This morning I was writing a funeral address in the Minster office, when someone came in to express thanks for a (small) way in which we had been able to help him out recently. He wanted to buy me a coffee (there is a café within the building). I had a little less than half-an-hour before taking a mid-week service, but I agreed. That was my first unscheduled conversation of the day.
One of the regulars at the service wanted to speak with me afterwards, and we ended up having a fairly long and very good conversation. The second unscheduled conversation of the day.
At that point I had the choice of going home, to work uninterrupted on the funeral address, or taking a walk around the city centre for some fresh air, and then returning to the Minster to work there. I chose the latter option.
On my way out, I had my third unscheduled conversation of the day, with a time-to-time visitor who had attended the mid-day service and then had lunch in the café (while I was having that second conversation).
Walking through the shopping centre, I saw someone whose wedding I had conducted in the summer. We stopped and chatted. The fourth unscheduled conversation.
Around the corner, I ran into someone I know through our partnership with other organisations to mark four years of Sunderland First world war anniversaries. We stood and talked on the pavement. The fifth unscheduled conversation.
On the High Street, I spotted the young man who sells The Big Issue outside Marks & Spencer. We speak regularly, but hadn’t seen one another for about three months. The sixth unscheduled conversation.
Cutting back through the shopping centre, I overtook one of our older congregation members, who lives in the neighbouring Alms Houses. We stood talking. The seventh unscheduled conversation.
Another Alms House resident came past, and stopped to chat. The eighth unscheduled conversation.
I got back to the Minster not long before it closes for the day (the building is open 9am-3pm Monday to Saturday, and much of the day on Sundays); but, having checked-in on the office and locked the compass-point doors to the building, I stopped for a longer chat with the person refreshing the flower arrangements that help make it such an inviting space. The ninth unscheduled conversation of the day.
Probably an-hour-and-a-half of unscheduled but very important meetings.
I can’t think of anything more rehabilitating than being given the time of day. And I say rehabilitating not to refer to the most broken people, but simply to recognise that life can be quite hard, and in the pressures of life – which, for reasons of confidentially I haven’t reported in recounting these conversations – it is easy to become worn down.
People comment fairly regularly that I must be busy – and of course, at times I am. But, as I tell them, I work quite hard at not being busy, precisely in order that I might have the time to give them my time.
In that, I recognise that I am blessed to be part of a team. But it also involves choosing not to do certain other things. I can be busy avoiding people, or busy not avoiding people.
And in that I recognise that clergy are not a different class of people from laity, who do certain things so that others don’t have to; but, rather, that clergy are a group within the laity, whose time has been set aside in order to be available, where others might not have such freedom; and who are visible signs within the wider community of something that is going on, on a daily basis: the quiet, deeply subversive task of helping one another become more fully human.
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