I WONDER what you think when you see a vicar walking around your neighbourhood?
The immediate reaction of many people when they see someone in a dog collar is to try not to swear. Or if they do, they immediately apologise.
That’s kind of them, but rest assured that swearing isn’t the biggest thing that bothers clergy men and women – and we’ve probably heard worse.
Many people’s stereotype of a clergyman is the English country vicar from period TV dramas – sipping tea and eating cake at a country fayre.
The stereotype of the clergywoman is perhaps a fun-loving Vicar of Dibley.
Knowing clergy as I do, I see them differently.
For me, they are more like hard-bitten heroes on the frontline of our society.
They deal with some of the most vulnerable in our communities, people who others may have already given up on.
They feed the homeless, visit the housebound, empathise with the bereaved, deal with complex family issues, care for those who are ill, and much more.
Like teachers, social workers and NHS staff, they deal with stressful situations every day because they have chosen to serve their local community.
It’s noticeable that on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire, it was clergy and imams who opened up their churches and mosques to help immediately.
They gave people tea, shelter and comfort because it was in their DNA to do so.
Clergy don’t do these things because they are ‘good’. They are flawed, a mixture of good and bad, just like us all.
Like their congregations, they have to pray for forgiveness every day for the things they’ve done wrong.
But what marks them out is their determination to put others first. If I see a clergy person facing burnout, it’s always because they’ve been doing too much for others and not enough to care for themselves.
In some places, the vicar and their congregation are the only people left to serve their community.
The police don’t have the resources to patrol regularly, the post office and pub have closed, and the community group has disbanded.
Yet the church is still there with its doors open, trying to make a difference to society.
Next time you see a vicar walking down your street, why not shake their hand and say ‘Thank-you for being there’? They’ll appreciate it.