So this is my first Christmas for a long time, where I have as a Christian, been a member of the congregation, rather than the president, making sure that everything that needs to happen, happens. Its my first Christmas ‘in retirement’. I thought that I’d share some of my thoughts about that with you.
The first sensation that of relief! Being a priest means that I feel a sense of responsibility for the future of the Church. There has been a lot of hand ringing in the Church for a long time because of falling numbers. Although some people say “It is God’s Church, and he will look after it’ , I have always been of the view that it is my responsibility to ‘strike a few blows’ for the promotion of the Christian way of life and for knowing how to invite people into it, and to initiate them into the Christian way of life. Because it is ever-present, this sense of responsibility for the long term future of the church is like a ‘low grade constant weight’. Having retired, the weight is gone, and I notice it. My time as being responsible has passed, and I am in the process of discovering new ways of being a priest.
This means that my Christmas in the Church was spent in my ‘baptized self’ rather than in my ‘ordained self.’ I played some carols for the local town’s carols in the park, I went to Eucharist and did the same. But then afterward, I drove for two hours to my Mother in Law’s and Father in Law’s place to spend Christmas day with them, dodging kangaroos as I drove through the night.
One of the things that I always used to notice as a priest is the freedom that others had ‘not to be there.’ I would put in lots of work to the Christmas festivities in the place where I was, only to hear multiple times ‘Sorry Father, we won’t be there at Christmas, we’re going to be with the family.’ Then, Christmas was spent in the company of lots of other Christians who had said the same thing in their locality!
I used to be a little resentful because I thought that the equation went “We pay you money to be there, so we have the freedom not to be there!’
So this year, I was one of the people who said “I will come for X and Y, but I won’t be there for Z” I had the freedom to choose! This experience is a less intense or less draining than it is when I am responsible for how the show goes.
But this freedom does not absolve me of my responsibilities as a baptized person, I think. As a president of a congregation, I have often said ‘Being a baptized person comes with responsibilities. We are not just ‘society at prayer.’ So here is how I am trying to fulfil my responsibilities as a baptized person.
First, I have set up a regular electronic funds transfer for my offering: and I hope to be generous. If I want the Church to be there for me when I need it, then I am bound to contribute in such a way as to make sure its there.
Second, I am in the process of discovering what my ministry in the local congregation is. I think that every Christian has a ministry or calling in the Church. What that will be I am not sure. At the moment I am participating in the Church activities, and saying ‘Yes’ mostly to the things that are asked of me.
Third, I feel responsible for letting the priest know when I will be present or not. So I send him e.mails saying ‘We will be on holidays, and will not be in Church on such and such a date.’ But normally I expect to be in Church on a Sunday, and account table for my presence.
Last, I hope to be a supportive presence. Again, this idea really takes on significance for me because ‘the boot is on the other foot’ now. When I was the President of a congregation, I would often experience people saying words to the effect of ‘I don’t know much about Church, but I know what I want, and I want X,Y, and Z and I want you to do it!” It seemed to me that there was not much respect for the professional expertise that a priest has. So now, as a fellow professional in the congregation, in my baptized self, and not my ‘presidential self’ I practise a lot saying ‘Well, I would have done it this way, but it is your call.’ I am finding that each priest has their own special giftedness, and that that giftedness needs supporting, so that they can flow as a person. That is how I see my role now.
Then there is the question of ‘How I am being a priest’, now. The ‘catch-phrase’ that I have come up with is ‘prayer and work’. I am concentrating more on intercession for those in need, and on saying the offices, along with some reading of books that support the spiritual life. After that I spend time building things in the shed, or working in the garden. This has a Monastic kind of template, and I enjoy being able to pray, and then be physically tired too. I enjoy being able to sing hymns while I am working and live as much as possible in the company of God.
So that’s it. I’ll keep you posted as life unfolds.