When, some years ago, I became the Bishop’s Surrogate for this area – the person deputed to hear oaths which, technically, should be sworn before the bishop for the purpose of getting married without banns being read and things of that order – I said I’d do it provided I got appropriate training as I was very unsure what to do. My training arrived in a brown envelope from the Bishop’s Registry and consisted of a booklet. Well, I thought, that’s distance learning.
As you know not so long ago I became Chaplain to the local squadron of the Air Cadets as I thought it was a helpful institution to have links with. My predecessor didn’t do a great deal apart from turn up for enrolment services, but it was suggested to me that I might be a bit more involved and do ‘Padre’s Hour’ with the cadets from time to time, to which I breezily said Yes, it being entirely open as to what Padre’s Hour might comprise. I was advised to contact one of the other padres in the area, who, it turned out, had moved. A second I haven’t been able to coincide diaries with. A third was friendly but uninformative apart from advising me to pay as much attention to the welfare of the adults as to the cadets. There was a ‘manual’, I was told, which followed the national RAF chaplains’ ‘Patterns for Life’ scheme, dealing with a variety of big moral and emotional matters such as ‘Respect’ or ‘Integrity’.
And so in advance of my first session this Tuesday I looked through the bewildering pages of ‘Patterns for Life’ and battered together something which I hoped would take about 40-50 minutes depending on how talkative the cadets turned out to be. I was terrified. Of course these teenagers were likely to be more tolerant, helpful and respectful than any other group I am ever likely to encounter, but I still had next to no idea how what I wanted to do or say would go down. They weren’t awfully talkative although probably more so than they would have been had I simply launched into the work without the ice-breaking exercise I worked out beforehand. I do sometimes get the impression that I just suck the initiative and confidence out of any group of people I deal with. I came home, insisted on doing the washing-up alone (Ms Formerly Aldgate and I would normally do it together), and had some port to recover. I spend so much of my time doing things I seem attitudinally completely unsuited to. There must be some purpose to it, mustn’t there?