Dress Questions

I talked to someone today who has a role in directing my future employment. (No names, of course.) He expressed a mild admiration for my way of dress, asked about the background of dressing Plain, and then the big question: “If a parish calls you, will you be willing to answer their questions about your appearance?”

If this were a matter of something I could not help – a scar, body size, disability or baldness – I would be very offended. I would be threatening employment discrimination action. But this is something I chose, and I chose it for a reason that would affect how my parish would interact with me.

I dress Plain as a Christian witness in the world, to discipline my own waywardness, and as a sacrifice to God. I can explain all that. And if a parish could not accept that, then I probably wouldn’t want to work there. We would not be close enough in our understanding of how God leads us to work together. Since Plain is a lifetime commitment, as far as I’m concerned, I need to be in an environment where people will make the effort to understand and accept.

I wanted to answer his question with honesty and integrity. I wasn’t going to say, “If they have a problem with it, I’ll take off the prayer cap and the cape dress and look like any other priest.” I could not, with integrity, say that in the hopes of ingratiating myself. I think it would have been a mistake, anyway, because the too-flexible answer would call all my convictions into question. Theere are some issues on which we must take a stand.

I was prepared for this pre-interview conversation with several months of prayer and consideration. I had decided to say that I would like to go back to rural parish ministry, even though I have considered working in team ministry or in a suburban parish with good resources.

But my heart is out in the fields and on the backroads to heaven. I work well with rural people, whether farmers, commuters or retired folk. I understand them and they understand me. I know what it is like to pick potatoes and deliver lambs. I’m strong and fit, still able to do manual labour day in and day out. I follow the seasons and don’t schedule important meetings for harvest time. I give dispensation to work on Sunday if the week has been rainy. I’ll help a neighbour find lost cows, or pick up hay and grain for a sick widow so she can feed her animals. I shovel manure. I understand planting by the moon cycles. I will prescribe herbal remedies for sick dogs and goats, or take someone’s injured cat home to nurse.

This is in addition to home visits, nursing home visits, hospital visits, barn visits and shop visits. I expect to do at least two services every Sunday, and teach confirmation classes. I preach a fifteen minute sermon most Sundays, but will preach less rather than natter on, and sometimes more if the congregation needs it. I don’t expect cathedral music when the available instruments are a concertina and a twelve-string guitar. I will lead a capella singing. I beleive in simple vestments and simple services.

I like potluck.

My weak points in ministry are that I hate meetings, will pass weddings along to retired clergy when I can, and I don’t always get the manure off my shoes before I go to someone’s house. (I’ll leave my shoes outside then.) I don’t procrastinate except about returning phone calls or email. (It’s best to catch me at home, since I will almost always answer the phone if I’m there.) I don’t keep office hours and I don’t publish a bulletin or a newsletter. I am not alwasy swayed by emotion, and I can be downright cynical. I may look like a bumpkin, but I’ve been out in the world and seen the worst parts of it. Things sometimes offend me, but nothing shocks me.

I don’t know, maybe these aren’t the best qualities for a parish priest. But that’s what I am, that’s what I do.

And more job search

The internet is a great way to explore the Anglican Communion. Whether it will get me a job, I don’t know. Priests do move around quite a bit, even from country to country. It’s that old missionary model, perhaps. But bishops may look askance on someone who out of the blue knocks on the website door.

But what else can you do? Most of us here don’t even get the Anglican Journal anymore. Not that it is defunct, but a lot of parishes are no longer subscribing; we can read it on line, though.

There was a time I made long distance job searches by buying out of town newspapers and writing reams of letters to send with double reams of resumes. That didn’t work well, either. I never foudn a job until I showed up in the city and started calling around. So much for the old technology.

But, hey, bishops – I can see you have vacancies. Some dioceses like to keep that a secret, but if anyone searches church by church, they can find the gaps. Couldn’t you make it a little easier to get in touch? Like, have a heading on the website “job applications” – and then something about “Send your resume or CV to: (name) at (email address). We will get back to you within a week.”

Often, bishops expect you to have pretty much already resigned where you are and have a letter in hand from your bishop saying it’s ok, I know. This is so foreign to how job searches usually happen. First, you start looking for work (not at work, mind you, that’s just bad manners); you produce your resume; you send it to prospective employers; you get interview dates and take those days off from your regular job; you get an offer and then announce to your boss that you’ll be leaving in two weeks.

Just an observation. Priests are not a dime a dozen. We invest a lot in our educations. Would it hurt to show the same respect a secular employer shows to a prospective employee?