As a non-stipendiary assistant, I find myself in demand to cover various vacancies and absences in the Diocese, and will have been away from my own church most of the summer. Mostly I enjoy this. There is the freshness of new experiences, different environments and worship styles, and one always gets a warm welcome from congregations who are very appreciative of the opportunity to have the Eucharist, which otherwise they might have to forgo.
And yet, doubts are beginning to arise. Am I becoming a ‘Mass priest’, parachuted in at short notice to do the stuff that others are not licensed to do? It’s true that I’m developing a rapport with congregations I have visited more than once, but I miss the deep continuous immersion in community that one gets from being in the same place relating to the same people over time, the empathetic awareness of who is troubled, who is at odds with whom, who is displaying gifts which have potential for the building-up of the fellowship of faith.
Over and above my own personal anxieties, however, there are urgent questions for the whole Church about future patterns of ministry and worship. Is it realistic to assume, as our recruitment and training practices and our territorial organisation seem to assume, that the traditional model of a congregation led by someone in presbyteral orders is going to continue indefinitely? And if not, how soon are we going to get to work on evolving alternative patterns of congregational life?