Today was one of the last full days off that I’ll have in London before leaving in a few weeks and I spent it having something of a quiet day. I usually try to spend one day a month in Epping Forest – a place a bit like a sanctuary that can be reached on the London Underground – close enough for it to be easy to get to, but far enough to feel that the business of day-to-day life has been left behind. I took my new walking boots, so that I can start walking them in as I prepare for an 800km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela this summer. It felt good to feel the rain on my face, to hear the wildlife in the forest, and to leave some of the challenges of the week behind. I reflected on the importance of “retreat” that we’d discussed in the Men’s Group that I’d gone along to visit the week before. It’s important to be able to leave your burdens behind for a while, and to simply exist without them.
In the Children’s Church the day before, we’d talked about Matthew 11: 28: “Come to me, all you are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We made models of things that kept us calm, using homemade lavender playdough, drank camomile tea, listened to calming music, washed our hands in scented bubble bath and thanked God for those things that bring us rest. The things that children came up with reminded me of how the techniques that we learn for calming us down when we are small stay the same throughout most of our lives: going for a run, spending time with friends, hiding under the covers, watching a film, eating our favourite food, taking a hot bath. We’re all in need of these things once in a while and as somebody who has a tendency to charge into everything with 100% energy and speed, I need to carve out time in my days, weeks and months, to find the time to rest and reflection. Despite wanting to be involved in everything most of the time, my introverted nature means that rest, retreat and quiet times are important if I’m able to feel restored and to my job properly.
After going to Epping and coming back covered in mud and feeling suitably tired, I went to the chip shop for dinner and sat down to finish the box set of Broken, a new BBC drama about a northern Catholic priest, struggling to cope with both his own personal life and the challenges of ministry. The Church Times recently published an article by Mark Bryant that argues that, “Broken demonstrates the value of unspectacular but life-giving ministry” and noting that somebody on social media has said that it should be used in clergy recruitment. I can’t help but disagree. Although I’m far from being a lonely parish priest in a parish like the one Fr Michael Kerrigan finds himself in, I was disappointed by the lack of joy that the drama brings. It is full of misery, with few moments of relief. I felt exhausted after watching it. And, although I would be the first to agree that all those thinking of offering themselves forward for ordination should have some experience in a parish and be reminded of the sweat and tears that comes as part of the parcel of part of life in ministry, I would hate for those moment of joy, those moments of God, to be missed out.
For amongst the brokenness, there is so much joy. There are powerful moments of laughter, intimacy, and togetherness. This is true not just amongst the people we serve, but amongst those who serve us. It is good to be reminded of the reality of parish ministry and to celebrate those very gifted priests, like the fictional Fr Michael, called to live out life amongst those who we serve, but I would argue that, it is good, too, to be reminded that ministry, just like life, has plenty of moments of joy, as well as moments of challenge.