And on the other hand…
Retirement is also fantastic, joy day after day like being on holiday for ever. Lots of times since ending those ’37 years of parish ministry’ I keep banging on about, I’ve found myself thinking, “This, at last, is the life I was born for!”
After you’ve stopped being a vicar, you no longer have to go to all those meetings: Parochial Church Councils, deanery synods, chapter meetings, diocesan synods if you’re unfortunate enough that it’s ‘your turn’, parish sub-committees on finance, buildings, stewardship, tiny charity meetings… and on and on. I was singularly blessed that most of those meetings were with lovely gifted faithful altruistic people, many of whom I counted as dear friends. But there were all kinds of things I would rather have been spending my time doing: like drinking in the pub with those friends, instead of sitting round a table in a draughty church hall, looking at balance sheets and wondering what to do. Some vicars must like meetings (else why would they make so many of them?), and I’ve even wondered if they prefer the ones that turn into bitter interpersonal wars, on the grounds that this makes them more interesting. But if this is the case, they must be a funny kind of vicar.
After you’ve stopped being a vicar, you no longer get all the stuff from the diocese that sometimes feels like people making work for parish clergy in order to justify their own salary… Gosh, that sounds appalling, doesn’t it? And it’s quite wrong. The lovely people who work in Church Houses up and down the land are lovely servants of the Church, without whom we would not be able to function. It’s just that sometimes you wonder: Why does that lovely person’s job of faithful service to the Church involve making more work for me in the parish? Counting beans and filing reports, when I might be visiting or pastoring or studying or even just passing an hour in quiet contemplation, spending time with God? When you’re in the thick of it, you feel guilty even asking the question. But someone ought to be asking it.
And after you’ve stopped being a vicar, you don’t have to be there every week. You can actually go away for something called A Weekend, like normal people do. You can go to a different church for a change: something that as a vicar you don’t like to encourage people to do, but actually you find it mightn’t be all bad. (It might even make them appreciate what they have in their home church, though normal clergy paranoia always makes you fear this is unlikely…)
And, after you’ve stopped being a vicar, much as I loved sharing people’s lives at the life-turning-point moments of births, marriages and deaths, you can take a break from doing that too. Taking these ‘occasional offices’ is a wonderful privilege that makes the job worth doing more than almost anything else, but sometimes I found myself thinking, Do I have to start another year’s round of publishing banns of marriage, marriage preparation, rehearsals and managing the day itself? Like lots of clergy, I often found funerals more ‘enjoyable’ (or fulfilling? or worthwhile?) than weddings.
And, of course, retirement joy is more than just all the things you no longer have to do. Much more, much better, are all the things you can now do that you didn’t have time to do before. Visit children and grandchildren. Take holidays. Read the books you’ve never got around to reading, or have long wanted to reread. Study and learn new things. Walk. Life being what it is, you don’t get around to doing half as much as you could do or would like to do. There are still constraints like whether you have the time or the money. And then, we’ve not yet been doing this Retirement Thing for a whole year. We’re still learning, still a bit stunned by it.
But one of the things that came to me when I was out for a walk one day, not particularly praying or being holy, was a new watchword, mantra, daily prayer, whatever you like to call it.
IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE.
Of course it is. But when you’re working full-time, you don’t always have the time or the space or the energy to remember it. Being retired means you don’t have that excuse. So, day by day, day by day: It’s great to be alive.