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Letters to the editor >

Pastoral visiting: no longer a job for the incumbent?

Sir, — The Revd Elaine Dando (“Where is our bedside manna?”, Features, 27 August) asks an important question about the pastoral ministry of the clergy in the Church of the future, but seems unable to think radically about the need to establish priorities.

 

Most bishops and archdeacons now rightly expect their clergy to develop with their PCCs coherent strategies for mission, and a style of collaborative ministry in which the priest is viewed as a trainer and a resource. A parish with a committed pastoral group, enthusiastic to hone its skills and encouraged by a positive response from other members of the laity, need only involve the clergy in the most urgent or sensitive situations.

 

Most clergy who are effective leaders are also well-motivated pastorally. But it is now unreasonable to expect that they alone should be responsible for all pastoral care, as well as developing the wider remit that ministry teams need. It is not wanting in compassion to want your church and its liturgy to be properly resourced.

 

Mrs Dando has, by her own account, experienced en-suite pastoral attention from her clergy, who have not only been present in times of acute crisis, but also apparently to collect prescriptions and boost vitamin levels. I am not sure that all those activities constitute the “charism of priesthood” which she wishes to preserve, although I am happy to agree that sitting with the dying certainly does.

 

I, too, could indulge in a nostalgic fantasy about trading in my car, buying a bicycle, putting my dog in the basket, and knocking on village doors, delivering cakes and stout. But that is not going to address the complex social needs of a 21st-century Church. We have spent long enough being a “nanny Church” and creating the wrong kind of dependency. We need to be imaginative in drawing on the skills God has already placed in our congregations to enable pastoral ministry to be seen as the work of the whole Body of Christ (not just the vicar), and thereby extending and making visible the Kingdom of God .

 

GRAHAM BLYTH

St John’s Rectory

55 Main Road , Danbury

Chelmsford

Essex CM3 4NG

 

 

Sir, — As a priest who has been trying to involve the laity in ministry since the 1960s, may I endorse totally what the Revd Elaine Dando has to say in her article concerning the work of the clergy.

 

There should be no contradiction in what she is saying about our priestly priorities and involving Christians in ministry to which all are called by our Lord. There are, indeed, some who wish to see priests mainly as managers. I believe they are misguided, although there may well be lessons that we can learn from management principles.

 

Incumbents today are called to pastoral leadership: a different concept, which implies that we need to be “in touch” with the people we are called to shepherd. If the leader is out of touch, then woe betide the flock. We are called to be pastors (shepherds), and in biblical times the shepherd led the flock. But, according to Jesus, the good shepherd goes out of his way to seek the individual who is lost.

 

Becoming the leader implies that we know the sheep and care for them. That is what I have tried to do — very inadequately — throughout my ministry. The ministry of the whole church cannot function effectively and compassionately if the priest does not set the example for which Elaine Dando is calling. That is just what Jesus did, and we would do well to learn from him.

 

JIMMY HAMILTON-BROWN

The Old Mill

Spetisbury

Blandford DT11 9DF

 

 

 

Sir, — Many will have been delighted to read the Revd Elaine Dando’s plea for a restoration of the parochial and pastoral ministry. Yet why have you subtitled the article “Priests have their priorities wrong”?

 

Usually, the clergy long to spend more time in pastoral visiting, but, under diocesan allocation of stipends (not a shortage of priests), we find ourselves serving larger clusters of parishes, travelling, and sitting at PCCs, but not ringing door bells. There is in sight a downward slide towards disobedience to our Lord, and insignificance.

 

Have our Synod members become so enthralled by the godly efficiency of diocesan boards of finance that they agree to every cut without question, or are they just turkeys voting for Christmas?

 

C. ARDAGH-WALTER

2 Bunkers Hill

Newbury

RG14 6TF

 

 

 

Sir, — To me, as a layman, it is incredible that any priest can say (vide Ms Dando) that “they do not have time for pastoral visiting.” Why, then, are they “in the ministry” at all?

 

I write as an 85-year-old Reader Emeritus who (when permitted) gains great spiritual joy as I visit friends and families in the parish. It is at such times, “when the light surprises”, that an ordinary visit can reveal, in fellowship, quite different needs, anxieties and concerns. The rewards of visiting are beyond description.

 

A church that has an agenda that does not allow visiting to be at least of equal importance to worship, prayer and praise is ignoring the biblical imperative and Christ’s directive.

 

LEONARD J. GRIFFITHS

2/12 The Avenue

Poole

BN13 6AG

 

 

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