The joys and challenges of priesthood
Baptism of fire
A frustrated priest, having taken up his very first parish as incumbent, returns from his opening Church Council with every one of his suggestions for church growth rejected.
Kneeling at his bedside that night he pleads, “Lord, why do you persecute me so?”
And the good Lord answers, “Persecution, my son? Wait till you ask them to increase their giving.”
As priests we are constantly being tested with new challenges. Some priests find these challenges impossible and resign whilst a few just sail through their ministry. Most, I would suggest, find their role hard but, with God’s help, rewarding.
There are many reasons why priests resign their placement. It might be a lack of support from parishioners, confrontational Church Councils or even a loss of faith.
But most priests, whilst at times frustrated by the church, realise that they are called by God to their vocation. They seek God’s direction and share their calling, whilst encouraging others to develop their ministry into a church family.
The perks of priesthood
A priest prays for God’s direction before attending an interview for his last parish before retirement. “Good Lord, make this parish the best ever.”
And God answers,“My son, all of your experience within challenging parishes would be wasted if you finally served in one that was harmonious. Your efforts will be rewarded in Heaven.”
But there are plenty of rewards to enjoy beforehand too, I believe. For me, the most fulfilling part of ministry was being involved in a church where everyone worked together for the good of the community.
I experienced this joyful fulfilment on a day to day basis and I was rewarded further still by my congregation’s recognition of my own efforts.
An example of this was a letter I received from a family who had recently lost their father.
They told me that the funeral service I conducted was full of compassion and empathy and that they now understood that God was with them in both the good and bad times.
Spread the good word
Priests are truly a mixed bunch. Some are gifted academically, others are blessed pastorally. Some are highly motivated and proactive, others are not. Some priests love silence, while others are very chatty.
But whatever our own traits may be, we all face the same challenges and must use what strengths we have to overcome them.
I felt I was knocked out of my comfort zone when visiting those who had been through a great tragedy or hardship.
I’ve known parents whose child or baby has died and I’ve struggled to explain to them how God is sharing the journey with them. Quite understandably, all they can focus on is the fact that they have been robbed of a child.
It is at times like these when our parishioners’ faith is tested the most and the pressure is on us to spread God’s word that he is there for them.
A young curate in his first week of placement prays to his Lord, “Good Lord as I walk round this parish may everybody engage me in conversation when they see how proud I am of wearing my clerical collar?”
God replies, “My son, when you are a little wiser and older you may be glad to take it off and enjoy a little silence.”
People certainly do see you very differently when you become a priest and expectations are often great.
A church in financial straits may expect you to be a financial wizard. Meanwhile one with a crumbling building may expect you to be the architect who can suddenly wave a wand to successful renovation.
But whilst you may not be capable of achieving these things, you can use your position to offer leadership, direct worship and bring people to God.
Above all you can be the one who cares for each member of the community pastorally, offer them wise counsel, and explain theology in the simplest terms to create a wider understanding.
This great calling allows you to be present at key moments in peoples’ lives including the great privilege of leading them to heaven.
Growing with God
A retired priest prays to God, “Good Lord, why in all my time in parish did I feel so inadequate to deal with the problems I faced?”
And God replies, “My son, you were never expected to carry other peoples’ problems alone. You were so busy trying to sort things out yourself you forgot I was there to help you. So in retirement let’s spend time together and enjoy your life.”
Sadly, priests are often so worn out in their ministry that they sometimes fail to allow God to grow them. The priesthood is a calling from God so we should turn to him for guidance, renewal, direction and clarity in his intentions for us.
God sometimes appears to grow the most unlikely of candidates, such as the ordinand who could only hesitantly string a few words of liturgy together but later becomes a Bishop.
But in general priests serve through experience and learning from mistakes. They are supported throughout by their family and fellow clergy, and with the grace of God, they grow.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His Bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.