It's something of a cry of the heart, but also reflective and challenging. Andy reveals a certain degree of hurt without being at all bitter. He exposes some of the weaknesses of the modern Church of England, but is still able to affirm its strengths. Two observations particularly struck me. The first was "old habits die hard - actually, many of those old habits don't need to die". Although it's a truism, the reminder that "traditional church" is still where it's at for most churchgoers is a challenge to the way in which we present new ways of doing church. The second is much sharper - "there is a degree of salesmanship in any church ministry". I don't think Andy means this as a condemnation of ministers - just a statement of fact. But it's still a challenge to the conscience of those of us who are in ministry, as to whether we're selling the product with integrity, or have resorted to blarney and bluster to convince the punters.
I think Andy's piece also exposes some deep fault lines in current thinking within the Church of England.
The first one is that our ordination training has too many inbuilt tendencies to failure, with a huge waste of human resources as a result. Andy has fallen foul of one of them - that it is quite easy for selection panels to cheerfully recommend a candidate for a specific type of ministry, and then for him to find years later, at the end of his training, that there isn't a job for him in that type of ministry. The Ordained Pioneer Minister track is a great idea in principle, but many more experiences like Andy's will kill it stone dead. And how many OPMs have already been shoehorned into curacies that are basically "old-style" with a bit of youth work or something tacked on? OPM trainees need to be guaranteed OPM curacies.
The second one is deeper, and harder to fix. The blossoming of new ideas about ministry is welcome and has led to a healthy diversity, both of people entering the ordained ministry, and the available roles for them. The downside of this is that there is a huge amount of confusion about the role of ministers, and most of the time we no longer know what kind of ministers we want, or what we want from them.
Or, to be more precise, we do in fact know what we want, because there are a number of good models of ministry out there. But what we find it difficult is to allow individual ministers to be any one of them. The job advert asking for a vicar to be a pastor, visionary, teacher, leader, evangelist and administrator may be a cliché, but it is one found every week in the pages of the Church Times. But what is true of curates is true of all clergy. Each has their own set of giftings and strengths, and these reflect their own calling as a Christian and minister. Some are able to balance the demands on them and to play to their strengths. But many end up in situations where they are loaded with all kinds of things that they are neither called to do nor very good at. Some are so crushed by the weight of expectation that they drop out altogether.
Whether we can get our heads round this will define the next generation of ministry in the Church of England. We need to allow more specialism within the ministry, especially within the ranks of the paid clergy, traditionally the "jack of all trades", but now with too many trades to ply. Whether we do this by shaping jobs to the giftings of particular ministers, or by creating jobs and selecting people to fill them, is a moot point (or perhaps there's room for both). But we need to make space for Andy and people like him, and we need to make it possible, not impossible, for ministers to follow their calling.