BEING CALLED TO A NEW PARISH
Bishop John Hazlewood once said to me, "The trouble with you Andrew is that you don't have to sell the Gospel, you simply sell your personality." This was an observation with enough truth in it for me to remember it and take it to heart. I have been thinking about it particularly over the last few weeks, for I have announced to my parish that I am leaving, after six good years, and moving to the parish of Wodonga.
It was an announcement that I found very difficult to make. Leaving a parish can be like a bereavement and I am an emotional parson. If I look too closely at the bereaved, while taking a funeral, my eyes fill with sympathetic, and embarrassing tears. So I announced my impending departure pusillanimously by way of the pew sheet. Only at a parish camp on the previous Saturday did I make my announcement orally at the camp Eucharist. A friend of my daughter's burst in to tears, and gloom and dismay seemed to cast a pall over everything. I found it difficult to finish the service. To what extent, I wonder, have I been selling myself and my personality rather than the Gospel over these past few years? Yet can the Gospel ever be detached or disengaged from personality and humanity and remain the Gospel? I don't think so, though there is a dangerous temptation for all parsons to defer more to popularity and success than to God and the Gospel.
Recognising Embryonic Bishops
When you have been in a parish for some years you begin to expect that news of your genius will have spread far and wide and that the postman will soon bring an invitation to accept one of the greatest parishes in the country. It does not often happen like that these days. Preferment in the Church has to be achieved, looked for, strived after. It is rarely thrust upon you. Any successes you might have made, any particular talents you might possess, need to be made known and discreetly published abroad. You need to be seen at conferences and seminars, to establish important or significant relationships and to be wary of extreme views or stand points. You need to be aware of desirable appointments and prompt to express interest. Ambition is not necessarily evil, though if all consuming and fuelled either by extreme pride or extreme insecurity it can very definitely be such. It usually manifests itself early. Embryonic bishops are usually identifiable at theological college.
Harare and Kadoma
When on the verge of leaving theological college myself, my bishop asked me where I would like to go as a deacon. I said that my first choice would be to go to work as my father's deacon and curate. He replied that two Neaum's would be more than any parish could bear and so I went instead to Harare's great cathedral. When I had spent three fascinating years there the bishop met over a drink with the two churchwardens of a town now called Kadoma and, with their easily procured agreement, I was sent there. For your first parish, even today, you tend to go where your bishop directs.
Fobbed Off By Tasmania
My next parish was on the island of St Helena. There was no question of having a look at it before going, of vetting it or of being vetted. It involved merely references and negotiation by letter. After St Helena I had to decide whether or not I should go to England, where I had many contacts, but England seemed to tame. I remembered from my school geography lessons that Tasmania seemed to be heaven on earth. I wrote to its bishop to inform him, if he was capable of reading between my letter's conventionally modest lines, that the most talented parson in the Anglican Communion was prepared to come and work in his diocese. Unable or unwilling to detect this good news between the lines of my letter, he fobbed me off! However, a friend from Zimbabwe days was working in the Diocese of Ballarat and he suggested to John Hazlewood, a bishop daring enough to take a punt on anything, that I would be worth offering a parish here. So I found myself in Australia. I was wished upon the little parish of Skipton, and then some years later, with the concurrence of the parish of Ararat's perceptive parochial nominators, I became Rector of this pleasing town and parish.
No Pig In A Poke
No longer are parishes prepared to accept a pig-in-a-poke parson on the mere recommendation of a bishop. Parishes with any pride in themselves and not too disgracefully moribund or deeply in debt insist upon looking a prospective parson over. My wife and I travelled up to Wodonga before accepting the parish, not only to look it over, but to be looked over ourselves. Because not desperate for a move, only ready for one, this proved a positive experience for us. By the time our visit was over we and the nominators seemed almost to be assuming that we were made for each other and so slipped now and then into talking as if the offer and its acceptance had already been made and given. Second and serious thought and prayer came later.
The only question asked by a nominator that stumped me was, "What are your failings?" Do you know, I couldn't for the life of me think of any!
Andrew Neaum 1995