I met with a Vocations Chaplain for a second time last week so that he could affirm or quash my sense of calling. As it also turned out to be our final meeting, and the start of a new stage on the exploration of ordination, it seems a good time to take stock of my experience so far.
In this, the first of a two-part blog I’ll document what steps I took before formalising the process and getting the wider church leaders involved. Hopefully they will be helpful, especially if you are exploring a calling too. The second part will look at my experience with the Vocations Chaplain.
It all started, consciously at least, in January 2013 when I heard the voice of God prompt me to stop discounting ordination and instead to explore it. Like many stories there was the prologue where God and others were sowing the seeds that would not be ready to harvest until now (see I am called…).
I started searching out related websites and resources, and arranged to meet with my vicar. That meeting was in itself quite illuminating. I was on one hand trying to justify my worthiness and my exploration of ordination, and on the other coming up with a raft of reasons why I was not the right person to be ordained. I didn’t fit the stereotype of the church leader I held in my head. When I was asked for the reasons why I should become ordained I came up with some answers but they were uncertain. It is only now, having spent time with God on this journey and having met with the Vocations Chaplain, that I am becoming increasingly certain that ordination is indeed what God is calling me towards.
My vicar helpfully pointed out to me that the church needs leaders of all types, otherwise it is not representing the body of Christ properly. We are all different and we respond to different types of people and leadership styles. My personality and possibly leadership style would be no less valid than another person’s, if that is God’s calling. My vicar was also particularly glad that this exploration was something I was doing with the full support of my wife. If she wasn’t it would have been a sign for me that this was just a personal interest and not a call, God wouldn’t have been asking me to put at jeopardy a union he established and blessed. I would still have had to explore what God was asking me to do but it would have taken a different form and focus, it would have had to have been consistent with scripture and my marriage.
With my wife exploring with me I began to explore leadership and preaching opportunities with my vicar. These were, and still are, the two areas I feel I need to test more than any other if I and the wider church are going to be confident that this is God’s call on my life. I also began contacting others I knew who had become ordained, who were going through the training programs, or who had explored ordination as well. If they had some relevant experience I wanted to quiz them and hear from them. No stone was going to be left unturned!
My former vicar, who had conducted my marriage ceremony and who had witnessed my spiritual walk for some time, recommended a couple of vocation conferences. As someone who likes to do their research and be prepared (you may well have guessed that) I booked onto both! The first was a day at a local theological college, Trinity College Bristol. Their day-long course called ‘Ministry and Me’ produced a range of conflicting and confusing emotions in me. At times I felt terrified and excited at the same time. Worries about the impact on my family, and my children in particular, became very real yet I I ended the day with a sense of peace. It was certainly a powerful day, meeting others at the same stage of exploration as me and seeing that although we were all quite different we were also all quite similar.
One of the tasks that we were invited to do was to plot on a time-line the significant moments in our lives, with highs above the line and low moments below. This simple exercise turned out to be a particularly powerful moment or realisation of how God often works. Like others doing the task on that day I found that a significantly positive event had happened after a time of struggle and testing. It was as though I was being taught things through the tough times which God would use when I was ready. It sounded alarm bells for me. I knew that having just emerged from a time of testing I was about to see God do something amazing but it wasn’t clear what. Whether you are considering ordination or not, even if you don’t believe in God, I recommend you do this task, it is interesting what it tells you about the patterns in you life.
I went to the first course on my own. It told me enough that this exploration of ordination was indeed an issue to take seriously. I needed then to do a similar course with my wife. I needed her to explore in her own right, not vicariously or impassively through me. It wasn’t just me signing on for the ride, we needed to both be fully and actively on-board.
Together we went on a residential weekend course called “You and Ministry”. It was run by the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), an organisation independent of the Church of England, who produce a range of very useful resources on issues linked with exploring ordination. That my wife even agreed to go on the course was significant – she had never had a night away from our children before (the eldest being under 5) so it wasn’t a decision she took lightly.
I would recommend such a course to any one seriously contemplating ordination. It gave both my wife and I plenty of time to listen, think, pray and chat about all the relevant issues with other like-minded people. Neither of us missed a chance to ask questions, or an opportunity to quiz the leaders or speakers. Speaking with the wife of a vicar was particularly helpful in signposting the perils and blessings for the family of a vicar.
The time and space we got away from the group on the CPAS weekend gave us time to work through things together, as well as time to make videophone calls to our children! As we drove back as fast as we could to be reunited with them, we both agreed that this was something we should continue to explore, with my wife being the one supporting me as the person potentially going for ordination.
On my return home I emailed my Vicar. It was time to get serious. It was time to formalise things. It was time to bring in the Diocese!
Continued next week in “Taking Stock – Part 2: The Vocations Chaplain Experience”.