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23rd March 2005
Going into an interregnum
The experiences of a Reader who went into three
A Reader in a parish that goes into an interregnum can find it a time of great opportunity. It can also pose difficulties. For a Reader recently retired from a paid occupation the degree of commitment will depend entirely on the individual, and his or her priorities in retirement. For a Reader who works, it will clearly be more difficult to take on any extra weekday commitments.
The three interregna in which I was involved were all different. The first occurred in a parish that was part of a Team Ministry, so that cover for Sunday Eucharists was easier to provide. Evensong (BCP) was nearly always taken by me, although occasionally the Team Rector would arrange for a team priest to conduct the service.
The first Interregnum included the 50th anniversaries of both VE and VJ days, and I was invited to produce services, and in the case of VJ day, to lead the service, as no priest was available. Funerals were taken occasionally; this was made possible because I'd negotiated a 4-day week in the years leading up to my retirement, and adjusted my non-working day as necessary.
After retirement, and a move, I was asked to work at a parish about four miles away from home to assist the Rector, who was due to retire a few months later. After his retirement, I either conducted or assisted in Sunday morning services in the two churches within the benefice, necessitating hurried farewells at the first, half a cup of coffee, and a ‘dash’ between churches, (about a mile apart) before starting the second service. By being present at both services I provided some continuity and was able to brief visiting priests.
If the weather was bad, or a booked priest was ill at the last minute, there was a problem. It was solved (with permission) by keeping a small amount of consecrated bread and wine in reserve for me to distribute at the normal time using an authorized form of service. This arrangement was readily accepted in both parishes; no one ever declined to receive the sacraments
The occasional non-eucharistic service (Matins) was always taken by me which enabled a Reader in Training in the parish to gain experience of leading Matins and later, preaching, whilst supervised. (She is now Admitted and Licensed).
I was invited to be a part of the committee formed to prepare our Parish profile and write a description of the sort of priest we wanted to come to us. Much coffee was consumed paring the wish list down to a realistic CV!
In the second year of the interregnum, my own parish went into interregnum. Again the situation was different; the parish had a resident and much loved retired priest. He and another retired priest from nearby took the main services turn and turn about. He was extremely generous in sharing services, and had a very positive attitude to Readers. Once the second interregnum came to an end, I participated in the main service in some way virtually every Sunday, and usually led Evensong by turn with the second Reader, who was also a chorister and of working age.
During both the second and third interregna, I was heavily committed to funerals, conducting one or two virtually every week, a great privilege. There were a few burials in wind-swept and often rain-soaked cemeteries giving me a new understanding of the term ‘stair-rods’. Fortunately a retiring incumbent had presented me with his very warm cloak.
Other duties included taking Sick Communion to a number of elderly people, either at their own homes or in some cases in one of the local Retirement Homes and conducting a short service once a month on a Sunday afternoon in a Warden protected set of flats and small bungalows. I ran Lent and Autumn Study Courses and a Confirmation Preparation Course, with some guidance by a local priest when he could spare the time, and tried to attend all social events such as coffee mornings, Summer Fetes, Christmas Fairs and Scrabble evenings. I drew the line at Beetle Drives…
One of the frustrations that arise in an interregnum is that any suggestions for even the slightest change in activities is almost invariably blocked on the principle that nothing should be done until the new incumbent arrives, even if that is eighteen months away!
One has a certain responsibility without authority!
Perhaps my most unusual act was to bless a civil wedding. It came about because some months earlier, a priest in the parish had accepted the commitment, then moved away and forgotten all about it. So with the Archdeacon’s blessing and reminders about the limits of a Reader’s licence in relation to pronouncing blessings, I conducted the service.
Now all that is over, and I seem to be just as busy, having an incumbent who also believes in collaborative ministry. Funerals are now limited to those which fall on her day off or clash with other duties. I am moving again soon after five very blessed and fruitful years of service and only a few ‘battle scars’! Deo gratia.