My old friend is a vicar. Well, many of my old friends are vicars, but I’m thinking of one in particular. You might not know this about me but I was a very strong Christian back when the world was easy. Lots of my friends from that period are vicars now. I don’t see them often as I feel I’m a patch of darkness. But I went to see this one. He lent Brian a thurible and returning it provided an excuse for us to catch up.
He’s an interesting soul. Excruciatingly intelligent but self deprecating. Loves his geekery. Cares about his ministry. If I’d followed that route I might have ended up very like him, engaged in pastoral care and resigned about bureaucracy in his institution. An empath in a structure designed to prefer the career-monsters who jump through the right hoops but at heart care for nothing but their own comfort. It’s a pattern I understand from various day jobs. It’s not enough to be good at something, you have to prove you’re good at something, and the criterion by which you have to prove you’re good at it are laid out by people who aren’t good at it and don’t understand what it takes to be good at it.
He’s good at it. We walk to the tube station. He greets his parishioners and gets a response. This is London, but he’s sunny and you can see he’s liked. We are talking, chewing the fat, looking over points of connection, establishing new lines of friendship as we bounce round sunny hellos. And suddenly there’s an ambulance.
Immediately his demeanour changes. “I know them.” I refrain from saying “Of course you do.”
The door is open. I hang behind, but he stands attentive before it, a bloodhound at point. He is praying. We said grace before we ate lunch. Before he goes in the door, he is gathering his power. He’s interceding. Like Bruce Banner making himself angry, he’s making himself kind. He goes into the house. I wait. He is in there a while.
When he comes back he explains a little bit about the dynamic in the home. There is chronic illness there – people struck down with these desperate incurable painful conditions. As far as he can tell this is a minor complication – a blood pressure issue – and it’s being dealt with.
My whole time with him I’m aware of his generosity and kindness. He derails or questions any negative assumptions that he detects in my conversation. He monitors me for darkness, and tries to bring light. In the time we are together he never once raises the question of my faith. He says grace before I tuck into my chicken, but I’m not under pressure to say anything and he’s paying. So for me it really is a meal provided by divine providence. I say “amen”.
He has a home and a beautiful church. And his life has recently brought him great pain. He deals with it very well – he’s pastoring himself as best he can but it’s sharp and hard in his eyes, where he can’t hide it. It’s a pain I know well, his pain. I can help him know he’s not alone, so he can help his flock. We help each other a little bit for a few hours on a sunny day, each with our own brand of ministry.
This is a balanced, gentle, strong individual, and one I’m glad to reconnect with. Whatever you think of the things he must believe, on the ground level, he is a demonstration of how the church can be a wonderful thing. Hopefully I’ll see a lot more of him.