Sometimes I feel like a minor celebrity - being invited to fetes or special events, and treated as someone a bit special, a bit different. Recently I went to a parishioner’s 120th birthday party! When I got there I realised it was the couple’s combined age, and trying to regain my composure I flattered the man by saying "well you must be over 100 then". He is French and replied “we have a saying in our language - at least I can still hear you say it”! What a positive way of looking at life.
I realise that it's not that vicars are like celebrities - it's the other way around. Those who perform Public Offices are invited to events and known because of the role they have in society. So from Judges to Teachers to Tailors, some people become more public property than others. The argument (which is not 100% true) is that celebrities are just famous for being famous. The vicar is asked to open the fete because of his job, the celebrity is famous because they are asked to open the fete!
Some positive thinking is needed as Salisbury begins to look for a new Bishop (you can’t actually apply, but if you give me your name I’ll pass it on!). The post is important in church and society, so there is a long consultation period, and I was invited, along with many others, to give my opinions to the Prime Minister’s and Archbishop’s Appointments Secretaries. Three of us were given a 20 minute slot and took it in turns to have our comments duly noted. We expect to hear in Spring 2011 the results of all this, and wait and pray till then.
This is all much more open and involving than in George Herbert’s day - how much simpler it was back then. Bishoprics were the King’s favour to bestow on whom he liked.
Herbert’s immediate predecessor, Walter Curll, was translated in 1629 by King James I to Winchester, quite a senior post. Perhaps Bemerton was not really the backwater we like to portray, or maybe he just gained influence at court at the right time?
Another week, another new sitcom about clergy life. After The Vicar of Dibley and All Gas and Gaiters, the more gritty Rev is on our screens. Whilst Dibley’s fantasy rural slapstick will make it excellent for selling to the rest of the world, Rev is more likely to have a small cult following, like Father Ted. So why are vicars picked out for ridicule and humorous attention? Well we’re not alone - we’re part of a group of public servants and institutions that form the staple of TV - doctors (and nurses and hospitals), schools, police (including detectives), and even shops and office workers. We’re there because we’re part of the cogs of society, so most people have seen one, know one, can relate to one in real life. Secondly as people who make things happen we are able to move the plot or story on.
Thirdly and most importantly - the institutions that we represent do wield real power and its important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, that we are able to take a joke, and that we know we are as flawed as everyone else. Otherwise it would be like Big Brother, where the institutions are simply feared and absolute and dehumanized. This gentle mockery is a release valve for the frustration that all institutions bring to life. So roll on Rev, and lets all have a laugh at vicars, because it’ll be your turn next!
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