Ordination 8 – Not Yet.

(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.

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Ordination 7 – The wait of expectation.

It’s a funny kind of time, really.  The Diocesan Panel was on Saturday, and in a sense, there’s nothing I can now do as I wait for the letter to arrive this week (yes, I am familiar with the concept of prayer – that’s not what I mean though!).  Now is a waiting period.  I can’t really remember the last one that carried such weight.  I haven’t really ever had much in the way of job interviews, so I guess it’s probably akin to the wait for my A Level results way back in the 90s.

And in a way, I’m not even sure how I feel.  There’s the relief of having done the Panel (and I’ll say a bit about what it entailed in a bit).  There’s the tiredness from the fact that it was a bit draining.  There’s also just an uncertainty.  There’s a sense in which I’m not too worried about the uncertainty.  Partly because this aspect of it will only last a few days, and partly because, cheesy and cliched as it sounds, I know that God’s not uncertain, and that’s reassuring.

The bishop will be writing this week (part of the reason I’m blogging this morning is so that I can convey a sense of the waiting, while I’m in the middle of it, rather than writing about it after the event – the letter could arrive with the postman today, after all!).  My understanding is that this will either be a “we’re sponsoring you to go ahead to BAP” (Bishops’ Advisory Panel), or, “We won’t, at this stage, sponsor you to go ahead to BAP”.  That is to say, it’s either a “Yes” or a “No”, but the “No” might be more of a “Not yet”.  (See why I’m a little confused?!)

And I suppose, to be honest, there’s a part of me that, if it’s a “No”, will be mightily relieved and will think along the lines of “Well, that was a close shave!”.  The priesthood is not a breeze – it reminds me of the wedding service, where the priest says,

No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God

And so there would be a part of me that would happily avoid the burden of priesthood.  I know lots of vicary people, and not many of them think of it ‘lightly’.

And yet, priesthood is a calling, and so a “No” would of course be disappointing, because it would call into question my sense of call – a call which others have supported and confirmed.  It would challenge my vision of the future.  It would be deflating – I’ve spent a fair old while on thinking and praying it through, and a “No” would be tough.

And so I wait.  Holding on, whilst holding on.

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The Diocesan Panel.

Here’s a little snapshot of the Diocesan Panel, for those who want to know a bit more about the process.

We arrived at Church House in Derby for drinks at 9 (in cups and saucers, not flutes…).  There were 15 of us going through this process, split into groups of 5.  I knew some of the 15, having been to Saturday courses with them, but the four I was with I knew little or not at all.  Others there included the DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands, with whom this process formally began).  The DDO’s PA (who did a fab job of organising the day, and the biscuits were very welcome too!).  The Bishop was also there.  I think this is normally the case.  There were also 9 (I think!) others who were our interviewers.  Most of them  (possibly all?) were ordained.

We then kicked off the formal bit of the day with Morning Prayer.  This was the entire group together, and was a great way to start the day.

After this, there was a complicated timetable for us all, but it boiled down to three interviews, a chat, and a presentation and discussion.

The interviews were one-to-one, with each group assigned three of the interviewers (Or perhaps it was vice versa…).  The interviews covered each of the nine criteria for selection, in chunks of three.  So my first interview covered Vocation, Ministry in the Church of England, and Spirituality.  My second covered Faith, Mission and Evangelism, and Quality of Mind.  My third was on Personality and Character, Relationships, and Leadership and Collaboration.  The three interviews were very individualised, and the interviewers had clearly read through all the stuff I’d written, and the four references that had been collected.  There was plenty of reference to these.  I tried to strike a balance between giving a full response to the questions asked, but also allowing the interview to progress without me waffling on too much (I have no idea to what extent I succeeded!).

The ‘chat’ was with the bishop.  I guess this was in a sense an interview as well, but Bishop Jan was very keen not to make it feel interviewy.  And it didn’t – it was a chat about how we’d talk to someone in the pub about our faith and our calling.  I think it was perhaps the gentlest part of the day (though I don’t doubt that Bishop Jan gleaned plenty from it!).  I don’t think that this is necessarily normal, in that the bishop often meets with candidates at a time other than Panel, but this is how this one worked.

There were gaps in the day because of the logistics, and lunch was at the same time for everyone.  The 15 of us ate together, while the Panel folk ate elsewhere.

The presentations were very interesting.  In your group of five, you had five minutes to do a presentation on something (which you’d planned in advance – it wasn’t a surprise!).  You then had to facilitate discussion for a further ten minutes.  You were given a four minute warning in the presentation and an 8 minute warning in the discussion.  This was observed by the three interviewers, as well as by the DDO.  My presentation was on Spiritual Disciplines (surprise, surprise).  Others covered Education in Church Schools, Inclusivity (the presentation was a fantastic poem that the candidate had written), Mission to Seafarers, and Using Secular Music in Church (which included a fun little singalong!).  It was a fascinating range of topics.  We all did our best to get involved in every discussion (knowing our turn to present would come, or had already been!).  My understanding is that our involvement in the discussions that others were facilitating was an important aspect of what was being observed.  I have no idea what you’d do if someone else was presenting on the same topic. I guess you’d hope they had a different slant!

We were free to leave in the afternoon as soon as our final interview was concluded.  I did, because I then rushed over to school to see Joshua playing hockey.  It was a tournament, and he was in goal for the B team (I know, I’m digressing, but this is exciting too!).  They drew 2-2 with the A team, and it was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in a while.  And yes, we see a lot of hockey around here.  But it was nice to get back into the ‘real world’ straight from the interview.  And good to see those two parts of life juxtaposed.

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Ordination 6 – Behold, the panel cometh…

Today is Friday.  And tomorrow is the Diocesan Panel.  Am I nervous?  I’m not really sure.  Earlier this week, I was feeling very calm.  I did wonder if it was a sort of being-in-the-eye-of-the-storm feeling.  I wasn’t sure if it was an answer to prayer, or just a failure on the part of my brain to appreciate the seriousness of it all.  The jury’s still out 🙂

But tomorrow is the panel.  What do I know about the Diocesan Panel?  I know it’s important but isn’t the Bishops’ Advisory Panel (which is a later hurdle…).  I know that I have to do a presentation on something for five minutes.  I know that I’ve decided to do a presentation on Spiritual Disciplines, which won’t be a surprise for those of your who know me, or even for those who’ve been reading this blog for a while.  I know that this presentation is followed by a discussion which I will ‘facilitate’ for a further ten minutes.  I know that my group to whom I am presenting and with whom I am discussing are five in total, to be observed by (I believe) three others.  I know my presentation and my facilitation and my participation in the discussion of others will all be observed.  I know that there are three individual interviews covering aspects of the criteria for ordination.

I know that there are a number of people praying for me, and that is certainly a reassurance.  I know that I am praying for the others who are going through this with me (and would ask those who are praying for me to do likewise).  I am also praying for myself.

I know that this will not be a breeze, but that I am not in it all by myself.  I know that God has good plans for me, whatever shape they may take.

I know that others share my view that ministry through ordination would be a good step for me to take, and that many people feel that I would be a ‘good fit’ for this type of role.  Yet I also know that this doesn’t mean that the panel will necessarily agree.  I know God has a range of responses available; broadly – yes, no, and not now.  I know that, whatever the outcome of the panel, there will be an element of both relief and fear.

I know that God has planted in me a love of words and a love of people, and I know that He will share with me the responsibility of growing and stretching these loves.  I know that this will involve both challenge and fun. I know it offers both promise and pain.  I know that a pastor will carry woes and wounds, as well as joy and hope.

I know that my name is written on my Father’s hands; I know that the Son’s hands were pierced for me; I know that the Spirit offers to work through my hands.

I know that’s a pretty solid foundation to build on.

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The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therapy. [book]

pyjama-therapy

This is a book about chronic illness.  It’s written by a doctor who has experienced M.E.  This gives it the potential to be good on more than one level, and it is!

I should probably point out at the outset that the closest I’ve come to experiencing chronic illness is the post-viral nasty that took me out for a month or two some years ago.  Though even that was quite a challenging experience, and not easy to manage.

But this book tackles chronic illness with gusto.  Emily Ackerman writes from experience, both personal and medical.  She also writes in a profoundly open and honest way.  And I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that’s so practical.  Each chapter closes with a ‘For Reflection’  section.  Many of these could also be called ‘For Action’, because they encourage not just thinking, but doing.  It’s also grounded in the author’s Christian faith.  For example, in a chapter on handling emotions, she writes:

Please don’t confuse emotional upheaval with lack of faith or loss of faith.  Jesus was the perfect man, yet he wept when his friend Lazarus died, burst out in frustration at the apathy of Jerusalem and roared with anger as he turned the tables of the Temple traders… This is not a man who spent his time gently smiling, like the Sunday School pictures.  Jesus felt and expressed his emotions in a way that was open and authentic, yet lived without sin.  I can’t expect to do any better.

Personally, I found the book to be valuable.  There was plenty in there even for me.  Some of what Emily says about work, and giving it up, struck a chord with me.  I know that my circumstances are different (I ‘gave up work’ so that I could look after the boys and support Anna in her work – a role that we do together), yet there were important truths for me in this book, about work and worth.  Her writing on rest was also of value.  However much energy you have, rest is important (even my five-year-old, who charges through life uninhibited, loses the plot if he’s not had enough sleep).  There’s also very useful stuff about the church.  Of course, much of what she writes is from the perspective of the one with the chronic illness, but it doesn’t take a genius (thankfully!) to work out that much of what she writes is a challenge to the church to do family better, and to ensure that the difficulties she writes of are minimised by the efforts of my church.

I did find myself wondering if the book might sometimes be heavy going for someone who is struggling with chronic illness, partly because it is so practical and therefore could perhaps feel demanding.  And yet, clearly it is rooted in experience.  Some, I suppose, might find themselves worrying about how they compare to the author, and how their ‘progress’ might compare to hers, but the book is written in a relentlessly hopeful way, so I hope it would spur people on, and drench them in encouragement, rather than cause any angst.  Also, chapters tend to be really quite short, and broken into chunks, so would hopefully be manageable.  And the cartoons are amusing, too!

______________________________

As ever, if you would like to borrow my copy of this book, please say so in the comments section, and I’ll send it to you 🙂

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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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