Taking a pew - a guide to retirement
Pros and cons
In his book, Rules for Reverends, Jeremy Fletcher suggests that before retiring, priests should consider their future by looking carefully at retired clergy around them.
“Find a happy one, and ask them how they did it. Start planning the same, for you could be retired a long time!”
Those retirees I met who were happy had been permitted to assist the local incumbent in the parish they moved to.
Others effectively served a parish during the interregnum, practiced pastoral visitation or officiated at the occasional offices.
Many more had chosen to worship as a member of a congregation and sit back and enjoy the worship without the responsibility of officiating.
I saw the pros and cons of all of these lifestyles but in the end, I decided to do my own thing.
A priest about to retire and concerned about his finances climbs to the top of Mount Sinai to get close enough to talk to God.
Looking up, he asks the Lord. “God, what does a million years mean to you?” The Lord replies, “just a minute.”
The priest then asks, “And what does a million pounds mean to you?” The Lord replies, “Just one penny.”
So the priest asks, “Can I have one penny then?’ ‘To which the Lord replies, ‘In a minute my blessed son!”
As I approached retirement and whilst I may not have had a million pounds, I hoped I may have more than a minute to come, so I thought, what would make me happy?
I quickly came to the conclusion that I should take advantage of some free weekends and spend more time with Christine and the family.
Then, during the week, when most of our family was tied up with work and other commitments, I would officiate the occasional offices.
Taking my pew
A priest said to a precocious six-year-old boy, “So your mother says your prayers for you each night? That’s very commendable. What does she say?” The little boy replied, “Thank God he’s in bed!
Joking aside, the joy of reconnecting with family is such a pleasure, for prior to retirement we were rarely able to meet up.
Now we can chat together face to face, we can celebrate birthdays together and play games with the grandchildren.
Christine and I also find time to spend together just the two of us, visiting places of interest, eating out and visiting friends.
When we are not visiting the children, we have worshipped in many neighbouring churches and received a great welcome.
When I retired, I told myself that I would not comment or give advice on the running of my old parish or the style of worship offered and I have always stuck to this promise.
However, after one year of retirement we have also occasionally returned to my old parish to worship, and received a great welcome.
One day we shall decide where we are to settle but in the meantime it is a joy and a privilege just to worship with different congregations with such diverse traditions.
The shop window
Throughout the week, I also get the opportunity to officiate at funerals, weddings and baptisms which I find a most rewarding experience.
One vicar I know said that the occasional offices were the shop window of the church.
For the many who rarely enter church, it is a unique occasion to connect with them, and draw them to the Christian message of love and service.
Cynics say that you will never see them in church again. I would say that we touch a new level of understanding that one day, I hope, will lead to commitment.
A vicar is officiating at his daughter’s wedding. As the bride approaches the altar to join her groom she quietly asks her father to lean forward and places a small object in his hand. He beams with pleasure. It is his credit card.
I have found as a priest, that to officiate at one of our children’s marriages, or baptise one of our grandchildren is fantastic. To do it in the same service, as I did, is just triumphant. Although, you could say any marriage in itself is a very special occasion.
It is a wonder to spend time with a couple who are discovering the significance of what it means to be married in church.
Similarly, conducting a baptism and meeting the parents of a young child who appreciate the meaning of the ceremony is surely significant in this secular world.
Leading people to heaven
A priest and his church warden are discussing death, and the church warden asks ‘When you’re in your coffin vicar, and your family and many friends are mourning over you, what would you like them to say about you?”
“Well”, said the priest, “That I was a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man, and without question God will receive me into heaven”.
The priest asked the church warden the same question and he shared his immediate reply with: “I’d like them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’
But in all seriousness, there is one occasional office that brings together Christian understanding of death and importantly life, more than any other, and that’s the funeral.
It is said that the greatest privilege a priest can experience is to lead someone to heaven.
Families are requiring assurance of where their loved ones are now that they have died and wondering if they will meet again.
They ask, ‘are they are in heaven or is this just a false promise?’
A priest is in a unique position to discuss such profound issues, to pray for the family, prepare the service with them and to offer support during a difficult time.
Alongside my commitments to home and the church I often get the chance to talk to groups.
Many people will tell you I have never been lost for words and I’ve always considered this to be a strength of mine. So I thought upon retirement, why not speak to an even wider audience?
Gradually organisations and groups have booked me and passed the word on to others.
The real concern at first was what should I talk about? Theology and counselling seemed over the top so I decided on humour in Church, as I had for years started my sermons with a humorous story.
So first I recalled humorous events I had personally encountered as a priest, then I added others that had been shared with me and developed these narratives into a presentable form.
Like everything else, it’s practice that is the key, ensuring the story is easily understandable and the punch line is clear.
It is a real joy to see folk laughing out loud at my stories then eagerly awaiting the next tale. The success I’ve found is in the stories they can relate to.
So what advice would I give other priests who are considering retirement?
Why not consider what gives pleasure and satisfaction. By all means, listen out for God’s call, but don’t rush at coming to a conclusion.
‘Pray, reflect and develop’ is my motto. Everything may take longer to achieve, but does it matter?
Above all you must focus on enjoying retirement, taking the space left empty by the strains of incumbency and filling this with joyous memories and experiences.
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.