Of the various parts of ministerial training and development that make me shake my head, the “yes, but that’s what we had to do,” approach to training is right up at the top. Usually, it will relate to something like hospital visits, for example. You’ll suggest that, wouldn’t it be a good idea if priests in training got the chance to role play these before we actually have to do one.
Generally, the person you are talking with will agree with you, followed by telling you some horror story about a grotesque faux pas they had committed during one of their visits to a parishioner. In some cases these faux pas were so bad as to have a detrimental effect on their ministry for a period of months.
So then, you suggest that: Wouldn’t it be a good idea to try and avoid such mishaps. Again, the supervisor will likely agree, but when you ask why it isn’t done, the answer will usually be: Well, that’s the way it’s always been done. That’s what I went through. As if the benefit in humiliating and keeping a priest-in-training humble was much greater than the loss in damaging relationships within a parish.
Of course, even good training will not entirely remove the risk of a priest making utterly stupid and inappropriate comments from time to time. Priests are human, and some of us might raise doubts as to whether we’ve even made it that far up the food chain. Yet, why not give priests a little training on etiquette and social graces along the way.
I was fortunate to be brought up in the Buddy Hackett school of eating. If you don’t know who he is, check out YouTube and find some videos of him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Buddy’s line about eating was: “As a kid I had two choices at mealtime. Take it or leave it.” Or to put it another way, you ate what was put before you.
I think this is a very good rule of thumb for parish visits. However, it does bring up some interesting questions as far as scruples are involved. With an increase in the number of vegetarian and vegan individuals who are entering the ministry, the question that needs to be put to them is, you’re visiting a parishioner and you are offered there homemade meat pasties with your tea/coffee. Should you accept and eat? If you say no, what do you risk losing in terms of relationship with that parishioner?
Likewise, when is it acceptable and when is it unacceptable as a minister to turn down invitations for a meal? I know some pastors prefer their home as a place that they are able to spend time away from parishioners. However, if you wish to model the idea of common eating, is this the best approach to take?
These and other questions will form the basis of this class. Again, I welcome any comments. You can comment in the comment section below or send me a tweet @anglibubs