Monsignor Burnham made a remark on social media last week to the effect that serving as priest to a small community can be more pleasurable than serving the more impressive and sought after positions within the ecclesial realm. He should know, I guess, having formerly served as a bishop within the Church of England.
What then are the advantages and joys for clergy serving smaller congregations? Here are my top five gleaned from personal experience.
1. A sense of community. When you have hundreds through the door on a Sunday morning it is impossible for people to bond effectively. But in smaller congregations people know one another well and that feeling of family grows strong.
2. Liberation from worldly temptation. When I read of dire corruption in the Vatican or overly ambitious clergy playing political games I am grateful fate led me to a little place. Perhaps it saved me from myself? In small churches there is no money worth compromising a vocation for, no serious political games to win. With personal ambition thus frustrated, as it is within a fledgling Ordinariate, focus turns solely to Christ. A manifestly good thing for the soul.
3. Liberation from reprisal of bullies. It is sad to say but many priests today fear speaking out for the Gospel for fear of being hounded out by belligerent laity or vengeful prelates. Others fear loss of that little brown envelope. Not those already on the fringes. Again we can focus on Christ in a way that is good for the conscience.
4. Scripture teaches us that God likes little places. Jesus did not choose the palace for his birth but a stable. Goliath did not fight for God it was David. Throughout scripture it is in the quiet corners that the Holy Spirit seems most active, the people most receptive to grace. Ours too is a small but sacred place where I detect the quiet presence of God within the sanctuary. It is, therefore, a good place to be.
5. One can plan for the long term. Wherever clergy are ambitious you tend to find a rotating door policy. A priest comes and goes and it can lead to the same short-termism that blights the political realm. Parishes become stepping stones and clergy don’t get time to confront mistakes and learn from them. But for those of us building the first congregations within the Ordinariate setting- we have nowhere to go. This is healthy because it makes us consider the long term consequences of all that we do. We can truly dedicate our lives to the people we serve.
So there you have it. Five reasons to be jolly thankful for village ministry. Let others get embroiled in the power games of this world. I look forward to another delightful Christmas in this little place.