ONLY PERSONALLY AMBITIOUS PEOPLE NEED APPLY

I have attended quite a few interviews now trying to get a job as a parish priest. One question I am always asked at some point during my grilling is, "Why have I been in an assistant role for 14 out of my 16 years as an ordained minister?"

The answer to this question has much to do with management not believing that a person who has suffered from depression in the past can be trusted in a leadership position. But it is also down to the fact that I never felt compelled to alter the situation. I just don't need to be in charge. I don't regard myself as a failure because I am not the boss. I never feel that I simply must get a job as the person in a parish that makes the decisions. Even now, as I actively search for work, I don't pay any more attention to adverts for leaders than I do to adverts for any other type of post. However, this is obviously seen as unnatural and highly suspect by most people in the Church.

I was asked this question at a recent interview and I explained that it just didn't bother me. One of the parish representatives responded by saying that when she was just employed as a doctor she dreamt of the day that she would be running her own general practice. I said that being a doctor and being a priest were two different things and that it was the role of a priest to be a servant and not crave for promotion and the rewards that go with it. But nobody was convinced.

What this says about the understanding of the laity and much of the clergy of my church of the nature of priesthood is quite scary in my opinion, and incredibly depressing. Also, it shows an almost total ignorance of the main teachings of Jesus Christ or, if not, a deliberate decision to ignore those teachings.

A hundred and fifty years ago being an assistant or a perpetual curate was not seen as failure and those the Church most reveres as examples of Christlike living are almost always servers rather than leaders. When you read the hagiographies of episcopal and papal saints there is always an emphasis on how they served and cared for the "ordinary" people in their care. I expect that these claims are untrue in many cases but they have to be made in order to validate the sanctification. So why, if servanthood is the mark of true Christianity, is it regarded as an indication of incompetence and laziness by so many in our church today?

I fear the priesthood is being recreated in the image of the secular, capitalist zeitgeist of our times and that most of the clergy are embracing it as wholeheartedly as a young stockbroker dreaming of his first Porsche with the full backing of their congregations who do not want to be embarrassed every Sunday morning by the presence of a priest who just doesn't give a damn about worldly prestige and preferment.

Comments

ONLY PERSONALLY AMBITIOUS PEOPLE NEED APPLY — 74 Comments

  1. Indeed, isn’t half the point of the Church of England that we need people at all levels? Going through the discernment process they have put great emphasis on knowing your specific calling, eg: to the diaconate or the laity as opposed to just ordained ministry. I would have thought that ‘knowing your place’, as it were would be a bonus?
    hang in there, the right place will come up…
    redx

  2. Joe is almost exactly like you. He doesn’t need to be the boss on a job. Just give him a chance to do the job that needs doing, pay him a living wage to do it, toss in some decent benefits like health care and pension/401k, and he’s happy. That’s all he asks.

  3. MP, I am starting from the premise while discernment goes on that both age and NSM will mean that being an Assistant Priest (or Associate as they like to style them nowadays) is all that I will ever achieve – I would be content, with whatever portion is allotted.

    I spent 47 years in the Services, the last 12 in senior positions, with more responsibility for people and their lives then I would care to have now.

    That type of responsibility differs completely from the Servant nature of Ordained Ministry, which is where I feel called to be.

  4. What gets my goat is that they assume that just because people like Joe and me don’t need to be the boss, we are unable to take leadership positions and make decisions when we find ourselves in situations where doing so is necessary.

    If I’m ever under enemy fire in a foxhole with Joe, I will be more than happy to trust in his leadership skills.

  5. Certainly being in the armed forces is a lot less dangerous an occupation than being a parish priest, UKV. I think your years of service will serve you well in parish ministry although you may well end up looking back with nostalgia to those easy, carefree days when all you had to face each day was the possibility of an all out nuclear war, which believe me, is a lot less scary a prospect than having to face an irate choir director 🙂

  6. Yeah, I almost went to seminary until I found out I probably never would get to be Pope…so I joined the Navy instead.

  7. I just don’t need to be in charge. I don’t regard myself as a failure because I am not the boss.

    I understand, because I felt the same. I ended up being the boss of a small number of people in two jobs, but I was lucky that I had good people working for me, and I mostly let them do their jobs without interference.

    I never was ambitious or desirous of climbing the career ladder. I did not seek out the two positions I mentioned. They fell my way. These days, people find it quite difficult to understand that not everyone wants to be a boss.

  8. True. But I didn’t NEED to be. In fact, I remember I had to have my arm twisted to take on the task and I did so, very much, against my better judgement. But when I accept a challenge I rise to it and there was the added bonus of the automatic canonisation which came with putting up with you two ladies for 10 days.

  9. Well posted MP. I’ve been doing the same job now that I have been for the last 16 years. Sure I could have stuck my nose in the corporate trough but I didn’t really have any desire. I could think of nothing worse than being in a job that you don’t want to be in just because it’s expected of you.

    Unfortunately in corporate land it’s expected. Unfortunately it seems the church is going the same way.

  10. I remember I had to have my arm twisted to take on the task and I did so, very much, against my better judgement.

    That’s not the way I remember, but I won’t quarrel with you over our differing memories. I don’t want to have to pull out my Frank Sinatra quote.

  11. re: saints — most of them got killed for their service or were sidelined during their lifetimes — only recognized when long gone. Jus’ sayin’

  12. I’m fairly sure that one of the long lost books of the New Testament is the one where Jesus runs for Governor, eventually leading Him to the personal glory of a quest to become Emperor. If only that book had been included, we could do away with those pesky foot washing services during Lent.

  13. Why the things we honor in the faith are absent in the day-to-day, I shall never understand. If I were a character in a church-based comic strip, I would forever have a “?” in my thought bubble.

  14. I wanted to be in charge until I was and in a few years my perspective shifted. Happy not to be now.

    You are, alas, correct about what Christ calls us to vs. what ecclesial society expects of us.

    That you and Mimi got along for ten days should suffice to canonize you both. Saints or not, I am rather fond of you two. The true saints are Mrs MP and GP, to whom numerous miracles are no doubt already attributed.

  15. Actually, Paul, both Mimi and myself are living saints for putting up with that Australian woman for ten days. I mean, both Mimi and myself are cultured and respectable people, we have table manners and the like. Putting up with what an Aussie regards as acceptable behaviour in public really stretched our natural tolerance towards those from developing countries to the extreme.

  16. Some good things have been happening where I hang my biretta. At the Annual Meeting, a parishioner asked to speak and started giving me the credit for that.

    I’m not falsely humble. I can admit that I’ve had a role to play in what’s been happening. But I also firmly believe what I said in response.

    “Part of my secret is I try to stay out of the way.”

    Real leaders (who aren’t necessarily the people in formal leadership positions) know when to lead and when to get out of the way – and the latter is more common and more important than the former.

    MP, have you explored the possibility of a non-traditional kind of ministry with people who have been affected by depression and other types of mental illness?

  17. The true saints are Mrs MP and GP, to whom numerous miracles are no doubt already attributed.

    Paul! I resent that…I think.

    …both Mimi and myself are living saints for putting up with that Australian woman for ten days.

    Ah no, MadPriest. Cathy was lovely and more civilized than either you or me.

  18. The tablets aren’t helping then. Quite honestly, with brain cells I thinks it’s a case of when they’ve gone, they’ve gone.

  19. The brain cells that I have left are telling me that I will have to quote Frank Sinatra before this thread is over.

    Please, please, may I? You don’t have to take them personally.

  20. “re: saints — most of them got killed for their service or were sidelined during their lifetimes — only recognized when long gone.” (Ann)

    Yeh, people who are canonized as saints are effectively kicked upstairs where we can adore but where it’s very clear they are so wonderful that no one else could possibly do what they did so we don’t have to emulate them. Francis of Assisi comes to mind.

  21. They’re not the words of Frank Sinatra. They’re from the warped mind of a whinging Scotsman. That you should want to associate yourself with the ramblings of a race that suffers from a case of communal martyr syndrome, does not surprise me. You being American and all that.

  22. Both Mimi and myself are cultured and respectable people

    Well you could have fooled me. The fact that my conduct throughout was impeccable is all the more remarkable given that I was dealing with two such debased reprobates.

    Meanwhile, I am amazed that either of you remember that we went to Scotland at all given your heavy consumption of single malt. Just sayin’.

  23. Well you could have fooled me.

    Well, you were the one who bought Edinburgh Castle off that old guy in that pub and got all excited because you had knocked the price down to just £50.

  24. I can relate.

    In “the New Economy”, EVERY worker is supposed to be/try to be an entrepreneur.

    But I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

  25. Well I never told you this Mad Priest, but I am now living in Edinburgh Castle. It’s draughty, I have to say. And there are tourists traipsing through my bedroom every day, which isn’t so nice. I could do without the bagpipes every five seconds too. But it was a bargain for £50.

  26. While it wouldn’t be easy, have you considered putting together a proposal to create such a chaplaincy and seeking possible funding?

  27. In England all mental health services have chaplains but they are spread much thinner than ordinary hospital chaplains. It’s a matter of waiting for a post to become vacant.

  28. No, it was a perfect riposte. If I had come back at you it would have just been a “same to you with knobs on” sort of reply. So, like a good chess player who can see checkmate coming I conceded defeat.

  29. Mad One, are you sure you haven’t got a temperature? …

    Oh all right, thank you. You’re very kind.

    In the meantime, I haven’t got a temperature, but I have got a really weird cold. In addition to all of the usual symptoms it has given me sharp, nagging pain and nasty pressure first in the left ear (yesterday), then in the right (today). Now when I whistle I can hear two separate notes at the same time, one a semitone higher than the other, and everyone on the telly has got two voices, like bad lipsyncing. Prayers please? …

  30. it has given me sharp, nagging pain and nasty pressure first in the left ear (yesterday), then in the right (today)

    Oh dear, you seem to have gone down with a bad case of Grandmère Mimi.

  31. Cathy, your illness sounds dreadful, but it’s surely not a case of me.

    MadPriest, you are not a nice man.

    I’ll fecking destroy you. Do you hear me? I’ll put my fecking hand through your fecking chest and pull out your fecking liver, you fecking limey schmuck.

    Except Sinatra left in the letter u.

    You can’t tell me you didn’t ask for it, and you knew I was gonna say it sometime. Might as well get it done.

  32. If I’m ever under enemy fire in a foxhole with Joe, I will be more than happy to trust in his leadership skills.

    He appreciates, quite sincerely, the vote of confidence. 🙂

  33. Mad One, there’s a lot of people who wish they were suffering from milakunis 🙂

    Mimi, when you can make a lot of noise in two separate voices? … 🙁 Shame it’s just me ears.

  34. Mimi, you know who Mila Kunis is – she the actress who played the sexxxxxxy doppelganger in Black Swan – so if anyone could have two simultaneous orgasms, she could.

  35. If I may also add this: when he worked with me at FDC, he often looked at the way certain departments were managed and he’d shake his head and mutter “they’d really hate me if *I* was running that department.”

    He, unlike at least one manager at FDC (thankfully not mine), is not there to win popularity contests and score brownie points with his employees. He’s got a job to do, and while he’ll certainly be quite jolly and friendly while working, he’s still always “mission focused.”

    And he’s developing a reputation in the union as being a damn hard worker with the strength of an ox on steroids…or, as one guy put it, “dude, you’re a freakin’ BEAST!” LOL

  36. I’ve had Mongolian food and it was so spicy it made tears run down my face but it didn’t make me moan in two different pitches.

  37. Mad One, I would look up your Wiki reference, but if they can really moan in two different pitches, I will currently hear four of them, which is a bit too freaky for me right now.

  38. Just getting to this a bit late but its funny isn’t it what people can see and can’t see and what they “want.

    If they are looking for leadership can they not see that you have been at the forefront of the international christian blogging scene and that you have been one of the leaders of this movement for many years now?

    And if you were to be appointed to their church and you were to develop a successful ministry, would they then want you to spurn them while you pushed yourself up to the next level, to the next best church?

    You could say when you are questioned along these lines, “I’m sorry I haven’t been so ambitious up to this point but I will promise you I will step on your head once I am successful, madam.”

  39. I fear the priesthood is being recreated in the image of the secular, capitalist zeitgeist of our times and that most of the clergy are embracing it as wholeheartedly as a young stockbroker dreaming of his first Porsche . . .

    Um . . . yeah!

    The only thing they’ll be more “wholehearted” about is assuring you they have no ambitions, as though little cash means that you’re spiritually-oriented or that you are less in the dull, plodding, professionally-acquisitive mold of the branch manager.

    This is the thing I’ve been saying about priests in the U. S. for years – what I mean when I say they want “good company men.”

    The priesthood has become about as transcendent and spiritually-and-philosophically literate as your average H and R Block office.

  40. The Canadian Inuit also do a form of throat singing

    Yes. Which probably means the vocal technique predates the Mongolian settlement of Alaska.

  41. Hmmm…I remember someone saying recently that there’s only one Priest, our Great High Priest, and that we all take part in his priesthood. Didn’t He say something about the greatest in the Kingdom must be a servant? A little review of the gospels may be in order for those who have forgotten this.

  42. make that, “…being a servant?”

    I was so upset I made a grammatical error. Time to have another Diet Coke and a short toes-up.

  43. Dear MP,

    Stick to your guns, as they say!

    It seems that secular concepts have seeped into the Church.

    Just on Saturday, my Diocese held a workshop where there was unabashed talk about ‘marketing’ the Church.

    Even if I had strong reservations and apprehensions about that not being very ‘churchlike language’, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I though it was going to be.

    Nevertheless, it seems we ‘must’ use certain secular approaches…

    Again: ‘stick to your guns’!

    With much love,

    Andy Baby

  44. Here in Lincolnshire, our hospital chaplains (including the “mental health” chaplain) seem to work together as a big team, even though they have separate employers and different responsibilities.

    They are assisted in their roles by a number of volunteer chaplains (who seem mainly to be retired people, both lay and ordained).

    I don’t know if similar arrangements exist in your part of the country. However, if they do, might I respectfully suggest that an applicant for a chaplaincy role who has recent experience (albeit part-time and voluntary) of similar work, backed-up by a suitable reference, would have an advantage over other candidates?