Six months into the job, I love every minute as a curate
PUBLISHED: 13:15 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:18 14 February 2020
James Marston reflects on his first six months as a curate, a rewarding role that's at the heart of the community
Yesterday a lady, whom I had never met, approached me at the fruit and vegetable aisle of the supermarket I, much too often, frequent - I never seem to be able to plan meals. I thought she was going to ask me to reach for her a packet of sprouting broccoli, but instead she had approached me to say how much she enjoyed my contributions to the newspaper and had enjoyed following my progress as an assistant curate in the Alde Sandlings benefice on the Suffolk coast.
Of course, this immediately appealed and stroked my ego - not least because I had been recognised - and I took the compliment. She asked me what it was like - being a curate - and how was I getting on.
So, instead of talking about the storm, or whatever else is going on in the 24-hour world of rolling news, I thought the lady in the supermarket might not be alone and you might like to hear a little of what life is like as a clergyman, six months in, in a group of rural parishes.
It is, overwhelmingly, a fascinating and remarkable experience for me. And I am loving every minute. No two days are the same and the people I find myself talking to and engaging with are on the whole deeply supportive and kind.
It is a cliché of course, but to be part of someone's life, invited in during times of both celebration and distress, is a privilege that is hard to express.
To be journeying in faith alongside others and to be part of the church community that comes together every Sunday - and other times in the week - is inspiring and exciting and fun. I like the people, and I have found that my years in journalism - talking to people and finding out about them - has stood me in good stead.
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I have learnt that writing a newspaper column is different from a sermon - I have to try to use sentences that work when spoken out loud rather than said. I have also learnt - or at least I am trying - to slow down when I am speaking in public or speaking from the pulpit.
I have a tendency to get a little nervous - which is silly really, as without exception the congregations are willing me to do well.
I have also learnt - though I knew this already - never to underestimate the wisdom of the quiet, unassuming elderly lady who might not say much but is taking it all in. These ladies - and every congregation has them - are often a wealth of experience in faith and in the vicissitudes of life and the last few months have served as a reminder of the fact that the elderly have much to impart to the young.
I also learnt - not for the first time - that I can be impatient. This, I fear, might show up most in the lengthy meetings, which do take up quite some time. Yet I also realise that no one should have their voice silenced or feel side-lined and that patience is a virtue, as my mother says "possess it if you can, seldom found in woman, and never in a man", that I have to develop.
Adjusting to calling myself Reverend James and wearing a white collar of the clergy remains an ongoing process. Being a visible member of a community in this way means people I don't know, people who might not ever profess a faith or set foot across the threshold of a church, know who I am and what I profess to stand for, and, quite rightly, expect certain standards of behaviour from me. I am getting used to being seen through this lens. I have, I now realise, on occasion, expressed views through this column which I wouldn't express or even espouse now - something is changing in me which is not easy to explain or even define.
My family are adjusting too. Mother still finds it odd her son is in the church, yet constantly reminds me that I'm more of a public figure now and I ought to wear my collar on a Sunday and have my shoes shined and be nice to people and not to swear and be careful with what I say as people look at me in a certain way. She's probably right as well.
I think it is the change of focus in my life that is taking some getting used to - I am, and I don't want to sound sanctimonious though I suppose I might, that whoever said that "one of life's many paradoxes is that the more we focus on ourselves and our own well-being, to the neglect of our neighbour, the more unsettled and unhappy we become" is probably right.
It just took me until now to realise it.
Do you plan meals? Have you followed James' story? What do you think? Write to him at email@example.com