The C word.
As a kid, it mean ‘crap’. As a teenager, it meant something stronger. At some point in my life – God forbid – it might mean ‘cancer’. But right now, it means ‘curacy’.
It’s the word on everyone’s lips at college. This is the time of year when one cohort are fast outgrowing the label ‘ordinand’; they’re preparing to move house, be ordained, and begin what they’ve been training for: their curacy. At the same time, another cohort are busy writing self-assessments, searching out their exact student debt figures, and trying to discern the difference between an ‘urban’, ‘inner-city’ and ‘city-centre’ parish. They – we – are at the very beginning of the match-making journey that is finding a curacy.
For those not familiar with the lingo, a curacy is the first job you get as a newly-ordained Rev. It’s a training post, working under a priest who is called your training incumbent (TI) and it lasts for three to four years, after which you are hopefully signed off as ready to go and lead a parish on your own. The process of acquiring such a job is a little bit complicated: you don’t just apply for one, like the rest of the world. Rather, the DDO (the person who navigated you through the process of getting to training in the first place) and the Bishop (the one who paid your way through training – and therefore gets first dibs on you afterwards) go through a delicate process of matching up their prospective curates with prospective training incumbents, who they then suggest to one another. Both parties get to know each other and have opportunity to turn down the other, which leads back to the beginning of the matching process again. If no match is found within the diocese you came from, you may be ‘released’ into the wild, and a match found elsewhere in the country.
So having not written about anything (beyond 30,000+ words of essays) since the start of 2018, why choose now to write about curacies? Mostly because once the process starts in earnest, over the next few months, I won’t be able to say anything at all. Due to the highly sensitive and individual nature of the match-making process, it’s generally understood that you don’t talk about it until an announcement is made: an engagement, if you like. At that stage, the Church you’ll be serving is told of your imminent arrival, and you are free to share the happy news. But that could be many months away. So, if you ask me in the near future about plans for after college, do expect a vague response… Sorry!
But also, because today I’ve had a timely jab in the ribs from God, and those are often moments I like to document.
I was driving back from a family bank holiday barbecue, three hours up the motorway, and found myself having a heart to heart with God about the upcoming negotiations.
“Lord,” I said earnestly, because you always call God ‘Lord’ when you need him to know you mean it, “Lord, I’d like to talk about this curacy thing. You know there’s so many unknowns, so many hypotheticals, so many possibilities and potentials. You know where you’ll send me, and where you’ll send Rose. I want what you want.”
Disclaimer completed, I went on to discuss with the Lord my hopes, dreams and visions for the next few years. Of course, I’d be pleased to have a lovely house, large and old but easily heated, with a beautifully tended but self-maintaining garden. A vibrant church, with real, messy, honest people who are nevertheless unfailingly ready to love one another and their clergy. A training incumbent who is both professional and warm, profound and hilarious. A great place to live, with both sleepy charm and plenty going on. I realise I was imagining the impossible, but you know, Matthew 19:26.
But a strange thing happened. The more I allowed my thoughts to wander into what life and ministry might look like in a such a parish – or any parish really – the more God blurred the background, and trained the focus of my imagination in on myself.
“Forget what you want from a curacy”, the voiceover seemed to say, “what about what I want to make you to be?”
Instead of the sunny garden and all the trimmings that had caught my superficial eye…
I saw instead people coming to Jesus, and myself walking alongside them – and realised just how much I still need God to deepen my confidence in the gospel, and my boldness to share it. I prayed for the gifts and the passion of an evangelist.
I saw instead broken people interrupting my carefully planned schedule, and myself responding generously – and realised just how much I still need to learn to love people. I prayed for the deep compassion of Jesus looking out on lost crowds.
And as I drove, I prayed and I prayed that God would make me into the curate that those people – the congregations, the communities that I’ll serve, whoever they might be – need me to be. I prayed and I prayed that in the years to come, I’ll find my deepest pleasure not in the trappings of a comfortable parish, but in the joy of seeing people young and old come to discover the love and the life of God offered to them in Jesus Christ.
So, noted, Lord. Thanks for the jab in the ribs. I hear the call away from the temptations of complacency and comfort and convenience. I’ll keep praying – but you might need to keep reminding me.