March 2018

A Vicar’s Life?

Well, as I am writing this, there is one episode to go, so I might be tempting providence, but what began as a palpable sense of relief has transmogrified into a more positive feeling of delight that it has presented the clergy in a very favourable light. After all, it could have been glib and it could have been sneering, and it hasn’t been. And if you want an indication of the response to it, the advertisement for the Rural Pioneer/Borderlink post was put on the Diocesan website on a Wednesday, and by the Saturday 5% of stipendiary clergy in the Church of England had clicked for details: that, in any case, is what the Archdeacon tells me, and Archdeacons do not lie!

Of course, quite apart from any editorial line it may choose to take, any television series on this sort of subject is going to be affected by at least three considerations.

First of all, it is going to have to be engaging to watch. As many of you are aware, we did a survey a while back about how clergy spent their time, and the result came back that we spent about 40% of our time doing administration of one form or another, but the BBC - wisely - decided that having two parts of a six-part series showing clergy sat in front of computers might not do much for audience figures (which, the last time I was told, were about 1.4 million for the Friday evening broadcast).

Secondly, they are going to want stories that preferably have a beginning, a middle and an end, and in church life, there were never going to be all that many fitting comfortably into the six-month period of filming. So, for instance, the story of the bells restoration at Michaelchurch Escley failed to make the cut as the bells were not in by Christmas (or, indeed, by now).

Thirdly, and possibly most insidiously, any series about a Vicar’s life is going to be angled by preconceptions (or misconceptions) about what a Vicar’s life actually is like. And television does have some pretty weird ideas on that front. If you spend your time watching Midsomer Murders or Miss Marple or Morse or anything like that - and I am sure that you don’t - you will soon get the idea that, if you want to find a Vicar on any day at any time, then he - and it usually is ‘he’ - will be in his church, wearing a cassock, and surrounded by candles, all of which will be lit. And,as we know, life ain’t like that. I had something of a battle with the BBC throughout the filming about their view that I should at all times, and in all places be wearing a dog collar. And then there was their view that the life of clergy is centred on church buildings. (I feel that that idea did somewhat permeate the series). When we were snowed in two weeks before Christmas, the first question the BBC asked me was ‘Are your churches all right?’ and they seemed surprised when I told them I was much more interested in whether people were all right.

And that is because a Vicar’s life is ultimately about relationships. It is about relationships with the people whom the Vicar is privileged to serve as well as with institutions and organisations in his or her province. It is about relationships with Christ: about the Vicar’s relationship and helping others to build up their relationship. 

The whole of Christian faith is centred on relationships - the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, a relationship into which we are called on to join. A Vicar’s life is all about relationships and building them up. It might not have the beginning, middle and end of what makes a good storyline, for it does not have an end: it is a glorious never-ending process which changes and develops as life and society changes and develops, and it is so much more wonderful to be a part of that than it is even to have been part of a happy television series.