I am about five months in to being Interim Pastor at Grangemouth and Bo’ness, my neighbouring churches. Their rector retired at Harvest time last year and they have been my foster-flock ever since. It is the first time I’ve ever done the job so there has been a bit of learning together along the way. Unfortunately it was only this week that I found the guidelines for the vacancy were lurking on the SEC website all along. Pity nobody told me about them earlier!
It has been lovely to meet some new folk, and to get to know some better. For years I have met the Lay Reps at our Area Council meetings but there are not really chances to get to know one another. I now know who to go to to get the best cupcakes in Grangemouth. (PS I already have my own source in Falkirk of course!) Many moons ago I was rector of Linlithgow and Bathgate, another joint charge, and they were very different churches. My observations so far have led me to believe that this is true of Bo’ness and Grangemouth too. Quite different little churches, each with their own style and character.
The guidelines state that I should be with them about once a month taking the service on Sundays and I have managed to do that so far. I have also chaired all the Vestry meetings because we are still using them to cover some of the preparation for the Congregational Profile. Once we are at the advertising stage perhaps I can take more of a step back. We have also met for longer meetings to go through the process of looking at what kind of new rector they would like. Sadly the weekday services have had to be reduced to monthly and the early morning service done away with all together. This is mostly because it is so hard to get cover for churches outwith Edinburgh. You’d hardly believe it only takes 20 mins to drive out on a Sunday morning. Sometimes we’ve had to have joint services and at other times I’ve had to say “Come to Falkirk if you want!” and some have.
Working on the Congregation Profile has been a very interesting exercise. For a few weeks I encouraged both congregations to write up what kind of priest they would like and then we went through the list together. I imagine it is a bit like doing the profile for online matchmaking – good sense of humour, family man, good communicator, healthy, own teeth (no, that was a joke), good with children, good mediator (blimey! what do they get up to, these Christians?), good preacher, good at visiting – all the sort of stuff you’d expect. Sometimes these lists look as if they really want Jesus as their next priest, or the Archangel Gabriel if JC is not available. They have to be paragons of virtue, these men (and yes, we’ve had that put on the list too!) and prepared to work 100 hours per week by the sounds of things. We do all make unreasonable demands on our rectors.
Of course these little flocks want the best. They want someone who will invest time and love in them. They have high expectations and so they should. So they should dream of the most perfect priest. They are elderly congregations with one or two young people being nurtured and loved as much as they can, but that doesn’t stop them wanting someone young to be their pastor, with energy and liveliness. They want someone who will bring hoards of children and young families into their midst so that their future is guaranteed. Sadly, life is not like that. Clergy don’t usually bring loads of young families into church, nor do they bring in children. The people who already come to church are the ones who do that but they just don’t get that yet. All the statistics I’ve heard on Back to Church Sunday are that people come to church with a friend or family member. Nobody comes because they met a priest. And where is this encounter meant to happen? Are we expecting our clergy to go round the community knocking on doors? When are they going to do that, for heaven’s sake? So my job is to help these little flocks think more realistically about what kind of priest would be good for them. Sadly, sometimes there isn’t even a choice but let’s not go down that road yet!
I have noticed before how liturgy is dictated by the geography of the building. Neither of my foster-clocks have Altar servers so we muddle along keeping an eye out for collections approaching and frantically searching for the big brass plate! At Bo’ness they have only recently pulled the altar out from the wall to make it west-ward facing. Now if someone could just take 6 inches off the width of the altar that would be lovely and I wouldn’t have to take a big deep breath before I squeeze in between the credence table and the altar. It is not a good look! Yet the altar and credence table at Grangemouth and miles apart and you end up running back and forth up and down the step until you’re quite out of breath. The pulpit at Bo’ness is also for a very skinny person so that will have to be taken into account when they do the Person Specification – Clergy of Dress size 10 or Waist 32 need only apply! One great selling point must be the heat in both churches, unless you are menopausal of course! You could worship in a t-shirt all year round here! No need to bring your own hottie.
So there we have it – the interregnum so far. This week I had a meeting with my own little flock and someone said, “It feels as if we are in an interregnum too.” Of course I am not around as much, not there every week to see who’s missing or hear the latest news. That made me sad so I baked a squishy chocolate cake for them to make up for it. Handed the cake tin to one of my little flock and he turned the tin upside down and ruined the lot. Such is ministry! It is eating squidgy choc fudge cake topping from the bottom of a cake tin with a teaspoon. That’s life!