I have attended quite a few interviews now trying to get a job as a parish priest. One question I am always asked at some point during my grilling is, "Why have I been in an assistant role for 14 out of my 16 years as an ordained minister?"
The answer to this question has much to do with management not believing that a person who has suffered from depression in the past can be trusted in a leadership position. But it is also down to the fact that I never felt compelled to alter the situation. I just don't need to be in charge. I don't regard myself as a failure because I am not the boss. I never feel that I simply must get a job as the person in a parish that makes the decisions. Even now, as I actively search for work, I don't pay any more attention to adverts for leaders than I do to adverts for any other type of post. However, this is obviously seen as unnatural and highly suspect by most people in the Church.
I was asked this question at a recent interview and I explained that it just didn't bother me. One of the parish representatives responded by saying that when she was just employed as a doctor she dreamt of the day that she would be running her own general practice. I said that being a doctor and being a priest were two different things and that it was the role of a priest to be a servant and not crave for promotion and the rewards that go with it. But nobody was convinced.
What this says about the understanding of the laity and much of the clergy of my church of the nature of priesthood is quite scary in my opinion, and incredibly depressing. Also, it shows an almost total ignorance of the main teachings of Jesus Christ or, if not, a deliberate decision to ignore those teachings.
A hundred and fifty years ago being an assistant or a perpetual curate was not seen as failure and those the Church most reveres as examples of Christlike living are almost always servers rather than leaders. When you read the hagiographies of episcopal and papal saints there is always an emphasis on how they served and cared for the "ordinary" people in their care. I expect that these claims are untrue in many cases but they have to be made in order to validate the sanctification. So why, if servanthood is the mark of true Christianity, is it regarded as an indication of incompetence and laziness by so many in our church today?
I fear the priesthood is being recreated in the image of the secular, capitalist zeitgeist of our times and that most of the clergy are embracing it as wholeheartedly as a young stockbroker dreaming of his first Porsche with the full backing of their congregations who do not want to be embarrassed every Sunday morning by the presence of a priest who just doesn't give a damn about worldly prestige and preferment.