This time now

Nervous excitement woke me up early.  I put on my glad-rags and left for the cathedral before my neighbours had begun to emerge into the daylight.  I didn’t want to be late.

I descended the Mendip Hills into Wells over an hour before the service began.  The Cathedral greeted me as I emerged from my car, and the Bishop of Taunton waved as she walked past.  As long as I kept both in sight I was going to make it in time.

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Preparing underneath the scissor arch of Wells Cathedral

As it was, I crossed the threshold into an almost empty cathedral.  The scissor arches welcomed me along with the stewards who handed me the Order of Service: “The Ordination of Deacons on the Second Sunday after Trinity, Sunday, 29th June 2019”.  The big day, the moment I had been looking forward to had arrived: my friends were getting ordained!

This was not my day, this was Jane’s day, and Margaret’s, and Martin’s, and Simon’s.  We had started at Sarum College together on 21st August 2017, and whilst my time there continues for another year, theirs had come to an end.

One by one more guests began to arrive.  The excitement built up with each one.  Complete strangers exchanged smiles.  Families and friends gathered together, giggling nervously.  People perused their Orders of Service, sounding their delight at spotting the name of the ordinand they had come to support.  The anticipation buzzed around the cathedral – it felt like a wedding, and we were waiting for the brides.

OHfdWUN+T3SfpAgctvDXyQPeople were called to their seats.  Conversations stopped.  The organ struck up.  The choir processed.  Then came the the College Tutors, the Clergy, the Readers and the Bishops.  It was happening!

The Bishops opened the West Doors to welcome in the 13 Ordinands we had come to celebrate, their walk from the Bishop’s Palace complete.  Down the aisle they came with their sponsors and future bosses, the former to hand them over, the latter to receive them into their curacy.   

Two years previously I had attended a similar service and was told “this will be you in three years time!”.  Back then it was a distant concept, too close to the end of seeking the chance to train for ordination and too far from being ordained to fully consume me.  Today it was closer.  Today it was ‘this time next year’.  Today it was supposed to be occupying my mind, but it wasn’t.  There was joy and excitement but it was for my friends, not my future.  Occasionally though, that future began to break through.

As the service progressed my mind occasionally wandered away from the glorious spectacle in front of me.  The words spoken to the Ordinands became words that would be spoken to me.  The robes they were wearing became robes that I would wear.  The seats in which they and their families sat became seats in which I and mine would sit.  But those wandering thoughts were few, and they didn’t last for long.  Each distracting thought faded quickly, the joy in witnessing my friends being ordained being no match for them.  Even when we exchanged signs of peace there were no winks, no “this time next year”, just joy, sheer and unadulterated joy for those we had all come to support in marking this day of transformation.

It was only when we had returned home that thoughts of the days to come overtook thoughts of the day just beenI knew that any day now my diocese would send me details of the church they had discerned might be a good match for my curacy.  And so in the heat of the afternoon sun, my wife and I sat with our feet cooling in a paddling pool and speculated on the possible places we might be moving to – we soon realised the futility of that!  Instead we turned to ‘this time next year’.  We made mental notes of how we would help our children to enjoy and appreciate it*.  We talked about how my scheme to remain cool under so many layers of clothes wouldn’t work, and thought of ones that would.  And I remembered the assignment I had to complete before I could close off another year of training.  But even as I went to work on that assignment I knew that I would get nothing done.

I switched on my computer and the photos I had taken that day appeared on screen.  The assignment could wait.  Today was about those who had been ordained, people I knew and people I didn’t.  It was a joy to be savoured, a blessing to give thanks for, a new bunch of Reverends to pray for, and so I did.

God bless you Reverend Joanna Barr, Reverend Martin Collett, Reverend Anna Creedon, Reverend Laura Downs, Reverend Katy Gough, Reverend Tracey Hallett, Reverend Margaret Hayward, Reverend Lucy Jordan, Reverend Jane Sutton, Reverend Simon Taylor, Reverend Patrick Webb, Reverend Nigel Williams, Reverend Francesca Youings, and all the ‘new Revs’ across the Church of England.

*Ordination Explored by Rev Ally Barrett and Rev Elizabeth Lowson is an excellent booklet to help children understand and enjoy an Ordination service.

Breaking the chain and cynicism of Father’s Day

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Insert “World’s Best Dad” name here

The signs are coming: “World’s Best Dad” printed on multiple t-shirts hanging on a clothes rails; scores of cards with “Number 1 Dad” on; “Perfect gift for Father’s Day” on everything from albums of 1980s soft-rock to packets of beef for the barbecue, essentially anything the real industry deems ‘manly’.  Their prevalence making the statements meaningless.  Their appeal to sentimentality for commercial gain that turns fatherhood into an apparent competition.

I’m not a fan. Continue reading

I belong because I don’t

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Sunrise in Easter Day 2019 from an ecumenical service on The Roundhill, Bath

I am over half-way through my Ordination Training and thoughts are starting to turn to curacy.  When my diocese asked me to indicate which type of church I would and wouldn’t work with my reaction surprised me.  The question saddened me.  It was asking me where I belonged.  At once I realised that I belonged everywhere and nowhere. Continue reading

Silently Speaking

Sunset over the island of Coll

Listening to the silence

Growing up as the youngest of three, opportunities to talk were few and far between.  Each one had to be seized upon in case it would be a year before another would come again.  Silence was my chance to speak. 

Whatever the truth of my memory, the impact was that silence became an entity that I needed to fill; if I didn’t, and it continued, I would become increasingly uncomfortable.  And so I filled them.  I would jump into the silence with whatever opinion, facts or half-baked humour I could muster.  It wasn’t always the best idea. 

Filling the silence risks not hearing the very thing that needs to be heard.  Increasingly I’ve realised that isn’t me.  

Continue reading

An Ordinary Office on Iona

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Iona Abbey

Earlier in 2018 a group working to make church and faith accessible to all, called Disability and Jesus, produced a Daily Office – a set of prayers for different times of the day. Their website “An Ordinary Office” includes Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer in text, Makaton, audio and video formats.

During a visit to the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, I recorded the Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies. They were filmed at various locations on the island including Iona Abbey, Columba’s Bay (where St Columba is said to have landed from Ireland and brought Christianity to the area) and the White Strand of the Monks where visiting Vikings killed the Abbey’s Monks that had come out to welcome then).

I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful (there are subtitles available if required).

Morning prayer from Iona

Evening Prayer from Iona

An ambient tour of Iona

Over 9 minutes of peaceful landscapes filmed for the prayer videos.

Testing the limits

2384200Geraint Thomas riding to victory in the 2018 Tour de France (Source: Eurosport)

Over the course of 3 long-read blog posts I am reviewing my first year as an Ordinand, each post focused on 1 of the 3 words that sum up my first year: tea, testing and transformation.  This, the second post in the series, is all about testing, and no, they haven’t brought in doping tests for prospective priests in the Church of England.  

One section of life where tests for performance enhancing drugs is common place is sport, and in particular cycling.  Each July athletes race in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France.  For 3 weeks cyclists mix sprinting for glory with climbs up some of the highest and toughest mountains that Europe have to offer.  It is a tremendous feat of endurance just for a person to make it to the end on the Champs Élysées in Paris.  This first year of training has similarly felt like a feat of endurance.

Continue reading

Mr Tea

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More tea, Ordinand?

Tea.  Testing.  Transformational.  Three words which capture the essence of my first year of Ordination Training.  This post, the first of 3 blog posts reviewing the year, is all about the power of a cup of tea.  Well, partly.  It’s also about self-awareness and mental health.

A travelling tea set I found in the French town of Périgueux seemed just the thing for a trainee vicar who would often be away from home at a theological college.  Contained within hinged cylindrical metal case, held closed by 2 leather straps, were a trinity of tea caddies and an infuser.  It played up to the stereotype of “More Tea Vicar”, but did so on my terms: the blends of tea inside were drinkable.  Just as I don’t like instant coffee but love coffee brewed from the bean, I love lots of varieties of tea but can’t stand the crowds’ favourite of English Breakfast Tea or ‘Builder’s Tea’.  This, I know, is potentially problematic for someone who may be doing pastoral visits in England, but there is always the simplicity of a glass of water!

What was brought as a piece of amusement proved to teach me an important lessons that carried me through the year: the need for solitude and reflection, and to care for my mental health.   Continue reading

Now, what was I here for?

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The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat)

Transforming something unknown into something known lies in the future. We can use our imagination and other people’s knowledge to paint a picture of what it might look like but it is only when we catch up with it, when the future becomes the present, that we begin to know the unknown. And so it has turned out with my Ordination Training.

As the training reached full-speed in early October (my studies in September were fairly light) the impact on my daily life quickly became clear: each day would be filled from rising to sleeping. My wife and I both needed to continue with our full-time jobs, my children still needed to be taken to school and clubs, household chores still needed to be done, and occasionally we even needed to eat. The only space for study was my ‘spare-time’, something I enjoyed using to spend time simply being with my family and friends. The study mean that this time would be limited, I would not be able to socialise quite as much as I did and this blog would not be added to quite as often as before. As such this post is as much an account of what it is like to train for ordination whilst working full-time as it is a reflection upon it. Continue reading

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part Two 

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In my previous post I wrote about my determination to find a pattern of daily prayer that suited being a working parent.  The combination of the school run, a days work, family life and church had made if difficult to find enough space and time to connect with God through dwelling on liturgy and scripture.

I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.

This post is part reflection and part review of these and the impact focusing on applying them to an inconsistent and complicated schedule had on me.  As I found out when trying to do Morning, Midday and Night Prayer, not each format is necessarily suited to each part of the day. Continue reading

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part One

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Starting my Ordination Training has once again made me examine my pattern of prayer.  Over the years I have used lots of different patterns and sources in my attempt to take my focus off myself and onto God and others.  I have had times when it has worked, when I have tapped into a rich seem of inspirational liturgy but such times have ebbed and flowed with an unhelpful inconsistency.  This inconsistency has meant that the focusing and calming effect of prayer became vulnerable to be lost, drowned out or shut out by the distractions and pace of everyday life. Continue reading