Monthly Archives: July 2011

Spread the load

Too much of the work in our congregations and our movement falls on the same people.

This should come as no surprise – it’s always this way in any volunteer organisation. There’s always more work than people to do it, and once you start becoming known, you get asked to do more and more.

I was talking to a couple of people about this recently. Andy Pakula was a little surprised to see that I’d taken on a new project, given that I had previously told him that I didn’t really want to be over-committed to Unitarian activities. And another friend mentioned that she was trying to stand back from her chapel a bit, and reduce the impact that it had on the rest of her life.

Stacked chairs

by emilio labrador

And you know, it’s often the people who always clear away the tables and chairs that do too much work. Because it’s never anyone’s official job to clear away – so it’s the people that remember who are likely to be the ones who notice other things that need doing. And, it’s an accurate rule of volunteering that if you think something needs doing, you’re probably going to end up doing it yourself.

The ones to emulate though, are those who cajole others into clearing away the tables and chairs. What we want to do is make everyone feel involved. And just because other people haven’t noticed something needs doing, that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to do it. Sometimes people just need enabling, or suggesting. As long as everyone is clear that being asked to do something is not being expected to do it.

The more people we can spread the load amongst the better for everyone. It will stop the over-volunteers from being burnt out. It will mean that more stuff gets done. And it means that we can build better communities, for it is in giving to a community that it becomes our own.

What does it mean to have a vocation?

Nun at a waterfall

nun and waterfall by xinem

I’m never quite sure that I understand the difference between ‘vocation’ and ‘things I want to do and can do, that need doing’.

Except maybe in the context of music. People talk about making music your ‘avocation’. And by this they mean pursuing music as an amateur or semi-professional, but not dedicating your life to it.

Being a professional musician means coping with constant rejection, spending hours practising whether you want to or not, living an uncertain precarious life, all for little or no reward. There is no guarantee that just because you want to be a professional musician, you will get performing work, nor that it will pay a living wage. Received wisdom is that you should only make music your vocation if you can’t imagine doing anything else.

Is the same thing true of ministry? I’m not sure that it is. In Britain, there are marginally more vacant pulpits than active ministers to fill them. So, if you qualify, you will probably find a job. And it’s true that you will need to put your life on hold for a couple of years whilst you train – something that’s difficult for mid-career professionals, but is true of many career changes. Whilst ministry is not amazingly well-paid, Unitarian ministers earn more than about half the population (and less than about half the population) – so it’s not exactly like trying to make it in the arts.

Do we only want ministers who can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives? Or do we just need ministers who want to be ministers, and can (have the right skills and training) to be ministers? Does only imagining yourself as a minister say something more about your lack of imagination, than it does about some kind of calling?

Yet on the other hand, I could describe myself as being ‘called’ to be a Unitarian. Because saying that I’m a Unitarian is just describing a feature of me – like saying that I’m an introvert. Being a member of a Unitarian community is a way of owning and living my Unitarian identity. But I am Unitarian because I couldn’t honestly be anything else. Being Unitarian is simply how I should live my life.

And the best ministers I know, are the ones who just are. Whether they are official and trained or not, they do not minister because it is their job, they seem to minister because they can’t help themselves. I do not mean that they are all perfect people, just that ministry fits them like a glove.

Perhaps that’s what it means to have a vocation.

It’s not all about the inner journey

The otherCable car day, I travelled over 100 miles (in each direction) to attend a workshop given by Peacebang.

Was it worth it?

No. But then, nor did I expect it to be. It wasn’t at all billed as something worth travelling a hundred miles for.

It ended up as a three hour, well-facilitated discussion with interesting people, some of whom I am already friends with, some were new to me. Peacebang was much as I expected her to be. And since she lives in Massachussetts, I’m unlikely to get another opportunity to see her in action. It was worth it for me, because I knew that I would be annoyed with myself if I didn’t go. Besides, it got me out of leading Sunday school.

I stayed for the evening service at Rosslyn Hill chapel, where our loose theme was ‘pilgrimage and the inner journey’. In that service, there is a time for sharing – very loosely similar to Quaker meeting for worship, but with a stimulus, in this case two poems by Mary Oliver and a short homily by the worship leader. Various people made their comments on the importance of the inner spiritual journey, and how you can’t really travel to find yourself.

As frequently happens, I found myself disagreeing. Sort of.

You see, the inner journey is all well and good, but it’s not enough. I find that I can very easily spend hours, days and weeks on introspection and self-examination. But, that doesn’t help me live a fuller life. Because in contrast to some, I am naturally less inclined to connect with people. And so it’s something I need to push myself to do.

This means that it is worth travelling, even for something as slight as a short workshop led by a person I’ve long wanted to meet. Because it’s worth travelling to connect with people, and it’s worth travelling to think and talk about something you’re interested in with like-minded people.

Wherever you go, there you are. But the people you connect with may be able to help you find something new.