Ordination 12 – Training begins.

It’s actually happening, folks.  The induction weekend has begun.  This is not a drill…

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I arrived a little while ago and have been hiding in my room ever since.  (Just kidding – I am in my room, but it doesn’t count as hiding … not yet, anyway).

Felt a bit weird on the train coming down, to be honest.  It’s scarily real now (and really scary, obviously!).  Have a vague idea of some of the topics that will be covered in lectures, and I have a vague idea of my way around the site.  But the big stuff, the important stuff; it’s all still a bit of a mystery.  Who knows what I’m going to look and feel like in three years’ time…

Things kick off with Opening Worship at 6 (Oh my goodness, is someone singing as I type? they clearly haven’t lived in community!)  Feel I should brush my teeth before heading down.  First impressions, and all that (can’t do much about the face, sadly).  Then it’s the evening meal, introductions (hoping for no death-defyingly cringey icebreakers), and relax (i.e., hope to find a hot chocolate in the bar, and then go to bed!).

Room is basic, but pleasant enough.  I’d like a nice, relaxing armchair, but you can’t win ’em all!  There’s a little mystery door that I’m going to have to investigate, but I’ll keep you posted on that one.  Should probably hustle down to chapel (don’t worry, I won’t forget my teeth!).

Would value prayers right now for all of us who are embarking on this crazy calling.  We need all the prayers we can muster!


Edit:  The wifi here is such that I typed this and endeavoured to post it at 6:00, but it didn’t work and it’s now 9:00 and I’ve finally managed!

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Ordination 11 – Training approaches!

You know those people who say they’ll do something and then they don’t (I’m pretty sure Jesus told a story about it…)?  That’s clearly me.  ‘I’ll keep you posted’, I say.  And then I don’t.  In my defence, anyone who follows me on Twitter or who is a friend on Facebook has known the BAP outcome for ages.  But even on those platforms I’ve been pretty quiet.

So, I’m through.  I got the call and the letter and the meeting and everything.  And I’ve been recommended for training.

The last few months have not all been plain sailing, though.  I’ve had a bit of a nightmare with sorting out my training.  I had visited St. John’s Nottingham, liked it, and been offered a place there.  It all seemed great, apart from the fact that the diocese seemed to be dragging their feet a little, while I was keen to get it all wrapped up.  But in a meeting in July (in the week we moved house, and two days before we went on our summer holiday!) I was told that St. John’s were not offering any ordination training this year.  Disaster!!  (Though it did make me think that was perhaps why the diocese had been a little slow!)

So it was back to square one and having to investigate other options.  The three front runners were a course delivered in Sheffield and housed in Mirfield (St. Hilds), Queen’s Birmingham, and The Derby Pathway (linked to AllSaints, which is based in Warrington)

Sheffield was very attractive – I visited Mirfield with the boys and loved it; the course felt like it would fit; they offered an MA.  However, the practical aspects were tricky.  Travel was further and more complicated.

The Derby Pathway likewise offered an MA, and was the geographically closest of the options.

Queen’s Birmingham was between the two in terms of travel time, although pretty straightforward on the train.  It didn’t offer an MA (well, not to me, anyway!).  However, the other big plus was that the course was delivered on Tuesday evenings.  St. John’s had been planning to deliver on Tuesday evenings, so we’d already planned our lives around me being away Tuesday evenings, and while this practicality wasn’t the most important factor, it did make life much easier.

Queen’s is therefore where I’m going.  Brilliantly, I was able to take Anna and the boys and Mum and Dad for a look round a couple of weeks ago, which was really nice, both for me and for them.

It won’t be without its challenges, and there are doubtless things I’ll struggle with, but I felt it was the right place to be.

That’s a really, really abbreviated version of the story.  But at least you’re all a little more up to date now 🙂

Prayers for this next stage, for all of us as a family, would be most welcome.  More of that in a later post (probably around December at the current rate of updates!).

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Ordination 10 – BAP reflection.

We were warned about blogging about BAP, because it would be unfair to blog about the experiences of others.  This blog might therefore end up sounding like I was the only candidate there.  I wasn’t!  But other than some general comments, I won’t say anything about others who were there.  Also, the blog will (obviously!) be a reflection on my experiences – others who go to BAP may feel completely differently about every aspect!  Sorry, but this is a bit of a long post…

The broad reflection to begin with is that I thought BAP was very good.  Of course it was a nerve-wracking process, but the advisers and other candidates made it a very positive experience.

BAP started on Monday afternoon (arrive mid-afternoon ish) and went on until Wednesday at about 4:00.  The initial briefing took us through the plan of action and we were all given our interview times.  Mine ended up suiting me perfectly 🙂

One of the things we were told in that first session was that they (the advisers/panel secretary etc.) wanted us to leave the BAP feeling that we had been listened to.  That was certainly true in my case.  I felt that the advisers had prepared extremely carefully and that they knew as much about me as humanly possible from my own paperwork and the references that had been sent in.  This put me at ease, because it felt like they were working to know and understand me (let’s face it – I’m offering the real me for ordination, so they need to know what they’re getting!).  It was also made very clear that this is not a competitive process.  Unlike things like The Apprentice and X Factor, the job does not go to the last man or woman standing.  Each of us was exploring a calling, and in each case, it was that calling that was being examined and probed and tested.  There was not a quota to be filled.  It might be that all 15 of us were recommended, but equally all 15 could be not recommended.  It is a case-by-case basis.  It was also clarified/confirmed that this Panel was recommending us for training, NOT for ordination.  If we were recommended for training, the decisions about whether we were recommended for ordination would come during the training process.

That first afternoon, we had to do a ‘Personal Inventory’.  This was three pages of questions, related to the nine criteria.  Not something you can really prepare for (and they didn’t want us to, in a sense.  It was supposed to be our initial responses to the questions, not carefully crafted, eloquent responses).  It was fine.  Just a case of leaving yourself plenty of time for each bit.  You could skip around the questions if that was easier than doing them in order, so long as you didn’t miss any out!  These would be used in the interview process.

That first evening (I forget precisely what stage it was at, but it may well have been in the first meeting!) we were also given our ‘Pastoral Exercise’ (No, nothing to do with the Grapevine Squat).  We were presented with a pastoral issue, and had up to 500 words to address it.  In our case (I won’t say too much about it – it’s a bit like Mousetrap – sworn to secrecy and all that) we had to write to a young person who’d made a mistake (although she didn’t really accept it was a mistake … yet).  Having worked with a bazillion young people, I felt comfortable with the concept.  However, I think I might have slightly cheated in that I asked in my email (yes, we’re all 20th century now – it didn’t have to be a letter!) to meet up with Sally, because simply responding in writing wasn’t going to cut it, in my opinion.  I did find myself almost praying for Sally on that first night, which was a bit of a weird position to find myself in.  I stopped myself from praying for her, and decided to pray about how to respond instead, given she wasn’t a real person and therefore wouldn’t much benefit from my prayers (but the task was a real exercise and therefore it would benefit from prayer!).

The next morning was presentation and discussion time.  Each of us (8 in my group) had (up to) five minutes to do a presentation and then we had to facilitate a discussion on the presentation for 13 minutes.  We went into the room and sat down in a semi-circle.  On each chair was a playing card (shocking!) between Ace and 8.  This determined the order of our presentations (the cards were upside-down when we got in, so it was fair!)  I got the number 8.  (REALLY EMBARRASSINGLY, I found myself whistling the tune “you go and save the best for last” on the way to a tea break.  I hope no-one noticed me, because it had just popped into my head when I saw my card, and I really, really, really wasn’t being an arrogant so-and-so).  Our topics had to tie in with one of the nine criteria for selection.  Mine was on Spiritual Disciplines (surprise, surprise!) and therefore fitted into ‘Spirituality’.  I have to admit, when the first candidate stood up and started by saying, ‘My presentation is on ‘Spirituality”, my heart sank.  I had visions of the next six people all doing spirituality too, but they didn’t.  The presentations were really interesting.  My brain was getting a bit mushy with all the stretching by the end of the process, but it was a great morning, discussing a whole range of things about which the candidates were really passionate.  I really enjoyed this bit.

Each of the three interviews took three of the nine criteria, split equally into ‘Vocation; Education; Pastoral’.  Each interview lasted around 50 minutes.  There were 10 interview slots (two for advisers’ meetings, the other 8 for actual interviews).  All of us had gaps between interviews, so there was plenty of time to wind down from one before getting our heads in gear for the next.  (Though of course the advisers had to do 8 out of 10 interview slots in interviews, which must be a massive load!)  I managed to go for walks between interviews, and wrote my response to the pastoral exercise.  Although it wasn’t ‘due’ until Wednesday at 2:30, I emailed it on the Tuesday evening.  This just made better sense of my interview times (I only had one on Tuesday, the other two were on the Wednesday).  I figured it made sense to spread things out as much as possible.

In terms of preparation for the interviews, I’d copied the information on the nine criteria found here.  I found it helpful then to work through this and write a sentence or two in response to each section.  Here’s a little example:


A 2: Candidates’ calling should be confirmed by others

Evidence for this may be drawn from a candidate’s capacity to:
• Show that those in their local church and those who know him/ her well are supportive and affirming of his/ her vocation
No one I know has been anything but supportive in affirming this vocation. Those without and within the church have been unanimous in their belief that this is my future. Of course, those outside of the church might not express it as a ‘calling’, per se, but those who know me well from my current church and from previous churches we have attended all support and affirm me in this calling. When I put on facebook that I was having a chat with the vicar about ordination, I was surprised by the number of friends who responded (all positively!)
• Reflect on what it has meant to him/ her to have his/ her call affirmed by others
It is reassuring, challenging and scary. I don’t take the call lightly, and the idea that others have affirmed me in it suggest that it is definitely something I should pursue.


The bits in red are the bits I wrote.  I felt that this meant I’d thought through a lot of things that might come up in each interview.  One of the things I’d been told from my Diocesan Panel was that ‘sometimes the silences were uncomfortable’ in my interviews.  I took this to mean that I needed to have less thinking time 🙂  This required more preparation!  The interviews were individually tailored to each candidate.  There therefore wasn’t much point discussing them with others in the hopes of finding out what we were going to be asked, because our interviews related to our Inventory, and our paperwork and references sent in advance of the panel.

I felt the interviews went well.  The one I was ‘least happy with’ was probably the Pastoral one, which surprised me, because I love pastoral stuff.

The food was yummy (thanks Shallowford!) and it was good to get to know people a little at the mealtimes.  It was made clear that we were being ‘watched’ the entire time, with the exception of the times of worship in the chapel.  This did add a certain something to mealtimes 🙂

The times of worship were really great.  They were taken by a range of the advisers.  The unaccompanied singing was lovely (although I did feel that it might be a bit intimidating for those who aren’t mad keen on singing).

As a whole, the Panel reflected the breadth of the Church of England, which is one of the things I like about the church.  A range of ages were represented by the candidates, as were a range of theologies and view points.  I came away from the Panel content that I’d said and done what I could and should.  I’m also content that the decision that the panel makes (well, the decision has already been made, I just don’t know what it is yet!) will be the right one for now.  If it’s a recommendation for training, then we’ll get on with finding a venue.  If it’s a no, then we’ll switch to Plan B.

In the meantime, please pray for all the candidates, as we wait for our ‘answer’ from panel and the feedback that comes with it.  Pray, too, for the advisers.  It’s a demanding few days for them, and I imagine may take some recovering from!

I’ll keep you posted 🙂

(Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll try to answer them.  Equally, if you feel stuff is shared about others that shouldn’t be, tell me and I’ll edit!)

Here are some pictures from the BAP!

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The view from my room (Room 13…).  Yes, that’s a large train line.  I was so tired, they didn’t really trouble me.

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That train line again, looking a bit more picturesque

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Izaak Walton’s cottage, apparently. I sat on that bench on the left and read through my preparation.  (Izaak wrote The Compleat Angler, if you’re wondering)

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One of the crosses in the beautiful (but muddy!) grounds.  

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Things got pretty wild on the second night.  I cracked open the Party Rings when we were in the bar.  

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I took three things from family. A light to guide (Joshua’s), Tweetie to comfort (Luke’s) and Jelly Belly Beans to sustain (from Anna).  

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Ordination 9 – Bishops’ Advisory Panel.

Well, there should be a whole host of Ordination blog posts between Ordination 8 (written almost a year ago) and Ordination 9, written tonight.  But there aren’t.  If I ever get around to writing them, they’ll just have to be 8a, 8b, etc…

Once again, the title of this blog post contains a bit of a spoiler.  I’m going on BAP – part of the national selection process.  It’s the ‘real thing’.  And it’s starting tomorrow after lunch and finishing Wednesday late afternoon.  It’s a full-on, residential, gruelling (apparently) process.  It involves a pastoral letter to write; an hour to respond, in writing, to a whole host of questions; three hour-long interviews, each covering three of the nine selection criteria; and a presentation (by me!) and facilitation of group discussion.  And meals, and communal worship.  And, hopefully, lots of sleep.

Am I nervous?  Yes.  Am I ready?  I hope so.  The diocese clearly think so, otherwise they wouldn’t have sent me.  I read ‘Becoming Reverend’ last weekend, so I figure I’ve pretty much nailed the preparation bit.

Should I be myself?  Well, given that that’s pretty much all I’ve got to offer, I figure that’s the best policy.  Of course, I’ll try to tone down the crass humour (which sometimes gets ‘funnier’ when I’m tired or nervous.)

But mainly, I just want to get on and do it now.  Sadly, I’m going into it tired, which probably isn’t ideal (don’t worry, I’m going to bed after this!).

Everyone I’ve spoken to about it has been wonderfully supportive and encouraging (thanks everyone!).

There are, generally speaking, two possible outcomes.  First, they could write to the bishop and recommend me for training.  Second, they could write to the bishop and recommend that I don’t start training yet, and this would generally be accompanied by some reasons, and things to do to prepare for another BAP in a year or two (more likely two).

I’d really appreciate your prayers in the coming days.  Here are a few specifics:

  1. That I’d make sense.  I don’t mind if people don’t immediately agree, I just want people to understand what it is I’m trying to say, and that rather depends on me 🙂
  2. That I’d be able to rest well as well as to engage well.  I’d love to be an encouragement to others there, and to be well involved in the very brief community that is formed on BAP.
  3. For Anna and the boys.  Mum and Dad are staying here in Repton to deal with the boys, but Anna and the boys are heading back into another busy half term, and this is a big change from our normal routine.
  4. That, whatever the outcome, I and others would be able to deal with it.  Although I’m flattered by the number of people, both inside and outside the church, who say I’d do a good job, it does concern me that, if I’m not recommended for training, there will be a whole load of people who end up annoyed with the church for its decision.  If this is the case, I’ll need grace and wisdom to handle it.

 

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News.

I figured I’d start the (potential) flurry of blogs with the main news item in our family.  That is, this will be our last year running the boarding house.  When we finish in July, we’ll have done a decade.  That was what the original tenure was due to be, and there are a host of reasons for calling time at this stage.  That’s not to say it’s been an easy decision, or that we think it will be an easy transition.  Change rarely is easy.

When we arrived, we had one one-and-a-half year-old.  We now have an eleven year-old and a six year-old.  When we arrived, we were venturing into our thirties.  We’re now heading into our forties (Anna beat me to it, obviously!).  The last ten years have been pretty pacey.  There have been some real highs, and, inevitably perhaps, some real lows.  I’ve spent a decade trying to write a book (which might actually get published this year – more of that in another blog, perhaps).

The last week of last term reminded us just how precious this job is.  Our domestic staff team put on an in-house ‘nativity’ (though there was some deviation from the traditional story, it must be said) that saw almost the entire house squeeze into one of the common rooms to watch and laugh.  It was hilarious!  We had the traditional carol sing-off on the penultimate night of term, where each year group is given a carol the day before the event, and have to perform it for the rest of the house.  The birth scene that found its way into the Upper Sixth ‘carol’ is something I won’t forget for a long time – no matter how hard I try!  And the same evening saw all the girls singing Happy Birthday to Joshua.  He loved it (but, turning 11, he was doing a mighty fine job of playing it cool).  The Heads of House did a speech that tied in beautifully with our Narnia theme for House Supper – testimony to the extraordinary efforts people go to in this house to do their best.  The family we have here will be sorely missed.  We’ve said goodbye to one year group every year for the last ten years.  Saying goodbye to all five at once will be tough.

Having said that, the plan, at least at the moment, is to stay here in Repton, albeit in a different role.  I’ve got my Bishops’ Advisory Panel in February (more of that in another blog) and the hope would be to study within easy travelling distance of the village we’ve come to know as home.  The boys are settled in school, and we’d really like them to stay where they are for now.

These next two terms will be bittersweet.  There will be plenty to treasure and hold on to, but much to let go of and hand over, too.  I have a feeling that the memories of the coming months will be valuable souvenirs in the coming years.  We’ll be entering a very different phase of life.

Those of you who pray, we’d value your prayers for the period.  Pray that we leave well.  Pray, too, that we listen to God’s guidance for the next phase of our lives, and follow His lead.

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New.

It’s been too long.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve got so much to write that I don’t know where to start, fearing that once I begin it’ll just be a torrent of ill-chosen or wasted words.  Words so desperate to get out that they’ll just tumble over each other and become muddled.  Nonsense in a big gush.  There are many things that I want to say, some that I can’t, and some that I shouldn’t.

I’m tired and uncertain and hopeful and stuck and searching and longing and thankful and loved and expectant and much, much more besides.  I want to write about the ordination process (which I will, hopefully, soon – suffice it to say it’s progressing and frustrating 🙂 )  I want to write about the book (which now has a publisher) I want to write about our news (which at this rate is going to be olds before I get around to writing about it) and I want to write about a host of other stuff … mental health, change, the garden, seasons.  Who knows if and when I’ll get to it all.  I want to write about church and chapel.  I want to write about our lovely boys.  I just want to write about life.  But at the moment, I’ve squeezed writing out.  I reckon there are some good reasons for that…

But for now, because it’s still January, let me just wish you a Happy New Year.

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Finding God in Unexpected Places. Philip Yancey. [book]

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Figured I’d ease back into blogging with a book review or two.  My aim this year has been to read 52 books over the course of the year.  I’ve slightly lost track (as with so many resolutions) but I know I need to pick the pace up a little (or choose shorter, easier books!).

This book, however, is eminently readable.  It’s a collection of writings, rather than a book in the sense we might normally understand it.  Having been first published in 1995, it strikes me that it was pretty avant-garde, in that it is basically the book equivalent of a blog.  The edition I read was a 2002 version, with updates including chapters related to the attack on the Twin Towers.  There are 49 ‘chapters’, spread across 276 pages.  This makes it very easy indeed to pick up and read a chunk.  I guess the downside to this is that you can breeze through a number of chapters without really grappling with the contents.

The premise of the book is beautiful.  It is, as the title suggests, that God can be found in the most unexpected of places, if only we look.  In the introduction, Yancey quotes a lady who had started to work in a violent South African prison (the one where Mandela had spent some time!).  She says, “… God was already present in the prison.  I just had to make him visible”.  The book goes on to consider a wide range of places in which God can be found, under the headings:
“Finding God without really looking”
“Finding God on the Job”
“Finding God in the rubble”
“Finding God in a fractured society”
“Finding God among the Headlines”
“Finding God in the cracks”
“Finding God within the church”

The result is a collection of thoughts that are at times amusing, at times heart-warming, at times tear-jerking, and much more.  Some of his stories of letters he’s received (in the chapter “Letter Bombs”) are laugh-out-loud.  There are stories of hope in struggle, light in darkness, and the common thread is the one of finding God in all these places.  As he says more than once, “God goes where He is wanted”.  Read the book, discover where God can be found, and then look for Him in those unexpected places in your own life.

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