Friday, 4 September 2015

IT WAS THE TAX MAN NOT GOD



So there I was, in a process to discern whether God had called me into priesthood.  I was also putting loads of extra effort into my PR clients, driven by the conviction that Jesus had signalled that I would make a stack more money and be able to go into full time ministry. 


I would be 'Reverend Bountiful', fisher of men and women.

Oh, boy was I in for a shock.

I wasn't doing badly when I received my calling - nice house, a Merc, overseas holidays - but not enough to retire. Even if I could have lived on a stipend it didn't make actuarial sense for Church to employ people in their 50's  and then be responsible for them in their old age. Besides, I had a disabled son to support.

So why did I think I was called to full time ministry? You may remember that I'd felt called while meditating on the gospel story in which Jesus stands on the beach and sends the disciples to fish again after an unsuccessful night. They return with nets so full  that they can't even load the fish into the boats. Jesus then tells them that he will make them fishers of men.  



While I have no doubt that my priestly calling was in that meditation. I am just as certain of the dangers of taking the Bible too literally. 

There is real risk in reading the Scriptures as you would your  horoscope  in the daily newspaper. Somehow I'd heard Jesus promising me unprecedented financial success if I worked my butt off. 

But let's get back to the thread. 

Being an ordinand is no cake walk. One tends to shift from being a much pampered member of the congregation to the very bottom of the church hierarchical pile. It's like graduation from junior school to High School where you start at the bottom rung of the new ladder.

You have a living to earn and you have a new boss who expects you to work on week-ends. Your annual family holiday feels like a cardinal sin. Forget Lent. Forget Easter. Forget Christmas. That's like taking leave when there's annual stocktaking at work. 

You are desperate to be put forward for the discernment conference. This means trying to impress your parish clergy, the parish council, your bishop, your archdeacon the folk who run the discernment programme and God. (Probably in that order.)

In short, burn out looms. 

Women ordinands weep, much to the disgust of their rectors. 




Male ordinands see their doctors about stress symptoms.

Families make supportive noises but often feel neglected.

It's a war zone and I knew I had to work smarter at making my fortune so I pitched for a major government tender. Part of the process was to get a tax clearance certificate. 

'Ah!' said the grim man at the Receiver's office, 'We've been looking for you. You haven't paid VAT or tax for years.' 

My accountant, who handled all those matters, had paid himself instead of the Receiver. He'd dust-binned all warning correspondence so I didn't have a clue. He eventually went to jail but the backlog, the penalties and interest were humungous. 

 Like so many middle class South Africans our lifestyle had been financed by easily obtained credit. I was more than broke. I was insolvent.

That wasn't Jesus I'd heard from a beach. It was the tax man calling from his miserable cubicle.

This begged the question. What if my calling to priesthood had also been wishful thinking? If not, would the Church still have me? 

There was a meeting with the bishop and my former rector who was the bishop elect. They decided that I should stay in the ordinand's programme. 

Meanwhile I was still in my working class parish in a suburb that had seen better days. My rector had calmed down and I am still grateful for the training I got from him. Not that there was a great deal of love, it was more of an uneasy truce. 

As the bank reclaimed my home in Sandton there was another one of those God incidences I'm always so grateful for. Not far from my parish was a house that had been vandalised - no floors, not fittings, no windows, no doors. The bank that owned it was in despair. No one would buy it. 

Except me. 

I got it for a song which happened to be all I had. We boarded up the holes and, may God forgive me, for the first month we hijacked electricity from a street pole because we couldn't pay an electrician  or pay utility deposits. A neighbour put a long hose pipe over the fence. We boiled water in a kettle and bathed in our dogs' zinc bath. 

Sounds awful doesn't it?  In a strange way it was fun.  I've always loved to build and I shop in hardware stores the way other women shop for clothes. Every little bit of effort, every light switch, every floor tile had a disproportionate impact on our new home. It was a blank canvas. I found labourers who were used to being dropped off each day by their builder bosses and getting on with the job. 

I couldn't pay much but put them in charge of themselves. Between us we cooked basic food every day. Often the workers would sleep on the floor in an unfinished room. 

I'd picked up an old bath and basin and a hob at a pawn shop. Life was getting better by the day. Looking back I realise that there was one big bonus. My life had been stripped to the bare bones of reality and I've never felt as close to God.

Of course there were times when I missed my false nails. Hair tints and highlights were a distant memory. As were quite a few friends who did not want to venture into my low class suburb.

The house took shape, I had faithful clients.With no funds to socialise I was whipping through a theology diploma. There was food on the table, the house was becoming more than comfortable. 

And I was still an ordinand.

It was on one of our training  week ends in Soweto that I realised that I didn't know enough about the majority of Anglicans in our diocese. I asked the bishop to transfer me to a black parish.

I must explain that even today, 21 years after our first democratic elections, few white South Africans have set foot in a township. You cant blame them. Apartheid wasn't just about racism is was also about spatial segregation. 

The only township pictures we ever saw prior to 1994 were of violence and unrest. Most whites still genuinely believe that to go into a black area is to risk your life or , at the very least to be hi-jacked. 



But Soweto, home to a third of Johannesburg's population, is a mix of suburbs good and bad. 

The diocese gave me a letter giving me permission to work at St James in Diepkloof Ext 3. There were caveats. It would be for six months only and on condition the rector would have me.

The job interview is a whole other story. Watch this space.

  
Listen to Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak about prayer from his hospital bed (the family is hoping he will be discharged soon)  The link is ow.ly/RMCnd



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1 comment:

Peter Nickles said...

I wish I had access to the whole story.....this serial style is bad for my nerves.
Well done and thank you.