Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Do CofE parishes want - can they cope - with introvert incumbents?

Thinking out loud...

Interesting moment in my therapy this morning, when we got to talking about introversion (lest there be any doubt, "My name is Sam and I am an introvert" [grin]). Did a quick Google search when I got back and was reminded of this interesting article from The Atlantic.

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? [...] Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing.

I was recently reminded of my first thinking about Killing George Herbert, and what parishes actually want. For one way of describing what is wanted - at least, what people tell me that they want, ie 'this is what we would like you to do'(!) - is to say 'the parish wants an extrovert'. Someone who is comfortable - no, someone who is enthused and inspired by the social whirl, who will happily be active in seeking conversations, in 'being visible' - and, therefore, someone who gains energy from such things. Which is, of course, a possible description of hell for the introvert.

My therapist commented that this was a particularly CofE difficulty. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches it is much more straightforward to serve as an introvert, not least because the expectation is that a person will seek the priest, not that the priest will seek the people. Introverts can be brilliant when a person knocks at the door and seeks specific and particular help (presumably that's why so many introverts are called to the ministry) but when the dynamic is the other way around (eg "visiting") then it runs quite strongly against the grain. It's also why - at least for me - I find liturgy so essential. It's probably an exaggeration to say evangelical = extrovert, anglo-catholic = introvert, but there's _something_ there!

I had thought that my deafness was a large part of why I find socialising so draining - which is probably one factor - but I have now come across half-deaf people who don't worry about group gatherings half so much, so personality does have a lot to do with it.

One final thought - in chatting to some old friends from my curacy at the weekend (I was in London for a big do) - the comment was made that all a parish needs is to know that they are loved. I think that's true - and certainly something to aspire to - but it does run both ways. There is something here about parishes becoming big enough (in every sense) to be able to accommodate the diversity of priests that pass through, cultivating a flexibility of expectation and valuing the good things about a priest, putting up with the bad. Truth be told, Mersea is pretty good at that... but I know of many colleagues where that hasn't been true.

More anon.


  1. Fascinating thoughts - puts my own former ministry into quite a different perspective - one where I don't necessarily have to see myself (or it) as a failure.

  2. Shouldn't it be "My name is Sam and I am . . . [mumble, mumble, indistinct, trails off...]"?

  3. Ooh, instant recognition on that quote, although I suppose you'd agree that we need more than two options here - Some introverts can indeed "give a dynamite presentation to a big audience", whereas others really can't.

    But what struck me was your comment on liturgy. I think you're right, but it seems that when it comes to worship I can find no good way of being extrovert. I abhor the extrovert who performs a litugy exactly as much as the charismatic worship professionals. Is worship necessarily an introvert activity, or, more probably, is this where this dichotomy breaks down and we need to think about different ways of being in community?

    Anyway, fascinating thought, I will have to think more about this.

  4. Hi Sam:

    Hmm. Don't know how I feel about this.

    I'm an introvert myself, and I well know that feeling of 'just wanting to go off alone'. However, I also know that there's not a job under the sun that doesn't ask people from time to time to do things that don't fit with their personality. And last time I checked, it wasn't the sheep's job to look for the shepherd.

    Over the years I've learned to cope with the extrovert demands of this job. I think there's very little in ministry that's as fruitful as one on one spiritual conversation with people, but I've learned that the price you usually have to pay to get to meaningful conversation is several months of regular small talk. That's just the way most people are wired; they won't discuss intimate details of their lives with you until they know they can trust you, and that takes time.

    So I make sure I get the solitary time I need during my time off - and I make sure that I have adequate time for preparation and prayer - and then I just bite the bullet and do what the job description says.

    And since I'm off the blogosphere tonight until the end of Lent, I probably won't see your reply to this!!! Have a holy Lent!


  5. Thanks for the various comments - and glad it was helpful Stephen. Justin, you're just rude ;)
    Patrik - nice to hear from you! The comment about liturgy may not be accurate; I suspect that there are introverts and extroverts on both sides of the aisle, but I'd be happy to accept that one of the reasons that *I* appreciate liturgy is because I am an introvert.
    Tim - you're challenging as always: "Just bite the bullet and do the job!" Yes Sergeant-Major ;) I want to ask - did the reference to one hour on needing two hours off make sense to you? If not, I suspect you're not all that much of an introvert. I'd also want to ask what 'job description' are you referring to? I remember something about taking the Good Shepherd as the pattern of your calling - and there's good evidence that He was introverted in the relevant sense!!

  6. What I am wondering if not being an extrovert actually from a Christian point of view in a sense is more of a burden in today's culture. That is, it carries with it more temptations since our culture doea value the things the extrovert excells at so highly. To keep with the liturgy example - the extrovert is tempted to turn the liturgy into a show - which is what would make sense from the point of view of our culture - becuase he or she can! Whereas the introvert might not be so tempted.

    (I suppose us introverts are more tempted to appear as clever/wise/smart truthtellers...)

    Oh, and I do follow your blog all the time even though I rarely comment - it never ceases to amaze me how we can be in such perfect agreement theologically, yet have polar opposite political views. ;)

  7. Ah, now this is why manic depression (I believe you young folk call it bi-polar disorder) is such a useful mental illness for your modern day, Anglican priest. It allows you to be both Lady Ga Ga and Leonard Cohen to your congregation and gives everyone, those who dig holy and those who want a party animal, something to complain about in their vicar.

  8. You were right, did an online MBTI and am 56% introvert! Sam

  9. The "give a dynamite presentation to a big audience" thing might be more connected to the J bit of the personality type. As an "I" I feel most comfortable in situations where there is some structure, where I feel I know what role I'm in. I don't feel I always do small talk well, especially from scratch. Though as Tim says, it is often necessary in order to build relationship and trust.

  10. My name is Steve and I'm an INTP...

    ... and an Aires.

    I wonder if anyone has done one of those Myers-Briggs thingies with parish councils to see what characteristics they want to see in an incumbent. I think a lot of them want someone who is a "good mixer".

    The problem is that they'd find that most of the people who met their criteria discovered long ago that there's more money to be made in sales and marketing.


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