When I became a Vicar, I thought I was setting off on a wonderful journey, to do great things for God. I was prepared for it to be scary and difficult. I was up for that. But I was not prepared for it to be boring and repetitive.
I thought I was Frodo, a small, insignificant person, setting off on a Grand Adventure, on a Quest that really mattered. Instead of a pilgrimage, I seem to find myself on a treadmill. I walk and walk and walk, but never get anywhere, the scenery never changes.
The same small talk, the same debates about the heating in the church hall, moving the same chairs and the same toys over and over again. Lovely, lovely people, who I am always glad to spend time with. It’s not the people who are boring – but the same old tasks over and over again. It’s like going from cooking a meal once in a while as a special event, to having to cook every single day, to feed a family.
Yet another sermon, yet another coffee morning.
And honestly, I can’t see that changing. Ministry is inevitably made up of the same things, over and over again, that’s the nature of the role. It’s not that I don’t like coffee mornings and sermons – but I was expecting something….more.
Perhaps what I need is a new metaphor.
I was very moved by an article in the Guardian this week written by a son, caring for his mother with Alzheimers – a role full of ordinary, repetitive tasks, that many would not willingly choose. Yet the author spoke of it as “Panning for Gold” – that within the ordinary, oft-repeated tasks, now and then something immensely valuable could be found.
We pan together for gold on a daily basis, and while we empty pail after pail of frustrating sand, the occasional nugget is more than enough to sustain us.
Could this be a powerful image of ministry too? Or for any other situation in life where the grand ideals get so easily swamped by the routine.
There are still gold nuggets to be found in the deepest, thickest sludge. Don’t miss them by looking too far back or too far forward.
As I write this, it’s the start of Advent, so I’m looking towards the coming of Christ in the small, ordinary miracle of a baby being born – not in a palace, but in a stable. Not with great drama under the spotlights, but in an ordinary town. Can I spend Advent looking for the small, ordinary miracles of God being at work in our world, in the day to day tasks of life. Can I learn to see ministry as panning for gold, not slogging away on a treadmill? I think that might be my aim this Advent – to find nuggets of gold in the ordinary. And having spotted them, to work out how to write about them and share them here.
Metaphors are powerful things. They are one of the ways we interpret our experiences in life. They are a key tool we use to shape our life into stories, not just strings of random events. If I found a better metaphor for ministry, it could change so much.