Good? Friday.

This is a bit of a weird week. Those of you who’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, or other significant events during lockdown will probably well understand the feeling that something isn’t really being properly marked. For all our efforts to make a day special, it’s hard within the restrictions currently on us (though most of us agree the restrictions themselves are absolutely right).

Last year, during Holy Week (this week – between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) I was at the Vicar Factory (I’m training to be a priest) and we had about 400 services during the course of the week.  Ok, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but there were services aplenty – get up, breakfast, service, lecture, service, break, service, lunch, service, lecture, service, service, snack, service … something like that 🙂

But my point is, boy did we mark Holy Week. And it was wonderful. This year, the only Holy Week services I’ll be involved in will be either in my study or my lounge. Don’t get me wrong, my study and lounge are both lovely places, but it’s hardly how I’d envisaged celebrating Easter. It’s weird celebrating the freedom that Easter heralds, in the confinement of our home. But it’s a useful reminder that not everyone has the same privileges I have. Many Christians around the world put themselves in physical danger by meeting together, because of the persecution faced in many countries. Others are not well enough to leave the house to celebrate with their church families. Perhaps I’ll appreciate this more this year and into the future. I also need to remember that the promise of freedom that Good Friday brings doesn’t depend on my circumstances. Jesus’ death on the cross offers freedom and hope to those who are trapped, those who are held captive. So in the ‘captivity’ of lockdown, it’s worth remembering that Good Friday is Good indeed – it promises us a freedom that we long for and can one day fully enjoy.

I hope this Good Friday is Good for you and those you love. Perhaps in times like this, we can understand, appreciate and yearn for freedom all the more.

For another view of Good Friday, with a focus on Barabbas, here’s one I wrote a few years ago.

Are you ‘celebrating’ Good Friday this year? If so, how? And might this year have something special to teach?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return to blogging…

Ah, who am I kidding?
I haven’t blogged for over a year, apparently. Not really sure why. Somewhere on the spectrum between not sure what to say, and not bothering to say it, in all likelihood.
Lots has happened. Maybe I’ll write about it some day, but quite possibly not. If I do come back to blogging more frequently, you’ll probably be treated to snippets from time to time…  I can almost hear the expressions of unrivalled excitement at this 🙂
For now, I just wanted to pass a little comment on this news story:
http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20200331-the-law-of-generosity-combatting-coronavirus-in-pakistan
I’m always interested in stories from my childhood home. A lot of people probably have some vague ideas about Pakistan, but, mediated as they often are through the Western media, much of this will be somewhat skewed. This article is worth a read (though is longer than this blog by quite some margin!). But it you don’t have the time or inclination to read it right now, it is, in essence, about generosity in Pakistan and how people are looking after those most in need at this time. Something in the closing paragraph particularly grabbed my attention.

We Pakistanis believe that one good deed begets another, and perhaps our generosity will spread faster than the virus

I wonder if we might be able to spread compassion and generosity faster than the virus. There are definite glimmers of this already – folk in our village have set up a support structure for anyone who needs it. I’m aware that many people are looking out for others more than we might normally. In what is for many a dark time, maybe we can bring some light. I know this is hardly a novel idea, but I want to add my voice to those who have already expressed it. 

These are obviously uncertain times, but as a Christian, I’m confident that they haven’t taken God by surprise. I’m also confident that God can be at work through it all, and invites me to be a part of that – sharing love and compassion that knows no boundaries, a love and compassion that cannot ever be locked down. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding God in the story.

So, I haven’t blogged in ages, and then I come back to it with a desire to make up a new word.  Weird, I know.

Ordination training has, you’ll have gathered from previous posts, begun.  Indeed, it’s not just begun, it’s carried on.  We’ve been introduced to the Bible (hopefully we’d met already, but I’m sure you get the picture) and we’ve had a couple of residential weekends looking at Theological Reflection and Preaching.  I’ll doubtless write something about them at some point, but not now.  I’m delighted to report that I’ve actually found myself getting excited about the stuff we’re doing (confessions of a theogeek).

For now, I just want to hover over one of the ideas that’s been drifting around my head for a few weeks.  It’s been drifting long enough for me to have had time to make up a word to describe it.  But before I tell you the word (which you’ll probably laugh at anyway) let me tell you the concept.

The Genesis creation story is not completely unique.  (Mum, I know you can’t technically qualify the word ‘unique’, but hear me out…)  By ‘not completely unique’, I simply mean that there are parallels.  However, there is something which seems to set it apart from other similar creation stories.  The concept of a ‘starter couple’ is found in other stories, as are other aspects of the creation story we find in Genesis.  But what makes it unique (I know, I know – I should be more careful with words) is that there is a single God – a monotheistic view – the pattern of Judaism.  Other stories from the time lack this key factor.  And it got me thinking.  I remembered Paul’s sermon in Athens linked to their altar ‘to an unknown god’.  He says to them (and this is a paraphrase) ‘Let me fill in the gaps for you – I’ll tell you about the God you don’t know’.  And he goes on to talk about the God who made us.  He builds a bridge from Christianity to the Athenians – he provides a route along which they might journey to faith.  He takes their story, and writes God into it – more than that, he shows them that God is the main character.  Effectively, he’s saying, ‘Here’s what you already believe, let me tell you about some vital stuff your story is missing’.  And that leads me to eistheography.  That’s it.  My new word.  If you’re wondering about pronunciation, I’d suggest, ‘ice-the (as in ‘theoretical’, not ‘the’) ogg-ruffy’ although the ‘graphy’ at the end is just like in biography, but I couldn’t work out how to write that.

In terms of meaning, it’s eis – in; theo – God; graphy – write/writing.  Therefore, it’s writing God into something.  And actually, as Christians, it’s something we’re quite used to and generally pretty comfortable with.  It’s not unusual for us to ‘find God’ in stories that we hear.  We hear about amazing stories of protection and assert that God is in the scene.  We hear of apparently miraculous provision and say that God is in it.  And I don’t think that’s a problem at all.  Of course, those who aren’t Christians might wish to deride us for finding the sky fairy in everything.  And some Christians might say I’m being weirdly liberal.  But hey, I’ll cope.

Which takes me back to Genesis.  Maybe it’s setting a new pattern – it follows the creation stories of the Ancient Near East, but weaves into the story a new thread – a monotheistic God.  A God who reveals Himself through creation, and in other ways we discover as we read on.  Indeed, this pattern of eistheography could be applied to Wisdom literature, too (which I should be writing an essay on, but I’m distracted by shiny new words).  Wisdom literature has many contemporary parallels, but what we find in Israelite wisdom has that different thread woven in.  God is ‘unearthed’ in the stories from the cultures surrounding the Israelite people, and so knowledge of Him can flourish.  Of course, from a Christian point of view, there might be anxiety that I’m saying God is just made up and popped willy-nilly into the fables of the Ancient Near East.  I’m not saying that at all.  I’m suggesting that the Israelites enjoyed the revelation of God and fed that into a fuller understanding of their world.

At this point, someone will doubtless accuse me of a long-forgotten heresy.  Feel free to do so in the comments.  Or challenge me on anything that doesn’t make sense.  I’m well aware that this concept could be taken far too far and it could turn into all sorts of daft suggestions…  I’m not suggesting it carries on going.  I’m quite happy for it to stop here!  I’m going to stop writing for now, because I suspect I’ve raised enough questions, and I’ll try to address them in the comments, but bear in mind I’ve also got an essay to write!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Ordination 12 – Training begins.

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

File:Claw-hammer.jpg

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!).

Posted in Ordination | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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!

3CDCCD99-D72C-4F8D-80CC-2EB6E4BF1771

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

3EF2B619-889C-4809-96C1-D512A8407891

That train line again, looking a bit more picturesque

902A0357-C814-454C-AD16-8C12FB172EF6

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)

8305F610-8EE8-4210-A56A-DC477817E90D

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

701057E2-0CA7-4F01-8DD6-4FCB49F76AAB

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

EED129A2-1182-40F5-81AC-43F6C2E47991

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).  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment