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…