Monday 5 December 2011

No to Me as Possible Rev (Part 2)

I've since had feedback as to why I was not going to be interviewed for training for Unitarian Ministry. There were two main connected reasons:

  • First was the doubt that I can relate to other people who are not as intellectually gifted as me.
  • Second was a question of character that I can relate to individuals in the social settings or contexts of ministry.

As for people being thoroughly Unitarian or not, or reliable or not, the demand for five years ministry or repay the training is a response to the realisation that ministers come and go. Of course I was looking at the criteria and how someone would be more valued as a potential minister, which was clearly about people involved in the denomination at many levels: the more levels the better.

So in the end it comes down to what I've heard before: that I only relate to people at my level. I'll have to let my longstanding friends know this, one of whom achieved A levels and another a degree, and indeed none of my larger circle of friends achieved my level or number of degrees.

More important, and to the point, and thus I see the two reasons as one, really, is of my character in being unable to relate to individuals in the social setting of ministry. One clear example is in taking services, where the content of what I preach leaves people struggling to keep up. Other settings are pastoral, and also (though not explicitly stated) representing the denomination outside.

Presumably the character thing is that although I could take services to relate to people, presumably I ignore them enough not to do so. I mean, it's not as if I chat to only some people after a service. I ask about people and talk to who is there - after all, there aren't enough of them to be selective.

The music I do also has a lot of thought put into it, but it isn't only for the thoughtful. I also respond to all kinds of criticisms. OK, so I don't think I should model my music provision on Classic FM, as I prefer a wider canvas and sometimes music that is different. Perhaps Unitarianism is a kind of Classic FM whereas once it was BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4.

If people, say, looked at my liturgical services so far, they'd see that these do relate directly to means of spirituality far beyond intellectual people. It might take an intellectual to produce them, in the sense of learning about liturgy and spirituality, but they reach out to a movement where the last liturgical book was Orders of Worship in 1932 and then a little effort in Sheffield.

This character thing is the view from a long time back that I am somehow aloof and out of touch with the ordinary person. I made the point that none of this is new, as it was said over twenty years ago, and as for not being interviewed "on this occasion" this judgement was made about me 22 years ago when I started training for ministry and which went wrong in year one as I didn't bend enough to give to highly local liberal Christian congregations what they expected. Then I was surprised that the spirit of freedom, reason and tolerance, didn't extend to the reality of freedom of thought I'd learnt was the defining identity of Unitarianism. My view was a hope that many of these congregations had moved on, and even if they have the view of me as remote or aloof has not changed.

The judgement - and it is agreed that it is a judgement - is based on an image of me, and an image of Unitarians as they now are, and the roles available to ministers in this denomination. The judgement of me is simply too one sided. The judgement of the movement seems to be that it is not intellectual, and that it is fundamentally 'ordinary' in contrast and presumably the everyday people like everyday content in their services. The roles in ministry are highly pastoral and limited, and so there is very little place for intellectual input never mind how it is practically exploited.

I've just read a column in a recent The Inquirer by a minister who I think is seen as a perfect fit. He is not long out of training, and his whole approach is about people sharing their life stories with him and what a privilege it is to be alongside them. This is a very valuable ministry for sure, and necessary, and I bet he relates best to what there is, the people in his visiting and those he encounters for rites of passage. But whilst he too is about 'being', this is a very 'doing' understanding of ministry. My view is that the stipend ministry is also about being reflective, about using the intellect available and applying it - applying it to define what you are about, to put into worship materials, to think for others as well as to assist others in thinking. It is about being a person for others. A ministry works better when there are square pegs even among repeating round holes.

Anyway, on this, my decision to apply was in itself a form of closure. This is a movement of, now, small and struggling congregations, and many wondering what it is about. The people wanted to minister are those primarily pastoral and directly pastoral. I have only made actual applications for ministry within the Unitarian denomination: in the Anglicans I've never done it because I have never matched the required belief - asked to choose between Real Absence (acceptable) and non-realism (not acceptable) I chose non-realism. However, I did take (yes a high level) theology group and it was among ordinary people, as far as I could tell, and I did there conduct worship and prayers, and people have always said how refreshing and different they were.

Asked for a list of books on contemporary theology and Unitarianism for this application, I did stop at a hundred, and I've read more than most on Unitarianism despite a struggle to make those contemporary in theology. What is the role for someone who stops at a hundred?

Anglicans do have a wider range of ministries, where I might have fitted better, but I simply could not make those statements of belief I did not share, whereas where I could make and develop beliefs in Unitarianism but where there simply isn't that variety of ministry available any more. Perhaps I was born a hundred and fifty years too late for this group, when I would have fitted what that Unitarianism then valued.


Anonymous said...

I can imagine what this sort of accusation feels like! But if it was being made 20 years ago, perhaps you should've had a handy rebuttal this time...

There are many different types of 'ordinary' people. You don't need a degree to be interested in high level theological discussion or preaching. But will the average elderly lady (?) in a Unitarian congregation find that meaningful to her?

I've read that introverts are overrepresented in the clergy, and of course, mainstream historical denominations often only allow highly educated people into the ministry. From a sociological point of view, this can create a lack of mutual understanding between priest and people. Commitment to pastoral work is used to bridge the gap, but if you can't convince college tutors that you have the necessary pastoral skills, then that must present a considerable problem.

Maybe you should've been better at playing the game; developing your CV on the pastoral side, giving congregations and college tutors what they think they want, yet also quietly working on your intellectual interests as an 'extracurricular' activity, involving smaller groups of people who are interested in that sort of thing.

This is what the Anglican and Methodist clergy seem to do. Mind you, I do think Methodist preachers often underestimate their congregations. But maybe that thought says more about me than it does about them. If these preachers appeal to their demographic, and I'm not in that demographic, then that's my problem, not theirs!

On the other hand, if (prospective) preachers/clergy think they have a new, 'square peg' way of doing things that'll bring renewal to the church, I imagine that most congregations and college tutors will need a lot of convincing.

I hope you manage to find a way of being of service to spiritual communities in a way that suits your skills and interests.

Rev R Marszalek said...

It is a loss to them and a shame that they could not recognise the gift that your intellectual approach could have been. If there were unitarian chaplaincies to universities this might have been an option - I do not know if such things exist but I know that intellectual Anglican clergy often find a university campus a stimulating place to minister to.

Keep thinking and praying. Your readers will, I am sure.

Anonymous said...

You sound awfully arrogant. Could that have had anything to do with your rejection? By the way, have you ever held a job?

Brian said...

Adrian, I am sorry. I know that this is painful for you. I too have been a victim of my intellect for most of my life. I was always told that it would take me far in life. Not quite true. People constantly tell me that I’m the smartest person they’ve ever met but I don’t get any working benefit from it because I’m told it “intimidates” people.

Most of my former lovers have told me that they felt insecure of my intellect and my insights and so they left. It is not a meritocracy we live in these days and high intellect is a liability more often than not. Sad commentary on the state of human culture at this point in time, I think.

I think that the church is destroying itself from within with ever-increasing hurdles required of anyone who wishes to serve or who feels called to serve. When I think of all the stellar people I know, like you, MP, Margaret, Padre Mickey, etc. who are left unemployed by the church I become dizzy with anger and confusion.

Your blog is a light in darkness and I have learned much from you. May you continue to seek and to know and to share.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm not a person who goes around telling people I am intellectual. I have others who tell me that I am intellectual. They are the ones who then say it does not fit and also that I lack other skills. I will maintain that my pastoral side was never tested during my year 1989-90 at UCM, it was simply a question that I did not fit.

As for difficulties with the education system and a job, see my CV. It is all public. The answer about holding down a job is probably not.

Thanks Rachel. There are chaplaincies but they are add-ons to existing ministries and they don't come paid by colleges/ universities and on their own. They are really to relate to Unitarian identifying students who attend an institution, and are then likely to come to that chapel. There isn't an SCM or equivalent.

I'm just not very good at playing games. I could have made a much bigger effort at fitting an institution. The problem has been that I just could not do it. Arrogant or otherwise, I couldn't do it. When the Anglican curate made her promises, I realised I could not make those promises. The later on "don't know" to the negative is because a 'yes' is expected, and my approach is to say yes to what I believe and no to what I don't, regardless of the sophisticated resources open to use.

That's a good point Brian. I don't think I've lost my woman due to intellect - she has plenty of her own - but I can imagine that happening as well for some. Gosh, at least I have been spared that. Perhaps she knew me better. I'm so soft and undemanding that we remain friends desite the geographical distance and the effective end of the marriage.

laBiscuitnapper said...

First was the doubt that I can relate to other people who are not as intellectually gifted as me.

I find that interesting. I can at least relate to what you write and I don't have a philosophical/theological mind at all. I couldn't say I understand everything immediately, but it sticks and then I'll read something else or have a particular experience and shock, horror, it makes a sort of sense!

Well. More fool they.