Dear Friends,

When people who don't know me find out I'm a minister, they have two reactions. Firstly, they look surprised. Apparently, I don't look the way a minister should (either a bearded man wearing black or Dawn French). Secondly, they ask: 'So what is it you actually do?' Some of you may also wonder - though I know you're too polite to ask. So welcome to a week in the life of one minister!

I know Sunday is the first day of the week - but a ministerial week begins on Monday. And in the case of a minister serving a group of churches, it begins with the question: Where am I on Sunday? Am I leading worship at 9.30? At 11am? Both? If the latter, how close to each other are the churches? If the former: is there a church meeting after the service? Am I prepared for it? And is there a sneaky afternoon or evening service that I forget to my peril and everyone else's irritation?

 

Once I've established where I am on Sunday, I can look at the set Bible readings and the local context. Is it all-age worship? A church anniversary? Do the set readings help or will I need to do something different? Have I been planning several months ahead so the right people are involved? Any two churches may be in very different situations, so one service won't always fit both.

Ideally by Monday evening the hymns are chosen and service information is sent out. But there are other things happening: meetings of the Southampton University Free Church Chaplaincy management group; meetings of the national Faith and Order Committee; meetings with URC colleagues, and other church leaders; Elders meetings; worship group meetings; church meetings; agendas and minutes for meetings; reports for meetings. And, of course, email. So Monday morning's service planning often spills over into Tuesday or Wednesday.

But you'll be relieved to hear I'm not tethered to my desk. I go out to meet people in the churches and their communities: the Chandler’s Ford craft group; the Isaac Watts’ community lunch; Freemantle Brownie pack; Avenue St Andrew's cafe and their multicultural centre. That's when I hear something of what's happening in people's lives - or what has been happening. (The most dispiriting reply to the question: How are things? is 'Well, I'm all right now...', when I could have been in touch, had anyone told me something was wrong!) Oddly, the one way people never seem to get in touch is by phone. In Sheffield, real people rang me. Now it's mostly cold callers wanting to chase missold PPI...

But churches are good grapevines. So I visit people in hospital, or drop in at home, for targeted conversations like baptism visits or for more general how're-you-doing chats. People are very generous with cups of tea - and a bit too generous with biscuits, or so my waistline tells me. Then I go back home and read the paper, or a book, or listen to the radio, or watch TV - and find out other things about what's happening in the wider world we all inhabit. All through the week, things go into the stewpot of my brain: the Bible readings and hymns; what Mrs Whatsit said on Friday morning at AMC; that radio programme about the Sudan. And on Saturday afternoon, I sit down at my computer and don't get up again until a sermon or sermons have emerged. The words mature overnight (believe it or not), and get printed out early on Sunday morning. And I pray they're the right words, the ones God's given me for you.

For that's the other thing I do – pray: for guidance, for courage, for love, for healing; for you and for me. But then so do you all, or at least I hope you do. For if I'm to minister to you, I need your prayers ministering to me!

Sarah Hall