How to drive the Rector of all Lewes crazy.

The Rector of all Lewes, an otherwise brilliant, thoughtful and committed priest of the Church, really, really, really likes George Herbert. I found this out by mentioning some time ago that I had been taken by the argument that old George had done the Church no good by promoting an image of the Parson that is impossible to incarnate and then leaving it to the Church to expect actual real flesh and blood persons to be the Country Parson. He was not amused.

Now I have to say, the Rector warned me that much of the "image" of the Country Parson is not George's fault, but rather a romantic overlay on what he wrote. And, to make matters worse, his poetry which is astoundingly good, feeds into the romantic possibilities as all things metaphysical do.

So the Rector was right to tell me that we can't blame our overblown expectations of the clergy on George Herbert himself. It is what the church culture has done with the parson that is the problem, not George. OK. Got it.

Still, Thinking Anglicans points us to The London Observer, where Justin Lewis-Anthony has written an intriguing essay, "Why George Herbert must die." Go on over and read it. The sub title of the essay reads, "The image of the vicar as a kindly, smiling presence, ministering to all the various needs of an ideal community, is one we must ditch."

How do we define the role of the parish priest, the rector in a small town, the vicar in a city parish, where the connective tissue of spiritual care and guidance is too complex for any one person to signify? And, using the alternate title to the Country Parson,
A Priest to the Temple, how do we keep alive the priestly vocation in a world of too many temples, or none at all?

Ol' George is dead and gone, and he left us here to sing this song....and how will we sing it in a strange land. (How is that for squishing together several musical lines?)


  1. Just a thought, Mark. Read George Herbert and then read Trollope and find the via media between the two.

    Seriously, over the next several decades, the position of the rector or the country parson is likely to change rather drastically. I hope that priests are ready, because change is on the way. I see fewer priests having full-time positions, many priests having other occupations and means of support, with their priestly service as part-time and lay folks picking up the slack in ministry.

    I guess my comment is off-topic, but when I think of the priesthood, the changes we face come to mind, even as the full force won't be felt in my lifetime.

  2. Mark,

    About driving the Rector crazy...As my dad used to say, "It's not a drive, it's a short putt!" :-D

    I agree with the wisdom Grandmere Mimi--balance is everything. The demands on the clergy are changing as they do for each generation...I don't think it is ever good to put anyone on a pedistal of perfection, but every Christian has to find the balance between self and service in ministry. George helps me do that...but so does the Vicar of Dibley who reminds me to laugh, as do many others. I guess it is all in what we do with them.

  3. George Herbert only spent about five hours a day on church business. The rest of the time he was either working on his tithe lands or writing. His ministry was focussed on the people of his parish alone. Therefore, the ministry of George Herbert is a good example of how to avoid clergy stress and overworking.

    It is the example of the secular world, its capitalist demands, that overburden many priests nowadays. Many believe that visiting people is not work and feel guilty about not being busy every moment of the day. To alleviate these feelings of guilt they involve themselves in stuff outside of their parish and fill their days with committee meetings and the like. They then make excuses as to why they should not be visiting and begin to see themselves as administrators and leaders rather than priests and servants.

    George Herbert was not an example of perfection but of how to do one job well and efficiently. If today's jack of all trades (master of none) priests followed Herbert's example they would find themselves unburdened and free to be themselves.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.