When I was in training for ordination, the Principal of my college, whom if I am honest I rarely listened to, but on occasion had to, would with captured audience, in a rather disparaging manner, proclaim that we, when ordained, would inevitably become chaplains to congregations. This, it was implied, was a bad thing; and furthermore and rather less catchy, that we were to “take great care in our spiritual life as it is highly likely we would struggle to discern God in our everyday work”. I did wonder why he was a Principal of a theological college? “It will be hard to find God in the machine that is parochial ministry”, he informed us. This view, I assumed, was born of decades of disappointment and cynicism of ministry in the Church of England. He was a cheery fellow, whom I think was made the Bishop of Hakeldama just after I left – although that might not be right.

Whilst I do think he rather over-played the grumpy old man card, I reflect his assertion may have had a modicum of merit. I have discovered myself that it is indeed far too easy to be diverted and distracted from the purpose, the aspiration of one’s ministry, to come alongside people, to meet them where they are, and without motive or caveat love them regardless of circumstance or station, seeking the joy of God in all people, wherever and whenever possible. This is a great privilege, after being a servant of the most worthy Lord – Jesus.
That said, and following that proclamation of high ideals, I am guilty of letting the parochial stuff dampen my spiritual bounciness. I have discovered that as hard as I try, I get incredibly distracted by the sharpening of pencils, filing documents, answering-of-emails stuff, that gets in the way of the ‘Grace and Wonder of God’ bit I am supposed to do. This is obviously not what a sensitive religious type like me wants to do – but it seems impossible to avoid.

Although, all that said, something truly amazing happened today whilst I was Chaplain at the Cathedral. I met two people there, a married couple. They had travelled to Winchester from the Midlands – they were full of sadness and despair and loss. They had left home not knowing where they were going; they found themselves in Winchester, and then in the Cathedral. The details of what drove them there are not important, but their emotion was heavy, the weight of the situation almost unbearable – we prayed for an hour, they told me it was the only relief they had felt in months, the only comfort they had taken as long as they could remember. They knew God was with them in that little side-chapel – He had put His hand on their shoulder, and they knew they were loved, and that everything was going to be alright. They left the Cathedral with their life different, reshaped. God’s unconditional love had done something really powerful. It had given them Hope.