(I’ll warn you now, this is likely to be another fairly long post)
So, the letter arrived this morning. Marked colourfully ‘Private and Confidential’.
And, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, the response to the Diocesan Panel is a ‘Not Yet’. “[The panel] would like you eventually [to attend] a Bishops’ Advisory Panel but they feel that there is some further exploration to be done first.”
And so it seems I’ve got over the first hurdle, in that the panel are keen for me to go forward, and yet some extra hurdles have been added after the first one. (At this stage, it’s important to point out that I am content with the contents of the Bishop’s letter. I’ve re-read that sentence about hurdles, and it could be misinterpreted as bitter, which it absolutely isn’t. It just means that I was thinking primarily in terms of a Yes/No, which would mean either falling at the first hurdle, or passing it and moving on to the BAP hurdle. The ‘Not Yet’ option simply adds some hurdles in. Hurdles which I’m more than willing to tackle.) The fact that the panel want me to attend BAP, albeit not yet, is of course reassuring. It means that they’ve accepted my sense of calling, and that’s really important. And yet they don’t want me rushing headlong to the next hurdle, because they want me to be better prepared for it when I reach it.
So, what is the ‘further exploration’ they’re after? Well, some of this is clarified in the letter. Easiest is the fact that I need to read up on sacramental ministry. That was something that was actually mentioned in the interview, so isn’t a big surprise. If anyone has any recommendations on stuff to read about sacramental ministry, please say so in the comments section!
Another comment was that “some anxiety was expressed around the area of leadership and the Panel felt they needed to see more evidence of your ability to take a lead.” This is understandable, surprising and frustrating. More than one of my four referees felt that the references called for a lot of evidence that I had done something, rather than confidence that I could do something. Having been engaged primarily as a stay-at-home Dad for the last eight years, the evidence is a little harder to come by. This is coupled with our church move at the start of 2016, which means that all the leadership stuff that I did in our previous church, and the even more leadership stuff I did in the church before that, didn’t feature in the references.
Another comment was that “They would have liked to have seen a little more passion when talking about your sense of calling“. I find this an intriguing one, and I think I’ve got an idea of part of the reason behind this. At the moment, I’m convinced that priestly ministry is something to which I am called. However, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about the sacrifice of ministry, and I have a wealth of knowledge about the pain that such ministry can bring for all manner of reasons. I think it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of the burdens that ministry involves carrying. Therefore I’m not currently at the point where I’m viewing ministry as a yippee-skippy way to spend the rest of my life. The calling is a burden that I’ve reconciled myself to, but it’s fair to say that I need to spend some more time thinking on the joys of ministry, the hope-filled, light-bringing, refreshing, building-up, blessedness of ministry. And to that end, I’ve got a favour to ask my priest friends (and anyone else who feels qualified to do so). I’d really appreciate it if you could say something in the comments section under this post about the joy of ministry. Something about a highlight for you in this calling. It doesn’t have to be your all-time highlight; it might just be something from this week, or this month. But I figure I need to balance in my mind the burden with the blessing, and your input would be really helpful.
There were other bits I need to work on. But the letter said plenty of nice stuff too: “…recognised your sense of calling … you had a good understanding of the breadth and traditions of the Church of England … depth and breadth of your spiritual life and the different disciplines you embrace … you seemed at ease and able and ready to engage fully with the discernment process … approachable and thoughtful … enjoyed your presentation…” So there were plenty of positives to take away from it. And, fundamentally, it seems to be a Not Yet, not a No.
Please pray for me and the family as we work through the next stage of this process. And please pray for the other 14 who were on the course. I haven’t heard anything from any of them, but I’m guessing some will need prayer for the sadness of a response they didn’t want, others will be dealing with the joy and weight of a ‘yes’, and all of us will be working through a level of uncertainty about the shape of the future. Your prayers would be most welcome.