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!


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


That train line again, looking a bit more picturesque


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)


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


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


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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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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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]


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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Wounded hands.

Every week during term time, a group of us from church go into a couple of local schools to do assemblies.  It’s part of Bible Society’s Open the Book programme.  It’s fun.  Apart from the weekly difficulties of remembering which kids have recently volunteered and which haven’t (in their eagerness, they sometimes ‘forget’ that they took part last week, and it’s really not their turn this week!), it’s a very enjoyable experience.  It starts with the classic ‘Good Morning everyone’ type opening, then there’s a little intro, followed by an acted story from the Bible, and rounded off with a summing-up, a prayer and a song. Last term, our go-to song was ‘Our God is a great big God’.

It goes like this:

Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God
Our God is a great big God
And He holds us in His hands

He’s higher than a skyscraper
He’s deeper than a submarine
He’s wider than the universe
And beyond my wildest dreams
He’s known me and He’s loved me
Since before the world began
How wonderful to be a part of
God’s amazing plan

(c) Nigel and Jo Hemming, 2000

And as we’ve sung it over the course of a few weeks, and we’ve joined in with the actions, I’ve been struck by that line, ‘And He holds us in His hands’.  The way the song is traditionally (?!) sung, it includes that line being almost whispered towards the end – as we were facing a group of 4-8 year olds, all with hands cupped in front of them, singing ‘And he holds us in His hands’, I was struck by the tenderness of God.  I was also struck by how much He’d enjoy the rendition!  A mighty God, a Great Big God, who tenderly holds us in His hands.

And then a new depth was added to this as I was doing Morning Prayer a little while ago. This daily service includes prayers and Bible readings.  After Psalm 31 came this prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
when scorn and shame besiege us
and hope is veiled in grief,
hold us in your wounded hands
and make your face shine on us again,
for you are our Lord and God.

“… your wounded hands …”

That really hit me.  When you have wounded hands, holding onto something hurts.  The holding makes you more aware of the wounds.  The wounded hands were, of course, wounded on the cross.  The one who loves us is the one who was wounded for us, and yet He is the one who still holds us in His hands.  We see His love in the wounds, and we feel His love in the holding.


In many ways, I could just stop typing there.  But I won’t, because I want to make one more link.  To me, this prayer is an encouragement to the wounded pastor.  I know some pastors who hide from their wounds, and conceal their wounds from others.  But it seems that often the pastor who is visibly wounded is the one who in turn offers the greatest and most meaningful help to others who are wounded.  Compassion is, at its root, suffering with others.  In the pastoral realm, it seems to me that those who acknowledge their own wounds seem often to be those who are best at treating the wounds of others.  So thank you to all those pastors in my life who have travelled wounded, and brought hope to many on their journey.

And my prayer for those of you who are wounded is that our Great Big God would hold you in His wounded hands.

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made [book]

In a sense, this sort of starts as a book review and ends as a blog post…

Fearfully Wonderfully Made

I first read this book quite some time ago.  It is by Paul Brand (and Philip Yancey – my impression is that Paul provides the knowledge of the body, while Philip provides the knowledge of words).  Paul Brand is one of my heroes.  The book Ten Fingers for God will get a review at some point – it’s biographical.  To sum up his life, Paul Brand was an absolute giant in his field.  A hand surgeon and leprosy specialist, this man knew a thing or two about the human body.  He also know a lot about pain, even writing another book, Pain:  the Gift Nobody Wants.

But this book is about the body.  The human body, and the body of Christ.  Noting that the Bible makes much of the metaphor of the church as a body, Paul Brand decided to run with it, and reached some wonderful conclusions.  The book is split into four sections:  Cells, Bones, Skin and Motion.  Each of these sections is then divided into chapters, each covering a different aspect.  For example, the section on Bones is split into:  A Frame, Hardness, Freedom, Growth, Adapting, Inside-Out.

Each of these chapters then explores how our knowledge of the human body can help us to consider what the church is like, or should be like.  Brand’s enviable knowledge of the body gives us fascinating insight into the metaphor, and adds layers of meaning that I’d previously not considered.

Read this book if you want to be awed by the human body.  Its complexity and intricacies are staggering.  Read this book if you want to be challenged about what the church should look like, and how it should work.

Here are a couple of snippets that made me think:

Seventy separate muscles contribute to hand movements.  I could fill a room with surgery manuals suggesting various ways to repair hands that have been injured.  But in forty years of study I have never read a technique that has succeeded in improving a normal, healthy hand.

Funny to think that we can repair our bodies, but can’t improve them.  I don’t mean exercise, obviously – that’s not an improvement of the body, that’s just better use of it!

And then there was this bit.  Bear in mind this is written by a man who knows the value of touch; a man whose life’s work has been devoted to those who have deadened physical sensations.  It illustrates well his blurring of the lines between the human body and the body of the church.

Every week my mailbox bulges with appeals for help from Christian organizations involved in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, healing the sick.  They describe to me that horrible condition of a hurting world and request my money to help relieve the pain.  Often I give, because I have lived and worked among the world’s suffering and because I know most of these organizations conscientiously shed love and compassion abroad.  But it saddens me that the only thread connecting millions of giving Christians to that world is the distant, frail medium of direct mail.  Ink stamped on paper, stories formula-edited to achieve the best results – there is no skin involved, no sense of touch.

What a lament – sorrow that we can’t touch the pain of others in far-flung countries.  A sadness that our response is not skin-to-skin.  He carries on:

If I only express love vicariously through a check [cheque, if you’re a Brit!], I will miss the incredible richness of response that a tactile loving summons up.  Not all of us can serve in the Third World where human needs abound.  But all of us can visit prisoners, take meals to shut-ins, and minister to unwed mothers or foster children.  If we choose to love only in a long-distance way, we will be deprived, for skin requires regular contact if it is to remain sensitive and responsive.

I can’t claim we’re doing a particularly good job of things, but one of the reasons we moved church was because we wanted to be present in the community we live in.  There’s something meaningful somehow about doing church here in our community.  Of course, that’s not a pattern that everyone has to follow, but it was certainly part of our call here.

And then he goes on:

Again, the best illustration of this truth is Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God living on this planet.  The Book of Hebrews sums up his experience on earth by declaring that we now have a leader who can be touched with the feelings of our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).  God saw the need to come alongside us … God dwelt among us and touched us.

Immanuel.  God with us.  Touching, moving, hearing, healing, speaking, feeling.  His body is able to do all these things.  Are we honouring Him with our bodies?  Are we honouring Him with His body?

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