Ordination blog 5 – the diocesan panel approaches

For some reason, it’s all feeling a bit more real today…

Over the last few months, I’m been heading up to Chesterfield every few weeks for a course for people who are exploring this call.  This afternoon saw the fifth and final session of the course.  The course has been useful.  We were told at the outset that it wasn’t really so much about being taught stuff, as about being reassured that we already know what we need to know in order to get on with these first steps.  Having said that, it’s been great to be thinking Theologically again, and to be in the same room as a bunch of people who are heading in the same sort of direction at the same sort of time.

But in many ways what brought it all home was the 20 minutes after the course where we talked about the upcoming diocesan panel.  The diocesan panel is basically the precursor to the Bishops’ Advisory Panel.  It’s the local panel that gives a flavour of what the national panel is, and is both a sort of dry-run, but also a very important part of the process of discernment and exploration (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that!)

And so we chatted about the interviews, and the presentation that we’re going to be making.  We talked about what to wear, and how many people will be in each discussion group.  We talked about packed lunches and parking.  We talked about how to sit (apparently, women can find it intimidating or offputting if men sit slouchily, with their hands behind their heads … and there was I just feeling relaxed … oh well, forewarned is forearmed (if you’ll pardon the pun)).

And talking in such nitty-gritty terms made it all unavoidably imminent.  So near.  And that’s a little unnerving.  And questions bubble up again.  Not least, ‘Is this really the right step to be taking?’  And of course that’s not a bad thing.  Ongoing evaluation and self-examination isn’t all bad.  But it’s a bit alarming, too.

Alongside those sorts of questions, I find myself wondering, too, what I should do my presentation on.  Those who know me and know my loves and priorities may well be able to narrow it down to a couple of topics.  And I’m 90% sure what I should be doing it on.  But what angle?  What depth?  How broad?  How personal?

Questions I hope will be resolved within the next fortnight.  The panel is on the 28th, and I have a feeling that the closer it gets, the less ready I’m likely to feel 🙂

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Happy Christmas?

We’ve had a busy sort of day.  Getting up early to put the oven on.  Stockings.  Eating.  Church (which included me doing some drama stuff!).  Fourteen at lunch.  More presents.  More eating.  Dog walk.  Keeping the fire well fed with logs.  Making turkey stock.  Eating.  Relaxing.  Watching Frozen.  Putting the kids to bed.  Eating.

It’s been a busy day.  But it’s been a good day.  A day to revel in the awesome love of a God who came to be with us.  A day with family and friends.  A day with lots of food.  A day of celebration.  A day with presents 🙂

But I’ve been thinking a bit more this year about those for whom Christmas might not have been happy.  People for whom it’s been a slog.  Or painful.  Or greiving.  Or all these things and more besides.  I’ve been thinking (and praying) for those who’ve had a Messy Christmas, rather than a Merry one.  For those whose Christmas has not been quite as good as it had been in the past.

Sometimes life is just tough.  A recent conversation I had really brought that home for me (I won’t go into detail here what the conversation was or the experience surrounding it – maybe I will another day – suffice it to say it’s made me think hard).  So if you’re someone for whom Christmas has been difficult, I just wanted you to know that I’ve been praying for you.  If I know you, and know something of your difficulties, then that prayer will have been pretty focused, but if I don’t know you, please know that I have prayed.  You’re in my head and heart.  There’s that slightly odd Christian expression, “I’ve really had [insert name of person, or event, or country or anything else!] on my heart lately”.  Well if you’re someone who’s had a tricky Christmas, I’ve had you on my heart.

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Ordination blog 4. God’s call.

I still can’t work out what to call these blogs.  Ordination blogs?  Calling blogs?  Taking time to consider the possibility that I might have been called by God to priesthood in the Church of England blogs?  But ordination blogs I guess sums up roughly what they’re about, though of course there’s no guarantee that ordination will be something that actually happens in this process of exploring the call.

Last time, I wrote about some of the questions that are posed by the Church, which consider some of the issues in this exploration.  That process of attempting to answer the questions was a useful one.  Another thing that I’ve found useful in this process is looking at some of the examples found in the Bible of a call and response.  There is, of course, a fair list of examples, but I’ve spent a little bit of time considering some of them in a bit of detail.  Here’s the list:

I spent a nice evening in a hotel bar in York (the rest of my family was asleep in our room upstairs!) looking at the call of Abraham (I should technically refer to him sometimes as Abram and other times as Abraham, but I’ll stick with Abraham throughout, seeing as that’s where he ended up).  It’s the Genesis 12 passage.  And a few things struck me.  First of all, God talks about leaving.  Abraham is told to leave his country – the place where he feels he belongs, where he fits in.  He is told to leave his people – his kin, the people among whom he belongs.  The people to whom he feels a natural allegiance.  He is called to leave his father’s house – those with whom he shares a heritage and a responsibility.  And it reminds me of that phrase I learnt on youth group camp a zillion years ago – “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule” (Thanks Philip Sudell!).  Abraham is called out of his place, his people, and the authority of his father’s household.  Abraham is called out of the security that the world provides – familiar place, people and leadership – to follow God’s call.

Can God ever call us to leave good things to achieve a greater good?

And of course the answer is yes.  But it does mean that sometimes the call of God is laden with painful separation from things that we value, love and cherish (more of that in a later post).  Abraham was being called away from his foundation, his family and his future.  But there had already been some change for Abraham.  His father, Terah, had moved out of the birthplace of his sons (Ur) and ‘settled’ in Haran (en route to Canaan!)  Terah had taken Abraham, but not Nabor, his other surviving son.  He also took Lot, the son of his late son Haran, who had died in Ur.  (Bit confusing that Haran is both the name of one of Terah’s sons and the name of the place in which Terah decided to settle Abraham and Lot and their families!)  And so Abraham is leaving a new-familiar rather than a permanent familiar.  So it is a new separation that is called for, even in a nearly-new land with a whittled-down family.

And God’s call to Abraham is initially pretty vague.  “Go to the land I will show you”.  He’s called away from the security he knows before he is told where he’s going.  That’s quite a challenge.

So what does all this mean in the context of the call to ordination?  Here are a few ideas:

It might hurt.  The call may be a call away from things that are ‘safe’ and familiar.  It may mean a call out of something that we value and cherish.  And it’s hard to see the ‘greater good’ when the good we’re currently enjoying seems itself to be pretty great.

It also means it can be difficult to discern some of the finer details of the call.  For example, we feel, at the moment, that we are called to the place in which we live and work.  And we feel called to the church in which we worship and enjoy fellowship (and it was a sense of call that took us there at the start of this year).  Can the call to ordination weave in with these two threads (That is, can it happen from here?)?  At the moment, I would answer ‘yes’.  But that doesn’t carry with it a guarantee for the future.

The call might seem vague.  You don’t necessarily get treated to a call to a specific parish at the outset (“I am calling you out of your current life and into ministry in the church of St. Jerome in the village of Upper Wallop”).  I know that, when you say it like that, it sounds kinda obvious, but something I’ve struggled with is the sense that I’m being called into a fog, out of a life that’s currently relatively clear.  I was at a Christmas Gathering last weekened for those exploring vocation to ordained ministry, with the bishops of Derby and Repton.  Bishop Alistair talked about the fact that public ministry in the Church of England is not a task, but a role, and I guess this ties in with my sense of uncertainty about the future.  There’s a sense in which I’m called initially to be something, before I’m called to do something.  Or maybe I should express it as being told what to be before being told where to be it.

So there you have some more thoughts on ordination.  I’m hopeful that the new year will result in more regular blogging as a general rule, and within this, more blogging about this exploration we’re currently undertaking…

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Who am I?
Where am I going?
Am I getting it right?
Why can’t I stop?
Why is it all so unfair?
Are we nearly there yet?

I guess it’s safe to assume I’m not the only one who’s asking questions.  Though sometimes I feel like we rush into the answers, and so the questions themselves don’t get the time.  They don’t get turned over and over, examined, probed and prodded.  They don’t get investigated, they aren’t allowed to hang in the air, because the air is being filled with the answers before the question’s even finished.

And the question that just isn’t getting itself out of my head at the moment is that fifth one in the list.  That list of questions you just sailed through up there at the start of this post.

Why is it all so unfair?

I’m letting water out of the bath and I’m thinking about the water my kids have just washed in.  I’m wondering how many people that much water could have kept alive just for another day.  Because there’ll be another bath tomorrow.

I’m splitting wood for the fire.  And as I toss it into the wheelbarrow, I find myself thinking that that wood, which makes a pretty fire in our centrally-heated house, could perhaps keep someone warm for just another day.  Maybe keep them alive one more cold night.  And there’s always plenty of wood to split around here.  Plenty for tomorrow.  And the next day.

And then I take the wheelbarrow of wood to the wood store.  And on the way through the orchard, I can’t help treading on the windfall apples.  We’ve turned hundreds into crumbles, and had hundreds pressed to make juice, but we simply can’t use them all.  And maybe you can figure out what I’m thinking as I tread on those apples.

It’s all so unfair.

It makes me ache for justice.  But it feels like I’m a bit stuck.  It’s not like I can box up some apples and send them to a starving family.  And I don’t think anyone’s going to want my boys’ bathwater…

Why is it all so unfair?

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Ordination blogging, round 3.

I am so far behind with this blogging malarkey. My first ordination blog, about my second ‘chat with the vicar’ was posted back at the start of May.  The second blog about my first meeting with the DDO came at the end of July.  Since then, I’ve had another chat with the vicar, a couple of meetings with the DDO, and have attended the first two sessions of a vocations course.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

Between the meetings, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time reading and thinking and praying (sometimes all at the same time).  Today’s blog is going to steer away from the meetings, and shine a light on the time I’ve had myself to look through things and to ponder.

A pretty useful first port of call is the booklet, ‘Ministry in the Church of England’.  This has been a great foundation.  And I’m continuing to write stuff down, and stick stuff in, in my little green notebook.  I imagine I’ll be onto the second notebook before long!  It’s just useful having a place where I can jot down stuff in meetings, and also keep a sort of ongoing journal of my own thoughts and discoveries.

My last meeting with the DDO acknowledged that there was a call to be explored.  So exploration was the next step.  The Ministry in the Church of England booklet posed four useful questions under the heading ‘What are the marks of a vocation?’.  It was to these questions that I initially turned.

  • Do you have an internal sense of call?  Well, I’ve already said that, yes, I do.  But in a way it would be nice if it was a little clearer.  I still have little idea of the details of that to which I’m called.  (Reminds me of the phrase from that song by Ben Cantalon, ‘I know that you will give enough light, for the next step…’)  I feel there’s a call to the priesthood, but can’t really say more than that.  Parish ministry is the most obvious, but certainly not the only option.  I should add, though, that currently, I’m feeling pretty stagnant about my Christian life, and so am questioning myself and any perception of a calling.  I don’t want this blog to convey the impression that I’m just sailing gracefully through these waters…  It’s not all plain sailing.
  • Has your sense of call been recognised by others?  For this, I turned to Facebook.  I posted, ‘So; chatting with the vicar later about ordination… Feel free to pray’.  And in response, I got 42 likes, and a whole host of comments, unanimously positive.  So I guess that’s a good start.  Conversations, both before and after this process ‘began’, have also served to point me in this direction, or to confirm that this is a good direction to head in.
  • Is your sense of call realistic?  Basically meaning, could I honestly do it?  Of course, there’s that phrase, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called’.  But is it realistic to think that I could enter the priesthood?  I suppose the responses on Facebook are an encouraging start, but that’s not the whole story, is it?  Because they don’t necessarily know all the arguments against, but I do.  And yet, the examples of calling in the Bible (and I’ll come back to some of them in another post) show God calling people who are flawed.  They’re not even always willing to do it, but He calls anyway.  So I kind of feel like responding, in the words of the baptism service, ‘with the help of God, I will’.  I wrote this response in my notebook:  “On a good day (with a following wind), yes 🙂  It would be a stark change of pace from now, but that’s true of almost any ‘real job’.  And I’d have to be much more disciplined about work, given I’d be largely ‘independent’.  But it’s remarkable what God can achieve through us if we allow Him.”
  • Is your sense of call informed?  Do I know what I’m letting myself in for.  And I suppose I do.  Obviously, Mum having been ordained gives a pretty good insight.  But I’ve known a fair number of priests, some really quite well.  I know that the job is sometimes grim.  The parishioners are sometimes horrible, and the mess the people get themselves and others into can be pretty spectacular.  I’m no more a fan of committee meetings than the next guy.  And the burdens to be borne are heavy indeed.  So I think I’m fairly informed.  That’s not to say nothing would ever surprise me in ministry.  But I don’t think I’d be going into it blind.

And actually, that was a really useful place to start thinking a bit more intentionally and directedly about the whole thing.  And I’m going to wrap this blog post up there.  Partly because it’s just gone 11, and I need my sleep, but also partly because I don’t think it’s particularly useful to cram everything into one blog post (regardless of how much catching up I still have to do!).

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Trump Card.

This is just a little follow up to my Tuesday post on the American election.

The votes have been counted (well, enough to make the outcome clear, anyway).  And Trump has it.  The Republicans have it.

And I concluded that perhaps this election was a bit like turning up at the bus stop to wait for your bus.  You see two buses coming down the road towards you.

One is the bus that’s going to your destination.  But my goodness, to say it’s being driven by a maniac would be an understatement.  It’s swerving all over the place, and you know you’re in for a bumpy ride.  There’s hooting, and you’re pretty sure you can hear the bus driver hollering something not altogether friendly.  There’s even a niggling suspicion that the ride could be outright dangerous, both for the passengers, and for anyone sharing the same road.

But the other bus, driven by someone whose approach looks altogether less risky, is not going your way.  In fact, at the next turning, it’s going in a completely different direction altogether.  And why would you want to get on a bus that takes you further away from your destination than you are at the moment?

What choice would you make?  You could get on the risky bus and hope you all get there safely.  You might be able to encourage the driver to take more care.  You might even secretly hope he’ll let someone else drive the bus instead.  Or you could get on the bus that’s going the wrong way, and hope they’ll have a change of heart about their intended destination.  You could get on it and chat with your fellow passengers and try to convince them of the appeal of your destination over theirs.  Engage with them.

But the basic problem is, you’ve got to do something.  And it feels like there isn’t a right and wrong answer, instead, there are two wrong answers; it’s just a question of choosing the answer which is less wrong.  And sometimes that’s an altogether harder prospect.

So I really feel for my American friends.  I’ll be praying for them, that whatever the decision they made, and however they’re feeling about the outcome right now, they will still hold onto hope.  I pray that they’ll engage with things as well.  Maybe now would be a good time to contact the bus company and ask for changes in the way they do things.  How did that guy ever end up driving a bus?  And why do we only have two destinations to choose from?

I suppose there’s a little cynicism too.  I Tweeted this on Wednesday, for example:

Yes, it sounds odd.  And it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll be any good at it.  But there’s a constant challenge for all of us to avoid allowing cynicism to overwhelm hope.  Think of the stars.  The darker the night, the brighter the stars.  Hope is a wonderful thing.  And I think that maybe hope is the trump card that needs to be played right about now.

…then you will shine among them, like stars…  Philippians 2:15


So, my American friends in particular, this one’s for you.  What is your hope built on?

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What’s on the cards?

It’s a bit of a momentous day, on the other side of the Pond, isn’t it?  Clinton or Trump, who will it be?  I don’t envy my American friends their decision today.  I suspect I’d want to vote Republican for their policies, but would be very worried about Trump in leadership.  Clinton has the better experience of the two, but I wouldn’t agree with a fair amount of her party’s policies (which strikes me as pretty key…).

But the whole thing seems to have been pretty acrimonious.  In a sense, that’s no surprise.  America is a somewhat adversarial place (I know that’s a somewhat sweeping statement, but bear with me).  I remember being surprised, when visiting the States, to see a Nesquik advert on the telly that slagged off another chocolate drink manufacturer.  (Or it might have been Nesquik being slagged off – the details don’t matter).  I found myself thinking that was a profoundly weird way to advertise.  In the UK, we’re used to advertisers claiming that their product is the best/coolest/cheapest etc., but they don’t usually resort to slagging off the opposition.  So it doesn’t come as a great shock that Presidential hopefuls seem to spend as much time slagging off the opposition as they spend on actually saying what they themselves are planning to do.

But this leads to a great difficulty – it reminds me of a snippet of a line from a Casting Crowns song; ‘nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against…’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the States might feel a bit like that.  Sure, they know Trump’s going to build a wall, but there doesn’t seem to have been much useful input in the race to the Whitehouse.  Of course, living on this side of the Atlantic makes it harder to see the fuller picture, but it just seems to be erring on the side of aggression rather than information.  And that would make the decision harder to make.

And whoever wins looks set to be the least popular winner of all time.  Barack Obama was an historic choice, as the nations first black president.  Likewise, Clinton would be the first woman in the hotseat.  Yet it doesn’t seem that there would be quite such eagerness to celebrate that.

It doesn’t seem like the rage is going to go away.  I suppose it’s bound to settle down in time, but it seems like it will bubble on for a while.  The fact that Trump is claiming he’ll challenge the result in the event of a Clinton win doesn’t help.

So I guess my prayer is for wisdom for American voters.  Like I said at the start of this post, I don’t envy them their decision.  But my prayer is also for unity.  I’ve been annoyed, since Trump started using the phrase, by his claim that he’s going to ‘Make America Great Again’.  I’m annoyed, because I’m a pedant, and am forced to point out that ‘Making Britain Great Again’ makes perfect sense (it is ‘Great Britain’, after all), but what the next American leader needs to do is not to make America great again (let’s face it, it’s pretty much at the top of the tree anyway).  No, the next leader needs to Make America United Again.  The United States came together many years ago, but it seems like the divisions have never been clearer.  While some historical divides might be seeing some healing, the divisions that have been emphasised in this election, as the battle lines have been drawn, are a cause for great concern.

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