As a priest in Newcastle, I was generally anonymous. Even in a dog collar, unless someone was in a local congregation, I was irrelevant. Henri Nouwen was right to say, “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self” (In the Name of Jesus, 1989).
One of the joys of moving to the country is the ease of conversing about spirituality and faith. There is no way for a vicar to hide in a village. People know me, and they weigh up my actions as carefully as they weigh my words. They see me in the shop, at the school, in clubs and societies. They know my politics, my bad habits and my motivations.
And there are no edges to ministry here; every conversation and interaction could become public. People notice if I am sharp or critical, if I miss prayers in church, or if I am careless. I relish being known, though it is sometimes costly to me and to my family. But to be known does not protect me from being irrelevant. It is only through transparent vulnerability and availability that Jesus is made known in my life.