“Fourteen parishes,” she told me that afternoon, noting that my jaw just about dropped. “Yes, I’m the Team Vicar of fourteen parishes.”
“Wow, that makes the two churches I serve as part of one parish, and the third as priest-in-charge kind of pale in comparison,” I responded.
My new colleague and I were enjoying lunchtime conversation in the refectory at Sarum College, just across the lawn from Salisbury Cathedral. The site of the former Salisbury & Wells Theological College, Sarum College is very much a working, albeit non-residential seminary. In fact, it’s a remarkable, vibrant center for theological formation and renewal for all orders of ministry! It’s a great place for anyone, including Episcopal priests on sabbatical like me, to spend any time, really. Simple accommodations, great staff, nice meals, a stone’s throw from one of the world’s great Cathedrals, and a dynamic, buzzing place where one can really get a sense of what life is like on the ground in the Church of England.
My seminary was a huge brick building circa 1960 or so. It was originally a seminary for Jesuit priests, and now houses a retirement community and nursing home for Catholic clergy, and functions as a large retreat center for many different groups.
One weekend a month for three years I would ride along as my friend Jan drove down the long, tree-lined drive. We’d park and lug a weekend’s worth of luggage inside, and before we were even in the doors our community would begin to form via shouted greetings in the parking lot and warm hugs in the lobby.
The Academy for Vocational Leadership is an Iona Collaborative school and is made up of many bi-vocational students and staff. On these long weekends we learned Church History, Systematic Theology, the Bible and literally dozens and dozens of practical courses, everything from music in small churches to Asset-Based Community Development.
It’s okay to start backing off the Zoom live-feed and hybrid worship offerings. I remember the refrain, that we’re going to keep live-streaming until Jesus comes home. But now, as we enter a new phase of the pandemic (but still very much with Covid), I believe our opportunity is to reflect critically on our priorities and approach to community-building, especially double-check our use of technology and the goals we’re pursuing as the Body of Christ.
So here are some starter invitations, or questions as we find ourselves at the dawn of a new phase of the pandemic, still walking with Covid (and all those anxieties and opportunities that came along with it):
1. If you’ve got a live-stream team, celebrate them. Your folks who invested in that technology and designed amazing systems have met the future, and they deserve a great celebration. You may wish to ask them about their longer-term plans and thinking. They may have really good ideas about where to go from here. Some may sense it’s time to wrap up the ministry, or their part in helping that ministry. Celebrate them. All of them.
On sabbatical this past spring, I walked to the village of Grantchester from Cambridge. Turns out, Grantchester is very much a real village, not just a lovely PBS series. “Go to the Blue Ball,” the docent at Kings College told me when I asked for directions; “that’s the best pub.” The walk was lovely, and the inn’s hospitality and lunch were spot on.
Walking out into the afternoon sun, I saw on the wall a cartoon drawn of some characters in the village circa 1980-something: there was the barman; and a number of other characters, some in business attire, some in work clothes; and then, near the center, was a balding man in a backwards collar on a black shirt: the vicar.