Experts in nothing

Expert?An expert: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.

We live in a world of experts, for finance, education, medicine and just about every profession imaginable. Except one. Christian leadership, or more specifically, the role of the priest in the wider community.

It dawned on me this week while I was on a brilliant training course. In passing our tutor said, “you are not the experts”. She was speaking to a room full of priests. She did not mean that we were experts in nothing, but simply that we were experts in nothing that mattered in relation to our current topic of study. But the lights came on. As far as our culture is concerned priests are now experts in nothing.

It used to be that priests led the way. We were at the forefront of education, scientific research, welfare, art and even politics. The broad structures and influences of our culture were shaped by christian leaders, even priests. We were integral in developing a more reasoned and just society.

Somewhere we stumbled and now find ourselves on the back foot. No longer are we supposed to have a voice in politics, we are to be quiet on the ethical developments in science and medicine. We have to speak carefully in education and our schools treat us with suspicion. Instead of being at the cutting edge of care we are often cut out because our motives are questioned. Yet the volunteer network of everyday christians fill that gap left by governments on the front line.

The training for a priest can take up to seven years. We are trained in public speaking, care for the dying, building maintenance, team dynamics, exegesis, policies, history and even recruitment. Most of us will have continued to develop professionally. For me this has included experience in safeguarding, addictions, visual thinking and organisational change. We are not suppose to know everything but we are a resource to our communities whether they come to church or not.

We are experts, but experts in nothing that matters. Our specialist skills no longer valued by culture. Yet we unknowingly ponder if it is time to hand over the final set of keys. We are potentially on the cusp of surrendering our understanding and expertise in scripture to the mute god’s of this world.

This though is a culture with a sick heart. Already it is short of breath and stumbling. Unable to think clearly, unable to care beyond itself. A culture that has stopped looking out for those who can’t care for themselves. It has begun the retreat back to the safety of the castle in the vain hope that we will have stored enough for the coming winter.

Doing things our own way brings short term stimulation but in the longer term our newly defined identities will be found to be as fragile and shallow as party politics. The foundations of our culture have been sacrificed on the altar of self satisfaction. Yet this torn out core is the very field that we priests can, if we have courage, rightly claim our expertise.

It turns out that we are not experts in nothing as our culture would have us believe. But instead in everything that matters. We hold on to meaning, identity, quality of life, care for others and even our world. We do these things because we have a narrative that defines us beyond our age. That roots us in our creative loving God who is for us. He teaches us to be selfless rather than selfish. That our identity is not something that we can self define but is defined in relationship with him. That life has meaning beyond matter and that meaning matters.

For today our expertise may not be recognised.
As our culture crumbles this is definitely not the day to hand over our remaining expertise. We have a message to bring, long abandoned and misunderstood but one that stands the test of time. We may be experts in nothing but we are experts in all that matters.

A Day in the life of a Vicar….

Since my sabbatical in 2015 I have tried to live a work differently. Two full days off a week and a starting point of forty hours a week. One of the days off is creativity focused and the other just resting. I find this kind of pace means that I can be fully engaged in both my family life and working life. But I still often get asked, “so what do you vicars do during the week”. So I thought I would give a snapshot of what has be a busy day.
5.45am I get woken up by our barking chocolate lab who has decide she wants a to go out. In my experience she should not be ignored other wise the consequences can be messy. I watch her in the garden and stare at the coffee machine. Expresso wins and so to work on the summer rota – yes I am a bit behind as it is July.

7.30am Rota finished and emailed to the 25 people who will be helping to make Sunday’s happen over the summer. Few more emails sent to try and start the the day as clear as possible. Updated a new webpage that a number of the team are working on.

7.45am Made tea for Meg and woke up the kids up late. Usual family prep for the day, all hands on deck.

8.15am Bit of work on family accounts as trying to be better with budgeting.

8.30am Running shoes on. We leave the house a bit late with one 10 year old on scooter and two dogs. School drop. 6.5 miles later and very tired dogs, my run it complete. Prayed for for a few other churches and leaders on the way (Ian – Rivera Life, John St Matthias) as well as stopping to talk to a couple of people from church on the way round.

9.30 Finish getting ready for the day and called a company to chase delivery of new church doors.

10am Time with two leaders at St Mags, looking at an outreach project and a way to review another key part of church life – small groups. Important leadership lessons on the way.

11.30 (35 as I was late) Coffee in Neros with another key leader for supervision and coaching. Asked at iPhone repair shop if they could fix sons phone that was run over by a car yesterday.

12.45pm Back to church to fix my dyslexic error on the poster for Sunday. Tried to find old keys for two doors at church – nope, they are lost.

1.30pm Grabbed lunch and ensured backup happened on computer that is starting to run slow.

2pm Funeral visit. What a privilege to hear the story of a couple who found love again in later life. These are sacred moments. Stayed an extra half hour as it was so precious.

3.45pm To town to get iPhone fixed. On the way stop to chat to a friend of St Mags about the painful stuff of life. Spent five mins with a guy that is high and scared. Talked to a girl in her early twenties who has recently come to faith and is struggling to make drug free friends. Chatted in passing to one of the guys who was baptised last year and is busking. Back to phone…. First shop unhelpful, second sorted. Coffee and planning at Costa while they get it fixed. Pinging church administrator on Trello (who should not be responding to messages as she is not working this afternoon) re current projects, funeral, wedding and new church bank account. Also exchanging so texts and returning some calls from people growing in faith. Bumped into Meg and the kids. Back past church, someone is asleep round the side. Try to wake him up, he is off his face with his big dog on guard. He wakes eventually and we have a good chat. I leave him there as he is alive and does not seem to been in danger or a danger to others. Sleep is prob the best option.

5pm Delivered fixed phone to son – he was sort of grateful (joy of being Dad)

5.25pm Few more texts and asked one of the Mags team to take the lead tomorrow night.

5.30pm Drove to Exeter for a meeting on a difficult subject but in very good company. Amazingly I am ten mins early. Just about managed to behave with three Bishops and an Archdeacon in the room. Good food and then heavy focused conversation. Finish at 8.45, very drained but it was healthy and life giving.

9.30 Back in Torquay, few texts and emails. Called Mum and Dad to check they are alright – they are carrying so big stuff very graciously.

10pm Sofa and decide to write day in life of a Vicar – Gin and Tonic.