A month as a Vicar

So, my licensing on Zoom happened just over four weeks ago and I thought I’d check in to say how it’s all going.

The licensing service itself, although weird because it wasn’t in church, was lovely. At Nathan’s, there were just 9 screens, and I had wanted to keep mine quite small too. In the end though, there was more like 45 of us there, which was great, although not what I had imagined.

As soon as the service was over, I was so energised. At both of my ordinations, I felt a marked change within me, but I didn’t get that feeling this time. Instead, I felt pumped and like I wanted to go for a run (!). I was so excited and utterly delighted, but there was definitely a big dollop of fear thrown in there too.

Here is a selection of the things that I’ve done so far: Food Bank and Food Pantry, a funeral, two memorial services, Standing Committee, chatted on doorsteps, delivered puzzle books, learned some of the street names in the parish and I have spent many, many hours filming.

In church during my first week

I’ve quickly realised that starting a new ministry in the current climate has it’s opportunities and also it’s drawbacks. On one hand, there is no rule book or template for what to do. With most people in the congregation isolating and no church services happening at the moment, it’s a good chance for people to have a bit of a rest and think about how the church could grow once lockdown is over.

But at the same time, it’s really quite overwhelming. I can’t visit people properly, I can’t get a feel for what worship is like and ploughing through all of the ever changing guidance alongside filling out the necessary paperwork is a challenge. Trying to visualise what worship will be like with some restrictions in place is almost impossible because I’ve never been to a ‘normal’ service in this church.

All this is quite a lot for me to take, when I’ve been physically tired from the house move and at the same time, my brain was taking it slow because of furlough. One Saturday morning while climbing into a big bubble bath after a long sleep, I had the loud and alarming thought: ‘don’t relax too much! You have the cure of souls for eleven and a half thousand people! DON’T FORGET THAT!’. This incident was a very clear reminder to set an alarm to practise mindfulness every day.

Anyway, I did start to feel a bit more at home when I let myself into church one afternoon and had a big sing and a pray. I sang and prayed over the seats in church which I used to symbolise the members of the church. I stood and faced the walls, picturing the world outside, praying for the parish, and our place in it. I knelt at the altar and once again offered my life and ministry to God. It was a powerful half an hour, and I am always reminded to ‘watch and pray’ from the words carved at the main entrance to church.

‘watch and pray’ at the front of the church building

So, my favourite part of the week at the moment is Food Bank. I love chatting to people and making them feel welcome in the church. I work as part of a team to get people the help they need. There is a good system in place, where as well as a couple of bags of tins, people can get bread, veg, baby food, nappies, ladies products, soap, washing powder, cleaning products, deodorant, shampoo, razors, shaving foam, toothpaste, toothbrushes and different extra bits like chocolate, ketchup, crackers, sugar and coffee.

Fruit and veg bags – only given out during lockdown

One thing that I’m working hard on is the weekly online service. Even when they only last 15-20 minutes, videos take a lot of editing! I would say that the service this week took at least six hours to edit. As I try to clock off early Friday afternoon, it means that all recording needs to be finished by Thursday lunch time. This is really unusual, because normally, sermon prep tends to happen towards the end of the week, but at the minute I’m getting sermons written and polished by Wednesday.

Service recording is the easy bit really, and it is so much simpler since we purchased a tripod. I just wish we had got it at he beginning of lockdown – it would have made things so much easier!

Behind the camera at St Giles. Check out Nathan’s slippers!

There is one final thing I need to mention because it’s been a big theme over the past month: I miss Formby so much. I miss the people, I miss knowing where things are, I miss the banter and company of people I know well. I miss feeling confident and knowing what I’m doing. I miss Mark. I will be honest: it is making me really sad.

Leaving in this way has been hard. The last service I took in Formby was before I even knew I was going to be interviewed for this job. Furlough and the following house move meant that I didn’t get to wind down, I just stopped and disappeared. There were good reasons for taking furlough and moving house, but I am paying the price for those decisions now. I know that eventually I will have a leaving service in Formby, but the way things are going, that could still be many months off.

But, overall, despite the circumstances, I’d say that it’s going okay. It’s hard work and weird in a lot of ways. But the members of the congregation have been really welcoming, and I can’t wait to get to know them better. When I’ve felt sad, overwhelmed or frustrated, I remember that feeling of call I first felt when I read the profile. I also remember singing in the church and feeling as if I belonged. And I remember one church member who saw me walking down her drive, flung the door open and said ‘You’re Poppy! Welcome! It’s so good to meet you!

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