Sunday, 24 January 2010


A vicar friend was telling me that he had cause to ring up several colleagues the other day, and how grateful they seemed to hear from him. He said he thought they were all lonely, we were all lonely.

It is odd that in a job that involves being with people that being a vicar can be so lonely. I am sure my friends in the parish would be horrified to think that in such a friendly and welcoming place I could feel this way. I reflected on this and I think it is that for many of us we came from jobs were we had daily access to people in the same situation as us, doctors have others in the surgery, lecturers have others in the department, but for vicars there can be days without meeting colleagues. My brother told me that being a Managing Director is also lonely. There is only one, and on the way up there were other department heads to sympathise with, but as MD you are alone.

So perhaps loneliness for many is about not being fully understood. There are many situations like this, how can you understand losing a child until you have lost one, or divorce, or abortion, or addiction, or abuse. The list is endless and now I think about it I can see the loneliness in the eyes of folks who try to explain to me things I can never fully understand.

I want to finish with a true story of someone called Tom who began to understand what it is like to be a vicar. Tom went to a fancy dress party and borrowed a clerical shirt and dog collar from a vicar friend. The next day he brought it back with the words 'you can keep it, I want nothing to do with that'. The vicar was startled and asked what had happened. It transpired that before the party Tom had gone to the pub in the fancy dress. An old man had sat next to Tom at the table and poured out the sadness and difficultly that was in his life. Tom didn't have the heart to stop him and so for that half an hour he was that man's priest. He then went to the party which didn't go very well and after an hour the host told him to get rid of the outfit, he was spoiling the event for the rest of his friends.


  1. I think it is sadder than you state, Lesley. In the Church our colleagues can be our worst enemies (as they can be in any competitive environment) so they are not usually the best source for friendships. It is difficult and probably unwise to make bosom buddies with parishioners. And we tend to work such long hours and such antisocial hours ( I have to go to bed early on a Saturday night to get up early to set things up for the eight o'clockers on Sunday morning, for a start) that it is hard for us to make good, often seen friends outside of work. Often we have moved a long way from our roots and have lost contact, on a regular basis, with our friends from before we became ministers. I find it a very lonely job. PTL for the Internet! It's not the same as real life but it's better than nought.

  2. Although I am a curate, so far this hasn't been my experience. I wonder if that is because I trained later in life and on a course rather than at a college. My opportunities for preferment are limited, and that is fine by me, so other clergy can be mates. And at least they understand what my life is like!

  3. Yes, Alan. I expect you are right to a certain degree. But competition in the church is not all about climbing the greasy pole. It is more like competition among siblings. You are the baby in the family now. Just wait to you grow up and start trying to get one of the increasingly fewer incumbencies. If, as in Newcastle, your prospective bishop is in on every interview, then pleasing daddy and showing daddy you're so much better behaved than your sister, can have life changing results. And if you remain an assistant priest until you retire, whatever you do, do not preach better sermons than your vicar.

  4. The colleagues I spoke of in this article were all curates, many had stayed local and yet they were suffering loneliness and isolation. I too feel lonely at times. Ironically, I think I am better off being single because I don't have to feel guilty about the impact of the job on my relationship. I do get great support from those I trained with on the ministry course and I am thankful to have stayed local for that reason. I think what I take from this is that the loneliness only gets worse as an incumbent.