In previous years I’ve given up various things for Lent, fizzy drinks, Farmville, or snacking between meals. Some years, I’ve taken something up instead, reading a poem a day, or trying out a particular way of praying. This year, I’m thinking bigger, I’ve given up church for Lent. This is particularly drastic when you realise that I’m the Vicar.
Honestly, it wasn’t really a grand plan or a cunning scheme, more of a necessity. It was something that was becoming increasingly inevitable, and it happened to coincide rather neatly with Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent.
It’s not that I don’t like my church. I love them very dearly, and over the last 3 years have become increasingly fond of the church members. It’s exactly the sort of church I would want to belong to: down to earth, good-hearted, welcoming, outward looking, open to new, creative ideas, purveyors of generous slices of excellent home made cake on every occasion. But there is something about the role of Vicar that I am finding increasingly hard to carry. It feels a very heavy burden and I’m running out of the energy to go on with it. I’ve been outwardly cheerful and coping on the surface, most of the time, but feeling more and more empty and weary as time goes on.
So I need to stop. I need to put down the role and step away from it for a while. I believe there is a way of being a vicar here that is joyful and life-giving, but I need some space to be able to find that, because at the moment, it’s far from it. And yes, this is all deeply tangled up with depression. (I’m doing all the sensible stuff, I promise, seeing my GP to talk about different medication and seeing a counsellor provided by the diocese)
I’m deeply grateful to my churchwardens who have encouraged me to do this, and taken on a fair amount of extra work, in my absence. I’m grateful too, to many in the congregation who have offered help and support and to clergy colleagues near by who are taking some of the services. It’s been disconcerting, (in a good way!) to realise quite how much people care for me.
So, what will I do with the next few weeks? I’m not entirely sure. I’m so used to having a never-ending list of things I ought to be doing in my head, that I feel a bit lost, when there’s nothing at all that I really need to be getting on with. I think I will make stuff – some random art dolls, and some spinning and knitting. I will bake bread, until the freezer can’t take it any more. I will get outside, and walk for a while every day, even if it’s cold, wet and horrid.
I will read some novels and watch some films (and I’m open to loans of both, if you’ve got something you think I might like). I will sleep, long and often.
And I will write. Write about the things that make me happy, and the things that make me stressed. The things that are life-giving and the things that are soul-destroying. I will write memories and stories and letters to God and some rants and grumbles. I will write about the stuff that comes up when I meet my counsellor and the stuff that comes up when I talk to God too. (Some of it might find it’s way onto this blog – but certainly not all of it!)
I will miss my lovely little church, and especially the people in it, but I will sneak into the cathedral when no-one is looking, and join the lunch time communion there now and then. I might even find some Quakers to share some silence with for a while.
To all the people who’ve said, “….and don’t come back until you’re properly better” – I will do my very best to do that. I look forward to being back with you, as soon as I sensibly can.
If you haven’t already seen it, you might also be interested in “But what have YOU got to be depressed about, Vicar?”