Computer says no

Last Friday (14 October) I went for a job interview at Heriot-Watt University. Yesterday morning I received a letter thanking me for attending, saying that the standard of applicants was high, but that I hadn’t got the job.

The job was for the post of Web Editor, initially a task of dealing with the backlog of site updates, but potentially moving into more in-depth PHP/MySQL database backend coding. I knew that my editing skills and my XHTML/CSS knowledge was certainly up to the task, but I felt that it would come down to how much they needed someone with solid database skills.

Since first meeting with the bishop a couple of months ago to explore my future beyond April 2006 — which is when my current appointment ends — I’ve been trying to think widely about what to do next. As far as full-time ministry is concerned, as I think I’ve blogged before, I don’t really want to ‘run’ a parish. Being a priest doesn’t have to equal being a rector or priest-in-charge.

I’m also a little uncomfortable with the idea of one person ‘running’ a church congregation; it can potentially lead to a temptation of feeling a little self-important. Which is a naturally human response: wanting to feel significant and important. But it’s not what priesthood is about for me. Priesthood is a bit more subversive, working in the background, encouraging others, building them up so that they can exercise their ministries and gifts. And I feel that ‘running’ a congregation would get in the way for me to do that effectively. That’s one thing that I’ve enjoyed about working in this team at St Salvador’s and the Church of the Good Shepherd: the admin side of the job has been shared between the congregation and the team.

Stipendiary (full-time paid) ministry is about giving the minister enough money to live (a stipend) which releases them from having to find paid employment work to support themselves and their family so that they can exercise their ministry more fully. Ironically, I’m now at a point where I suspect that I need to go out into the ‘secular world’ (another phrase I don’t like) to find employment so that I can exercise my ministry more fully.

But then maybe I’m reflecting something of where the Church is too. My future is uncertain right now; the future of the church is also unclear. And I suspect that the path the Christian Church also needs to take is outwards, towards the general population. We need to leave our quickly-emptying safe houses and get back into the community, whichever way that we can. During the last couple of years, the best conversations I’ve had, the deepest, most spiritual conversations I’ve had are with friends (mostly Joinees) in the pub. Or while sitting with people in hospital. Significantly, not in church buildings.

So many of my friends are leaving the Church — or have already left. It’s not that they are no longer Christians. It’s not that they have no interest in God, or developing their own spirituality. It’s that they no longer feel that the Church as it is today is meeting them where they are. (To be honest, I feel that most of the time too, so I’m not surprised that they do too.)

I’m left today with the disappointment of not getting the HW job, but encouraged that I got an interview at one of Scotland’s best scientific universities. That has to say something positive about my having the skills to compete in that market. I’m also disappointed that I currently can’t see a way forward to exercise my skills and ministries within the Church in a full-time capacity, and also that the Church currently doesn’t see reaching out in new, dynamic and simple ways to the general population as a number one priority. And again I find myself finding comfort in the story of Abraham called out from his comfortable life in Ur to be lead by God into the unknown.

I don’t know what’s ahead. At times it terrifies me, to step out into the unknown, to return to employment outwith the Church. But it’s also terribly exciting. All I want to do is to follow God, be obedient to God, and to use my gifts in a way that helps others and also fulfills me in a creative way.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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