Sunday afternoon I announced to SWMBO that since I now had only two services most Sunday mornings I was less tired than in Portlaoise where I had three. Then I fell asleep. I was snoring and muttering so loudly that Og the dog was agitated. Anyhoo, I set to thinking how life as a priest in the Church of Ireland compares with that in the C of E,
Irish clergy are better paid and can go on until they’re 75. Irish clergy have fewer demands on their time. I know of at least one who’s rarely outside the Rectory during the week. But because they are essentially chaplains to a small tribe, most Irish rectors care for their flocks with greater involvement than in the C of E. In return, parishioners respond with random acts of kindness – fuel for the rectory fire, a full tank of heating oil, the occasional hamper and/or bottle of nectar. The downside of this is that parishioners feel that they at least in part ‘own’ you, but there’s a price for everything.
English clergy come across a wider section of the population, even if only on an occasional basis for weddings, baptisms and funerals. Some of us like this, others don’t. There are more meetings in England (you never know what you’re missing if you don’t go, so I miss quite a lot) and we are much more ‘watched’. We are appraised and monitored. We are urged to do this, that and the other. We are told what healthy growing churches should and should not be doing. Frankly, all this makes me feel deeply inadequate and that whatever I’m doing is not enough. There are moves to import all this to the C of I, so I hope it will be resisted.
In Ireland (I speak of the Republic outside Dublin) clergy are thin on the ground. Any sense of isolation is overcome by networks from college (there’s only one in the C of I) and social media. I know of no English clergy who are such keen FaceBookers as Irish clergy. I’ve caught the disease. The many flavours of the C of E create their own support networks. There are accepting liberals, intolerant liberals, traditional catholics, wishy-washy catholics, traditional evangelicals, wishy-washy evangelicals … yes, it’s silly isn’t it … and these groups can be helpful so long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
The tribal nature of the C of I, with the Church building as its totem, means that so long as there’s a steady supply of fecund Anglican maidens, with not too much notice taken of Ne temere if an Anglican should dare to marry a Catholic, the small rural church will be supported and maintained, if not often attended. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rural C of I survives longer than the rural C of E, where buildings are more expensive to maintain and where there’s little sense of loyalty other than to the graveyard (‘so that I can be buried with my ancestors’). The quasi-Masonic Lodge function of the church building has a huge downside, however. The loss of Anglo-Irish aristocracy can result in the gap being filled by self-appointed royal families, some of whom come to hold doleful and ignorant hegemony over parish and parishioners.
As to relations with other denominations, these are much healthier in Ireland. The dominance of the Catholic church means that it is secure enough to be gracious to the tiny minority. The Church of Ireland punches far above its weight, I guess, so that Irish society is seen as not being discriminatory.
So pluses and minuses. Maybe my soporific state on Sundays has little to do with any of the above, and more to do with the fact that I’m old and fat. Recent news that eggs and butter are no longer evil might help the first but not the second.