Catching up with the latest instalment of An Island Parish we got a bit of an insight into what it is like for a priest coming into a new parish.
The commentary on the programme quite often highlights the unique nature of the parish of the Isles of Scilly – but from what we saw this week it may be geographically unique, but in many ways it is has just the same problems as any other multi-congregation benefice, wherever in the country it is located.
The two Churchwardens summed up the kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma that faces any new vicar or rector. You come in wanting to make your mark, indeed people expect you to be better in areas where perhaps your predecessor wasn’t so good. Equally, you can’t change things massively, otherwise it risks alienating the congregation.
The situation is more difficult when dealing with multiple congregations – Rev Guy has six churches to deal with, and needless to say they are each different. When asked how he was doing, he replied that his honeymoon period had lasted barely a week before he’d upset someone.
Having said that, the big issues were precisely the same sorts of issues that new clergy often come up against. The congregation on one of the off islands were objecting to his choice of services – the implication is that Rev Guy is from the churchmanship where the Eucharist is central, whereas the congregation in this case was wanting non-Eucharistic services (my thought is that they’re probably wanting prayer book matins). When we had a similar situation here at St James, both services were offered, but obviously with six churches to run that’s not really an option here. The second big issue was another one that causes a good deal of problems all over the place, in that Rev Guy had refused to perform a wedding for the divorced daughter of an important parishioner. Although it is now legal for divorcees to remarry in the Church of England, it is left up to the conscience of the particular priest involved. Some I’ve known, like Rev Guy, won’t do them at all, others I’ve known would do a service for people who are members of the Church if they knew the situation, others have no problem at all. It is still somewhat of a hot potato in Church terms, such that on the occasions we’ve had such services at St James, the PCC is usually informed.
Of course the big difference for Rev Guy, comes from the geographical uniqueness of the Isles of Scilly parish. On the mainland, if he has a big issue, he has other clergy around who he can go and talk to – here they are across thirty miles of sea, and whilst they would be able to provide support over the phone, it’s not the same.
Hopefully as the series goes on, Rev Guy will settle in more – certainly it’s a lonely job if it gets any worse…