A Unique Parish?

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…

3 thoughts on “A Unique Parish?”

  1. I think the issue of remarriage after divorce in the Church of England is one of those marvellously Anglican things. Pretty much the Church thinks people shouldn’t be re-married in church but there are guidelines for clergy about doing so!

    I think the point at which it all gets MOST still is when people won’t marry a couple in church if one of them is divorced BUT will bless the marriage. Surely that is essentially saying that it IS acceptable and, if so, why not marry them? If not, why bless it?

    I can see why some clergy just say a flat no to all but personally I’m glad it’s not true of all (as someone married to a divorcee I guess I might be biased nowadays but I think I’d have said the same before).

    We had an interview in which the vicar discussed the guidelines to clergy with us and established that he was happy to proceed. I’m not sure I’d have liked the idea of the PCC being informed, myself.

    The Church of England site (http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/papers/mcad/) has all the details and you can download a document which details each of these points of advice for clergy:

    (a) Do the applicants have a clear understanding of the meaning and purpose of marriage?
    (b) Do the applicants have a mature view of the circumstances of the breakdown of the previous marriage and are they ready to enter wholeheartedly and responsibly into a new relationship?
    (c) Has there been sufficient healing of the personal and social wounds of marriage breakdown?
    (d) Would the effects of the proposed marriage on individuals, the wider community and the Church be such as to undermine the credibility of the Church’s witness to marriage?
    (e) Would permitting the new marriage be tantamount to consecrating an old infidelity?
    (f) Has either of the parties been divorced more than once?
    (g) Do the applicants display a readiness to explore the significance of the Christian faith for their lives so that their further marriage is not an isolated contact with the Church?

  2. Just wanted to say what a nice surprise it was to come across your blog. I was actually doing a search on “An Island Parish” which I’ve been following with great interest, since I’ve somehting of an obsession with the Scillies. And to find a kindred spirit with an interest in things Anglican, West Country and Doctor Who/Torchwood related was a real pleasure.

    I’ve not caught up with the Parish series until this group of films on the Isles of Scilly – it would have been interesting to see some of the background to Father Guy’s calling, since there was a scene in this week’s film suggesting that he’s missing Mullion quite badly.

    It’s been a fascinating window into a unique community and I very much like the way they’ve been honest about the aspects of island life that are difficult and challenging.

  3. The previous series focused on Rev Guy’s move from Mullion, and I’ve blogged about that here. Certainly he’s had a rough couple of years as it would be fair to say that his decision to leave Mullion was not well received by people there.

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