Your parish priest has a hidden agenda, and I’m about to reveal what it is.
You know that seemingly innocent coffee you were having with your caring minister? The one you offered when your vicar said ‘I haven’t seen you for a while – shall we have a coffee?’ and you replied ‘yes, that’d be nice’, and invited them round and sat down at the table with them…
Perhaps it wasn’t just about the coffee..
Because I’m feeling quite guilty about the times I’ve invited myself round to see you and all the time I’ve been trying really hard not to think about all the positions that are un-filled in the church and how we’ve only got one person under 50 on the PCC, and how you might be just the person I’m looking for x,y, or even z job that really needs covering (PCC Secretary, Electoral Roll Officer, Safeguarding, Data Controller: you name it, we’ll think of it).
And it just occurred to me this week that it is pretty nigh impossible simply to have NO AGENDA when you’re running a church. All the time parish priests, if they’re anything like me, are thinking ‘who can I get to do so-and-so job?’ ‘Who, if anyone, answers the demanding criteria of not being too busy already to take on something else?’
The answer, in most churches (and probably all voluntary organisations) is NOT MANY.
If only I could be like Jesus, simply hanging around with people, with no list of things that need doing/requests that need putting forward in the hope someone might say yes, I’ll do it. And all the time, trying to prevent the people who always say yes, and for whom it would be a bad idea to say yes again, from saying yes again.
Because, you know, their families might like them very much TO SAY NO.
I know this because when my mum, well into her seventies, decided to give up editing the parish magazine for her church, a job she had been doing faithfully for A VERY LONG TIME, all her children said ‘good for you – don’t feel guilty. Give it up. NOW.’
But I bet her minister wasn’t thinking that.
I used to have a wonderfully simple theology – God will provide. Then, the first time I couldn’t get anyone to fill a post that was quite important, I nuanced this into ‘God often provides’, which, being dangerously close to ‘God only sometimes provides’, soon began to feel more theologically challenging. Sooner or later, I was going to end up with something akin to ‘it honestly appears that God couldn’t care less…’
We’re in the dangerous territory of divine priorities and unanswered prayer here.
E.g. I’ve been praying for a couple in their 40s/50s to join our church for about 3 years now….. I’ve regrettably had to conclude I’m praying for a thing only I particularly want, and God may have a different agenda. Totally different, probably.
My God will provide theology has now morphed into ‘I have no idea why God seems to be less concerned about the things I think are terribly important’, or, in my more tetchy moments, ‘why is it He cannot seem to get with the programme?’
So when you next get an email from me, saying it would be nice to meet up, you can do one of two things.
You can think ‘my parish priest doesn’t care about me as a person, they just want me to do a job, and I’m maxed out in my life already, so that’ll be awkward – better not invite them over’.
Or you can take pity on me and realise that although I have an agenda, I’m trying really hard to ditch it, or at least hold it much more lightly, so that I have the time and space to enjoy our coffee together and enjoy your wonderful company. And listen more closely to God’s agenda.
Because I do genuinely prefer people to tasks. Honest.
(P.S. would you like to be the new PCC Secretary?)