A bit more navel-gazing...
Been musing much on my spiritual director’s question, and discussing it with my wife in those brief moments of adult conversation that are presently possible. So let’s try and unpick this a little further.
The sense of conflict that I feel is that a significant chunk of my energy and attention goes towards the nexus of ‘Peak Oil’ questions – all that the Learning Church sequence has been discussing, all that might come under the heading of ‘prophetic ministry’. This inevitably means that I don’t give more time to other church or priestly activities, and so I am perennially afflicted by a guilty conscience. Yet the truth is that a) I do not doubt that those activities are core to my vocation, and that I am being led by God when I am involved in them; b) I do not believe that any person would be able to meet all the expectations generated in this post by the continuing ‘George Herbert model’ of ministry; c) I am setting up various systems to take forward that wider work of the church in positive and creative ways (that is, I do believe that my ministry here is bearing some sort of fruit). I remain, fundamentally, very happy here, with a sense of peace that I am where God wants me to be.
My wife described it to me as ‘you have a (more than) full time occupation, you also have a full time preoccupation – and all your other commitments, eg a family with three under-fives wanting your time!’ To go back into academia wouldn’t solve my problem – there would still be the full time expectations relating to academia, which my preoccupation – which, to emphasise, I do see as vocational – would prevent me from engaging with to the extent that exterior demands would wish.
It comes back to what priestly ministry is about. Is it still the George Herbert model, or is there room – drawing on what a stipend is intended for (to free the minister to pursue God’s intentions for them) – to shape this ministry in a Sam-shaped way? The parson is supposed to be the person within a community – who, through being enabled to be themselves, frees up others to be themselves in the light of God. I do see that as core to what we are supposed to do. So I do not serve by lopping off the bits of me that do not fit into the mould – that is not an advertisement for life in abundance. One of the things that I touched on with my director is that I have come to the point where, for the first time in my life, I am consciously choosing to disappoint the expectations that people have in me. That can only be a good thing, however strenuous the transition is.
And the conclusion from all this – as discussed with beloved – is rather a simple one: barring any deus ex machina interventions, we’ll be staying here for another decade or so. Which is a prospect which brings peace to the soul.