Back in 2006, I was living and working in London. I moved in to a flat in Camberwell with my friend Jonny, whom I had met in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. Jonny was the organist at a church on Vauxhall Bridge Road and inevitably I tagged along and made that my church too.
One summer’s evening as we were walking back from church, we passed the Camberwell Evangelical Church. There was an evening service on as we could hear singing even if we couldn’t clearly see through the windows.
It seemed clear to us that they were doing some renovations as there was a yellow skip outside on the road, stacked high with debris. The skip was also on fire.
After the last Christmas Eve service, in church rectories and manses across the world, many clergy will sit down and pour themselves a glass of single malt whisky, take a photo and post it to social media with the hashtag #clergymaltclub.
This week I launched a mobile-first redesign of my SEC digital calendar website which is a resource for the Scottish Episcopal Church to enable anyone to integrate this year’s church calendar and lectionary with their digital calendar (e.g. Google Calendar).
I’ve been working on the service rota for September. Currently at All Saints’, St Andrews we have around 11 people who can be on the service rota helping to conduct services.
From Sunday 30 August to Saturday 3 October, which is what the September rota covers, there will be 40 services. That’s three on a Sunday plus one a day, except Saturdays.
When I took over as keeper of the rotas in November 2014 I created what I called the clergy availability algorithm matrix. It’s a spreadsheet that describes in the style of a puzzle book who can do what:
Priest A will not preside at 08:00, but is is happy to celebrate or deacon at the 10:00. He is happy to preach at the 10:00 two Sundays out of four, but only as a deacon not as celebrant. He cannot take any other services.
Priest B can preside at the 08:00 but only on the first Sunday of the month. He is happy to celebrate or deacon two Sundays out of four at the 10:00 and preach one Sunday out of four (as either celebrant or deacon). He is available for Tuesday night or Thursday lunchtime.
Professor C may preach but not preside, and only on festivals.
Priest D can preside three Sundays out of four at the 08:00 but not at 10:00. He is available for Tuesday night (if required) but prefers Thursday lunchtime.
Priest E. My first is in Episcopal but not in Anglican. My second is thurible but not in thurifer.
That in itself makes for an interesting mind game, trying to hold that all in mind when allocating people to services
I have the following workflow for creating rotas:
Create a blank rota (filling in dates, saints’ days and festivals, etc.)
Email people to ask for their availability for the next rota period. Text the one person who isn’t on email.
Receive people’s availability.
Create a draft rota.
Email draft rota for feedback. Print out and post draft rota for the one person who isn’t on email.
Email second draft for final sign-off. Print out and post second draft rota for the one person who isn’t on email.
Make updates (if required).
Email final version. Print out and post final version for the one person who isn’t on email.
And then the rest of the month is spent making tiny changes here and there depending on people’s changed schedules. The July rota, for example, is now on revision 20.
It’s takes a considerable time. For example, I worked on it for about 30 minutes this morning, and this evening for about two and a half hours. Over the last week there haven’t been many days when I’ve not had to tweak the rota in some way.
Folks go off sick, or have family crises, or swap with one another. Rotas are living documents that ebb and flow, merely suggesting who may turn up to lead the service. A serving suggestion, if you will.
I do quite enjoy organising it and setting it out nicely on the page, but to be honest I am quite looking forward to handing it on when the new rector arrives in mid-September.
I’m presiding on Sunday at 08:00, which will make it four Sundays in a row that I’ve been on. So that means preparing a short (five minutes) homily, plus intercessions, plus printing out the Bible readings in font size that is big enough for my myopic eyes to read.
Then I’m not on again for 11 days.
And for a moment after writing that I felt a sense of relief… until I remembered the rotas. It’s always with the rotas…
Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking that I need to blog more, and more than just music videos of Star Wars game demos (though those things are exciting me just now) but some real life stuff: what’s going on for me just now, where my energies are being spent.
I was standing in church on Sunday, after the 08:00 Eucharist had finished, the congregation had left and stillness had filled the building once again when I remembered that a while ago I’d wanted to write about what being a non-stipendiary minister (NSM) means to me and what I do. So here I am, on the first of what I hope will be many posts reflecting on this.
Stipendiary vs non-stipendiary
The first thing to clear up, I guess, is: what is a non-stipendiary minister? Well, it’s a minister, a member of the clergy, who is not paid a stipend. (How nice to be defined by something negative!) In the church, stipendiary clergy get paid a a kind of salary to enable them to carry out a role that the church has asked of them without the need for them to also go out and get a job to earn money to live on.
There are all sorts of legal and tax—and I dare say historic—reasons why clergy don’t get paid a salary, related to employment status and whatnot but that is the crux of it: in order to be available 24/7 to carry out a particular role, the church pays some clergy some money so they don’t need to get a ‘proper’ job.
Non-stipendiary clergy, like me, do the role without getting paid.
From 1999 to 2006 I was a stipendiary clergyman. Now I’m not, for all sorts of reasons not least of which was that that job was literally killing me. And making me depressed. And I rarely got to spend time with my wife. And we were on an IVF programme, which was stressful enough. And I was upset about how many of my NSM clergy friends were being treated, so I crawled under the fence and joined them. And probably a host of other reasons…
Today we had our monthly clergy meeting, where the five NSMs who are currently looking after All Saints’, St Andrews get together to organise rotas, and worship, and share pastoral information.
The meetings have only been going on since Fr Jonathan left in November 2014 and we were invited to keep things going during the Rector vacancy.
I take the minutes for this meeting, usually writing them up on my laptop as the meeting happens which gives me less to do later on, and then emailing or posting them out in the evening.
I really enjoy these meetings, which usually last up to 90 minutes. We ramble our way through a very loose agenda, taking many a detour but usually ending up back in the right spot. And there is quite a lot of laughter. Oh, and fellowship—Christians like to use the word “fellowship” when they really mean friendship and fun.
I’ve got a homily (a short sermon) to write for the 08:00 Eucharist on Sunday. I need to get started thinking about that today. I need to find the readings, print them out (so I can scribble on them), and read them over a couple of times.
And I don’t ever look up old sermons that I’ve preached on those passages. Nope! Never do that. No, sirree! That’s one thing that I definitely don’t do.
Erm… actually, that is something that I do.
I also subscribe to the Midrash lectionary discussion email group which I find really inspiring.
I’ve also got a few other admin-type things to do this week:
Update the website with service times for August.
Update the 1970 Scottish Liturgy booklet we use at the 08:00 service, to include the peace.
Type up and distribute clergy meeting minutes.
Begin work on the September rota.
Update and print a set of A5 booklets detailing saints days’ collects and short biographies.
Create a poster.
So, not much then… I’ll blog again later this week with an update and further reflections.