Working the Augean Stables

Sadly, there will be no photos to accompany this post, as I think the pictures will go better in your head…

I am one of those people who strive to be tidy: I crave order, I love lists, and make them obessively. Major events like the Summer Fayre, Holy Week and Christmas are planned down to the last detail on a big flipchart and I love to tick things off as they go along. Nothing gives me more satisfaction. Those who worked with me at the National Youth Pilgrimage will identify with this obsession with ‘keeping ahead’

Unfortunately, into this life of order and zen-like calm there comes a reality of little things which don’t have a home, great masses of stuff that are between places and a whole life which is for the most part, a little to busy to have time to be put away.

And it ends up in my Study.

There is nothing more scary than venturing into my study in the run up to a Walsingham Children’s or Youth Pilgrimage, nothing more terrifying than immediately after a Parish event, when you simply can’t find the floor because of all the crap that I dump in my study. It then takes ages to get put away.

There are, of course, millions of books. I love books: I treasure them, I love to read them, and I delight in simply owning books. A visit to a secondhand book shop is almost as exciting as a visit to the Pub. My books are not just theology, liturgy, youth work books, but comedy, art, poetry, literature and sometimes just plain old trash which deserves ‘one more read’. I nearly studied English at University (before God and the Nursing-bug took charge of my life) and I still harbour that love of writing.

Some books havn’t seen daylight for years; some books are useless; some I know, simply know, that I will never read again, and yet it seems heartless to simply throw them away. And yet, there is no more shelf-space…

One piece of advice I would like to give, especially to those Ordinands and proto-Ordinands out there who scrape past this blog is about the difference between books in theological college and books in ministry. If I had known what I really needed, then I would not have blown my Cleaver grant on all those heavy-duty systematic theology texts: Von Balthazar, Barth and the big boys all of whom sit in an impressive array on my dining room shelf, rather than actually to hand in my Study. They are only useful for impressing people, as I never touch the damn things. All that money I blew on Tillich, Pannenberg, Kung and Schillebeeckx is worth nothing compared to a decent book of ideas for Assemblies, a range of commentaries on the Gospels and the lives and witness of the Saints of the Day (‘Exciting Holiness’ for example). THIS is what you will need and use in your ministry, THIS is what will help bring the People of God closer to Him, THIS is what will make of you a better priest than all that ‘proper’ theology. I am not against theology: it is my delight (and systematics is my particular field) but it is background to the wider task of Apologetics; it provides context for Mission, but is not missionary in itself. The interpretation of Scripture, the explanation of the lives of the Saints, the application of the right prayer and the best possible whizz-bang Assemblies you can provide (the major mission-field, my dear friends) will be what makes the best-read priest. There is a priest I know of who still believes in theology after mattins, lunch, and then parish visits but I ask ‘does this communicate the Gospel? The simple truth which came out of a direct experience of God and was articulated by the inarticulate, the simple, the direct?’

So, I have to put it simply, too many crap and useless books collected on the way and not enough space. No provision for the detrietus of ministry and a desperate need to have some degree of organisation. The task was therefore begun yesterday to sort, to clean (for Zanet the cleaner does not dare enter … the Study!! …) and to chuck: to recycle, to shred and to donate. It has so far taken more than 12 hours (broken only by a decent takeaway and an episode of Spooks – Code 9 on iplayer) to be almost sorted.

Masses of bin bags. Oxfam Books have done very well on this. eBay will be buried under a mound of kit that needs to be sold on. Lots of dust raised and tamed and through it all, the small sense of achievement: there is a Study underneath all this. The network has been completely recabled and tamed, the ikons can now be set out and prayed before again; Jesus looks out over the room with a renewed smile (if that reference is lost on you, I have been re-reading The Little World of Don Camillo and I highly recommend it to you).

The Study now starts to look a little but more welcoming and wedding couples may once again venture inside. Documents may be found readily and trip hazards reduced. This is a good moment.

But it is not quite over. Another espresso and back on with the task, I think…