Tales of the unexpected

by
07 July 2017

In a memoir published in 2015, Katy Magdalene Price reflects on life as she experienced it immediately after ordination

imageBROKER/Alamy

Hands on: the ordination of St Tertulin (ceiling fresco, St Tertulin’s, Schlehdorf, Upper Bavaria)

Hands on: the ordination of St Tertulin (ceiling fresco, St Tertulin’s, Schlehdorf, Upper Bavaria)

ORDAINED ministry is not what I expected. I’m not even sure I can say it’s what I wanted — which is prob­ably exactly as it should be.

People ask me if I feel like a different person. The answer is yes — but, again, not in the way I expected. I don’t feel like some newly empowered spiritual superhero. I feel like I’ve just regenerated, Doctor Who-style, and have to get my tongue round a new set of teeth. Things I’d done a million times before became, for a fortnight or so, cripplingly difficult. Every time I opened my mouth, I had a brief terror that I might not be able to remember how to speak. I couldn’t speak because I didn’t know who I was — who I was to these people, in this context. It was as if I’d lost my voice, as if I was trying to speak with somebody else’s tongue.

Things that I thought would be easy are hard, and sometimes things I thought would be hard are easy. That dratted collar, for instance. I have always liked clergy to wear their collars rather than sneak round in mufti to the discomfiture of unsuspecting atheists. I was expect­ing it to give me confidence in striking up conversations, the way a name-badge does at a networking event. Instead, I spent a fortnight feeling horribly self-conscious in what suddenly felt uncomfortably like a symbol of authority.

Being “the Reverend”, on the other hand, quite unexpectedly felt instantly natural. It was something that had worried me in advance — having no obvious form of address, as a woman, in a parish where the men are “Father”. The one title I thought I knew I didn’t want is the one I legally had to have: “Rev”. The idea of anybody revering me just seemed laughable. Yet that has turned out to be a non-issue. I’ve found I don’t care what people call me, and I now happily answer to Christine, Caroline, and vicarlady — although my favourite has to be the double take from somebody who’d just called me Father.

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NOTHING really prepares you for this — for how difficult it is, but also how straightforward. You spend two or three years learning the theory and looking at the way things are done by various churches and clergy. You reflect on it, you discuss it, you think about how you would do it . . . and then, when your turn comes, you just do it. Not in the way you were taught or the way you’d decided was best; just whatever way they do it here.

On my very first day in post, I got up with a household full of guests, and any questions about what the new and allegedly reverend me would wear or how she would act or whether she would make a good first impression were eclipsed by the questions of how she was going to fix the shower and get into work on time.

We say morning prayer with a businesslike momentum, gobbling it down like toast on the way to the bus stop. Baptisms and funerals are routine operations. I didn’t learn to take a funeral from a lecture but from my colleague in the car on the way back from meeting a bereaved family. I go into the office and hot-desk and make tea and fight the quirks of the email system, just as I did in the public-sector world I left behind.

 

ONE recurrent theme that alarms me is how frequently clerical col­leagues, on hearing where I studied, josh me that they’ll “soon get me out of all that”.

It isn’t the most encour­aging thing, in your first week in a new job, to be repeatedly told that every­thing you’ve learned in the past three years will need to be un-
learned. The things that have be- come precious to us as ordinands are the things we are expected to get over, now that we are ordained. That’s a very odd feeling — to come out qualified and formed (suppos­­edly), only to find ourselves a source of amusement to those who have seen many a generation of rookie clergy before.

I suspect I am making myself a hostage to fortune by publishing this book at all. By the time it’s on the shelves or in the online shopping trolley, I may well have very differ­ent views; there’s no point going into three years of curacy not wanting to be changed. Yet I do not want to grow out of what has been entrusted to me at Mirfield; I want to grow into it.

At the moment, perhaps that tradition is an oversized garment on me, somewhat absurd and costume-ish. The answer, though, is not to drop it but to live up to it. Am I here to have the rough edges knocked off me? I’m not so sure I want to be palatable and easy to swallow. If I need straightening out on the anvil of parish ministry, let me at least be sharpened like the “double-edged sword”.

 

THE first sermon I ever preached was on the passage “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.30). The first sermon I preached as a curate was on the same passage, but they were very different ser­mons.

I wanted an easy life. What God has given me is life itself, life in abundance. Sometimes, it feels like too much life to handle! I’ve spent my first summer as a curate trying to keep my head above water, the bank balance in the black, the car on the road, and the lawn in check. (Since we’re talking of life abundant, the unstoppable growth of my garden has drawn worried com­ments from parishioners and provided me with the theme of my harvest sermon.)

I’m still drinking tea and eating cake, and I’m still pretty much completely terrified. I am still not quite sure what God has brought me here for, or whether I’ve been worth the effort. All I know is that any God who could put up with me this far is in it for the long haul. And so, I guess, am I.

 

I Think it’s God Calling: A vocation diary by Katy Magdalene Price is published by BRF at £7.99 (CT Book­shop £7.20). The Revd Katherine Price is Chaplain of The Queen’s College, Oxford.

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