The week has been another interesting one as I try to understand what is going on around me. I find myself constantly challenged, surprised and honoured by what ‘normal’ people share with me and ask me to do on their behalf.
I guess I am a noticeable figure around the High Street now and I hear from the staff of places and from other that people have been asking for me and it seems some seek me out to share a need or request me to pray for them or someone that I know. This week alone I have lit 7 or 8 candles on behalf of people who have spoken to me during the week while I have been hanging around. Most of these people have wanted prayer for themselves or a for a loved one. I have offered to pray with them, or go to the cathedral with them, but this has been declined in favour of me praying for them in the cathedral. I am not sure I am comfortable with the theology that lies behind this, my words of prayer are no more special than their words of prayer, but it would not be very loving to ask to talk about the theology of this and so I get on and pray on behalf of these people.
Today one such occurrence came that took me by surprise. I was in conversation with some of the regulars and a woman came up and asked me to pray for her. She gave me her name and just said she was having a tough time, and not wanting to share more she then left. I was taken aback by her boldness in front of these men. For this lady is seemed a normal thing to request, even in a packed pub. Apart from anything else I am amazed at how much or a great privilege this is. I would love to know peoples thinking behind what is going on. What is it about someone sitting with a dog collar on that draws people with prayer requests?
All the questions aside, I am seeing more and more that there is a great need for people to be able to access prayer in some way. I would not say these incidents are common, but they are certainly not uncommon.
When I start to share these stories with people they tell me this part of my role is quite pioneering. Actually I disagree very strongly with that viewpoint. My sitting in the pub, sitting in the coffee shops, wandering around the High Street is not pioneering as I understand it. What I am doing is, I think, what the traditional parish priest used to do – which was to be in the community and be available. After a year I have a number of contacts, a small number of which I think wish to explore faith further – my pioneering side comes in to play as I seek to discover what we do to help those people who are interested.
I am excited that the Church of England is training more pioneers – we certainly need them. But I am starting to wonder if the establishment as such also needs to give permission to parish clergy to be out in their communities and so making themselves available to the people. I do believe, and I realise I lay myself open to heavy criticism here along the lines of not understanding the pressures of parish ministry (which I acknowledge I don’t!) that all clergy should be able to carve out one morning, afternoon or evening each week where they hang out in the same place in their parish – coffee shop, pub, park, whatever …. being in the same place regularly opens us up to a whole new world!