so...what is it you do, exactly?

happy new year! :)

hope you've had a fantabulous christmas and new year holiday. some of you will be back to work today, or up and out for the school run this morning in a jolt back into the harsh reality of normal life. my kids go back to school tomorrow and thursday (different schools), and i took two weeks off after christmas day, so return to work this weekend. my return to the rhythm of parish life postponed for a couple of days more.

and i'm glad that i did take these few days actually. nothing too deeply important being done, vegging out, returning gifts, that kind of thing. but i really didn't want to return to the parish , catapulted into an unthinking rhythm, just carrying on without having any time to reflect on the last six months. for six months of ordained ministry it has already been. half a year. i have learnt so much in that time, not least that i need regularly to remind myself what it is i think i'm doing, or rather, being, as an ordained person.

one of the books that kept me going whilst i was at college, which seemed to swim against the ever roaring current of popular opinion around me, was stephen cottrell's 'hit the ground kneeling'. i found myself this christmas having to remind myself of the gems of truth which he uncovers within the page of this (beautifully small) book. he is into myth busting when it comes to what leadership should be about and, as the title of the book intimates, wants to orientate us towards a type of leadership which is thoroughly embedded in the contemplative tradition. it is not about being anti management speak when it comes to leadership, but it is a blessed breath of fresh air for those who find leadership and management language a little alien and a jarring on the soul of what this ordained life is about. it is a book that is for christians of all hues (as long as they're open to it), and even for those with no faith. i'm glad he uses the term 'leadership', so that the language is not too alienating for those from a more evangelical tradition, who are used to this language, but it also talks about approaching leadership differently, and does challenge us in a world which is success and measurable outcome driven, to see these things through a different lens.

i think that the phantom of the measurable outcome haunts a lot of clergy, and comforts a few who see themselves above the line when it comes to this kind of success. it takes a large amount of courage to walk a different way and to see what we do in a rather different category to the world around us. as someone new to this life, i already see the possibility of fear in being asked the question 'what is it you do?'. well there are the obvious things, of baptisms, weddings and funerals - and depending on what kind of parish you find yourself in, these will be more or less part of your ministry. there's the school's work, the planning courses, the sunday monster to feed, the pastoral visits to do...

very easily these things can give you the sense of significance you might need to tell you that you are worth something, that what you're doing and who you are is of value. and those things need to be done and are the outward sign of the ministry you are doing....sometimes. but it is very easy for those things to become the 'end' of what you're doing. they become the purpose of you. it is those things that people want to see you doing, smile at you for, pat you on the back for the things that you do. this is all encouragement of course, and i couldn't do this kind of life without those moments. i'm not saying that it is bad for any of this to happen. but it can become a little bit of a co-dependent cycle for congregations and priests: the congregation want to see what their priests are doing-priests need some affirmation to do their job-priests do things that might show a visible outcome-congregations are comforted that their church is active. all is well.

of course we do need to do stuff and we need to be accountable, priests to their congregations and congregations to their priests. but the tyranny of the measurable outcome means that a lot of what 'accountability' means in our minds, is having something visible and tangible to show for what it is you do. and in the case of ordained ministers, this is actually an existential question - 'what is the point of you?'

if i'm honest this is a question that i see hovering around a lot of ordained people, myself included. and i think it's toxic. for me the joy of the book above is that it rejoices in the idea that, for God, *you* are the point of you. at the heart of good leadership (and for me, what priesthood is about is so much more than that word...) are those who are most authentically being themselves in the places that God has called them to. our time in those places may only be able to be measured by the fact of our presence there, in that place, among those people. we may do things, we should do things. but those things are marks of our presence in a place and it is always our presence which is the end of why we are there. after all, this is the end of God's relationship with us. not that we get to enjoy a free ticket to 'heaven', but that God is present with human beings. so it should not surprise us that, as those who 'lead' God's people, who stand in the liminal spaces sometimes, who weep with the sad and rejoice with the happy, who sometimes have to weep for ourselves and dance in the kitchen on our own, are simply called to be present with people and that for us the only real 'measurable outcome' is simply...

'i was here'

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