enabling’ than I do  to rushing about doing everything. It is more important for me to train teachers than to teach; to train visitors than to  visit;   to train evangelists than to  evangelize although I would still teach, visit and evangelize.     It is more important for me  to build up the church to  do the work of ministry than for me to do the work of ministry      But many things I have to do or am expected to  do prevent this from happening effectively. Things must change.   The Lord, the  church and the parish will not be served effectively otherwise.  Think about it.

Yours sincerely, 

Tony Higton.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction