AMONG the burdens of parish ministry today is the nagging
feeling of constant failure generated by the bullet-point job
descriptions that often accompany clergy job advertisements. It
seems barely worth applying for advertised posts unless you are
exceptional, gifted, innovative, dynamic, passionate, committed,
energetic, encouraging, a "people-person", collaborative, and
resilient - oh, and with a sense of humour.
Your ministerial task is not to preach the gospel, celebrate the
sacraments, and visit the sick, but to produce a diverse, vibrant,
flourishing, mission-focused, caring community by your abilities as
a visionary leader with extraordinary communication skills who is
able to get on with all ages and to appeal to outsiders.
I know archdeacons who claim credit for toning down the demands
of parishes, but too many absurdly over-the-top adverts still make
it into the church press. I find them exhausting, with their
hopelessly aspirational language and excess of adjectives. They are
also rather sad. What is reflected here so often is a community's
wistful and rather narcissistic dream of what it believes it
deserves or is owed. We are special, it cries out. Are you good
enough for us?
And some clergy out there read the invitation in the light of
unrealistic and vaguely messianic beliefs about themselves,
genuinely reckoning that they can measure up to whatever is asked,
however crazy it really is. They then spend hours filling in the
kind of self-promotional letter of application intended to persuade
the readers that they are just the right person for the job.
This is what happens when the Church tries to imitate business
culture, aspiring to draw "stars" as if it had the resources to
reward them with vastly more than a simple stipend and a
potentially problem house. No wonder so many parish clergy suffer
from discontent, guilt, and envy.
The trouble is that the job of parish ministry is both more
modest and more humdrum than the adverts suggest. Much of it is
routine, much is rewarding, some of it is lonely. Stars are not
always helpful as parish priests; the apparently super-dynamic not
infrequently turn out to be spiritually careless and pastorally
It would not be so difficult to advertise for a competent,
caring priest, without suggesting that only a celebrity who can
cope on four hours' sleep a night will do. For most parishes, a
competent, caring priest is not only the best they can hope for: it
is actually the best there is.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for Oxford