"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."
Mrs MP and myself have just come back from an interview for a parish priest's job down south. We set out at 5.00 a.m. yesterday because it was a six hour journey. When we got there some lovely people showed us around three beautiful old churches. We went to see one of the most brilliant primary schools I have ever been in, where I chatted to the kids and teachers. I met the rural dean, and fell in love with her on the spot - she obviously really cared for her priests and had a pastor's heart, rather than being just a career person with her eye on the archdeacon's job. Then, in the evening the parish threw a party for us (there were two other applicants). Now, I usually hate these "meet the people" sort of things, it's like you are all performing on X Factor. But this shindig was real fun. I think I got to speak to everybody and they were all wonderful people. I particularly enjoyed speaking with their youth worker who had some brilliant ideas, many of which she had already put into practice. We spoke about how we could take the older kids in the churches along to Greenbelt next year and starting a house group for them (I had a vision of them commandeering one of the many rooms in the Georgian mansion that was the rectory that came with the job).
This morning I attended the formal interview. Now, I have been working very hard on my interview technique recently because, as many of you know, I was pretty crap at them. But today's interview went better than I could have hoped for. I didn't come across as aggressive (which, because of extreme nervousness I have done up to now) and I managed to answer the questions without waffling and backing up my claims with good examples from my work in the past.
We drove the 250 miles home in the worst gale this country has experienced for a long time, which was a bit scary. Almost as soon as I we got through the door, the bishop rang to tell me that I hadn't been chosen. I don't think (though you can never be 100% sure with bishops) that he was sugar coating the pill when he told me that they had been impressed with my pastoral abilities, my vision and commitment to mission. But, I had been rejected because they didn't think I would be a tough enough leader. Evidently, there can be infighting among the congregation due to their high level of, quite often opinionated, intellect. I really wish they had put this in the profile they sent me as I could have told them this up front and not gone all the way for what was always going to be a major and heartbreaking disappointment. I'm a parish priest, a pastor, a preacher of the Good News, not the speaker in the House of Commons or a lion tamer.
One of the other candidates was a man who had come late to the priesthood after a career in law at a high level and no doubt very qualified in telling people what to do. I expect, although I don't know for sure, that he got the job.
In the book on interview technique that I have been studying recently, the author tells the story of an ex-army officer who went for a job in civvy street. He was asked if he had any particular skills, to which he answered, "Yes, I can shoot a man dead at 300 yards."
He got the job. I wonder if similar qualifications are now what are required from prospective parish priests.
Mrs MP and myself will now be homeless for a while, at least, as it is impossible for me to now get an appointment that will start before we have to move out of the church premises we now occupy.
Me and George Herbert are off down the pub now to get pissed and drown our sorrows as there doesn't appear to be a place for either of us nowadays in the Church of England PLC.