May 2018

When I was about five years old I remember feeling very proud of my dad because he received a promotion at work. He was now the Senior Prince Social Worker, or so I told my friends! I was equally proud of my dad, when after taking early retirement some years later he became a Guardian Angel, as another little girl called him (the correct title being ‘Guardian ad Litem.’)

Job titles can mean a lot to us and say something about our status. As children we can feel proud of what jobs our parents do, as parents we feel proud of the careers and achievements of our children. We can feel proud of ourselves and equally we can feel envious of others and the career progress they have made.  

I must admit that I felt a little pride when, after nearly a decade of serving as an Assistant Curate, I became Rector of Walkingham Hill. It sounded good to be a Rector but, as many priests find when taking up their first Incumbency, the time demands and expectations were sometimes overwhelming. It came as somewhat of a relief to be offered this half-time post with the more modest title ‘Priest-in-Charge’. It is therefore with a little sense of unease that I tell you the news that my job title will be changing on June 3rd to ‘Rector’. Whatever I feel about being a Rector again, my Institution and Induction service on June 3rd will be an exciting opportunity for us to welcome and meet our new Area Bishop, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley, and to welcome back Archdeacon Bev Mason.  

I’d like to make it clear that by becoming Rector I am not receiving a promotion and I will still be half-time. In the Church of England when there is a possibility of pastoral reorganisation (eg joining parishes into a united Benefice or the formation of a team ministry) the Parish or Benefice is ‘suspended’. When a Benefice is suspended the Bishop remains responsible for the ‘cure of souls’ and he or she will normally appoint a Priest-in-Charge to look after the parish on his/her behalf but without the same legal status as an Incumbent (Vicar or Rector). Legally an Incumbent must consent to any pastoral reorganisation or changes to the property (eg downsizing the Rectory or Vicarage) and so having a Priest-in-Charge in post rather than an Incumbent (usually Rector or Vicar) makes change easier to implement.  

A Benefice is suspended for a fixed period and prior to this post being re-advertised, there was a possibility of pastoral organisation as clergy numbers continue to decline. Following my appointment, the suspension was lifted last October, and each PCC was asked to pass a resolution approving the Bishop’s proposal that I be admitted to the Benefice as Incumbent.

The reason for becoming Rector rather than Vicar is purely historical. The title Rector trumps Vicar, and because Melsonby once had its own Rector, the Incumbent takes that title rather than Vicar (I think Forcett and Aldbrough had Vicars). The difference between a Rector and a Vicar goes back to the days when tithes were paid. If tithes were paid to the Incumbent directly, he was called the Rector. When tithes were paid to the Monastery, the Monastery then paid a Vicar to work on their behalf (vicariously) in caring for the parishes.

It’s probably worth mentioning that although no longer titled ‘Priest-in-Charge’, I will still be a Parish Priest. People sometimes ask what the difference is between a Vicar (or Rector) and a Priest. The simple answer is that the title Rector or Vicar or Priest-in-Charge is more like a job title, a particular role, whereas being a Priest is a way of being, it’s part of who you are. Once a priest, always a priest (with exceptions) whether full-time, part-time, retired, or working in chaplaincy or secular employment.

The Church of England follows the ancient threefold order of ordained ministries; Deacon, Priest and Bishop. The ministry of a Priest is distinctive in celebrating the sacraments (eg Holy Communion and Baptism) as well as teaching, preaching and pastoral care. The ministry of a Deacon is that of the servant; both within the Church and in the wider community.   Every Bishop and Priest is first ordained as a Deacon, and so priestly ministry is rooted in service. 

Servanthood is at the heart of priestly ministry but also at the heart of who we all are as Christians. Servanthood goes to the heart of who Jesus is, powerfully and beautifully symbolised by Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, the night before he died. Jesus, like the lowest servant, took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’(John 13 v 14-15).

To follow the example of Jesus, to live in the Kingdom of God, is to live by a set of values given to us through the life of humility. Humility gets down low and lifts others up. Humility looks to the needs of others and gives time and effort to help with those needs. Humility measures everything it does by whether it serves the good of other people.

Whatever your occupation or title may you rejoice in all that you and your children do in the name of love and in the service of other people.

God bless,


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