Last week I met with the DDO for the first time. For those not familiar with Church of England jargon that’s the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, a person that the local bishop has chosen to oversee the selection and training of people called to ordination. It was a meeting that would initially bring peace but not for long.
Approaching my meeting with the DDO I had tried to find out what I could about her, I like to be prepared! Though I am fortunate to know some that have gone through ordination locally most were accompanied by a different DDO. There was very little I could find out about the DDO I was about to meet, certainly not enough to build up a reliable picture of what she might be like. Somehow though my mind had created an image of a fearsome person.
In the week prior to the meeting things changed. As my previous post explained my first meeting with the DDO had to be cancelled when I had to rush my son to hospital (see Get your priorities right for the full story). It was a week where I family had to be my highest priority.
God also used the events to change my impression of the DDO before meeting her. Whilst at hospital I had sent a series of contradictory emails to her during my time with my son: first I couldn’t make the meeting, then I could, then I couldn’t again. I was not leaving a good impression on someone who would be fundamental to this particular pilgrim’s progress! Yet the DDO replied to each of my emails showing grace and understanding.
God’s perfect plan and timing had shown itself again. Instead of approaching the meeting with a sense of apprehension I drove to the rearranged meeting feeling peaceful.
The person I met couldn’t have been nicer. I told her my journey to faith, the joys and struggles that followed, and how I felt called to be exploring ordination. It was the same story I had told before but the detail was different – I had taken head of friends’ advice and had asked God to provide the words for me to say (see my post Hazardous interpretations).
We talked about where the process might taken me and when. The local bishop, quite rightly, gets involved where he can and this includes an influence on where I might study. My homework on possible theological colleges meant that little of what was said was a surprise, but the degree to which I would be able to choose the manner of my training wasn’t quite to my liking. If you haven’t guessed yet from previous posts (Planning ahead? for example) I like to have at least an element of control!
The Vocations Chaplain’s suggestion that I may be able to start training in a year’s time was possible but more likely it would be 2 years before I started. I can not deny that on one hand this was slightly disappointing but it also helped me to relax. The most important thing, the DDO said, was not to rush the process. She is quite right of course. If I am being called to be ordained and went to see the Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) too soon I may struggle and be turned down.
The DDO is keen to meet my wife, not to interview her but to enable her to ask questions and feel part of the journey too. This was music to my ears and I knew my wife would be more than happy to have such a meeting; the journey will not happen without her being called to play her part too. She has plenty of questions, more practical than theological, and many centred on the impact of ordination on the family.
We arranged our next meeting for early in October and I was given a task to complete ahead of the meeting: to finish reading The Life and Work of a Priest by John Pritchard and write 2 sides of A4 about the positive and challenging images that emerged from reading it. It is an excellent book so the real challenge will be limiting my writing to 2 sides of A4!
I left feeling as though an enormous amount of pressure had been lifted from me. The journey was continuing. I could breathe freely again once more.
Yet that night I struggled to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the DDO had said about the bishop and theological colleges. The DDO had told that the bishop prefers families to move to the college unless their children are in secondary school. With a son in his second year of his primary education that is something I have a big problem with!
The next day I felt low and depressed. This journey felt, for a moment, like it was heading up a cul-de-sac, that I had started it too late in my life for it to succeed. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Training at theological college lasts 3 years if you’re under 35 or 2 if you’re old like me. After college you generally have to move to your curacy so this would equate to 2 moves in quick succession.
Moving my family, and in particular my son from his school, is not something I would ever do lightly, far from it. Having to move to go to theological college would mean my son would go to at least 3 primary schools. That isn’t good.
My past informs my view on children moving schools. As a child I moved house, and hence schools, regularly. It had a fundamental impact on who I am and the choices I have made in life, unfortunately not always positively.
Throughout childhood I learnt to not hold on to friendships, to be able to cut ties quickly and easily. I became adept at putting on a mask to hide my true feelings, to be able to blend in. I never sought success or excellence because, as a new boy, that would have put me in the line of sight of the bullies. I knew it was best to keep a low profile at school.
As I grew into adulthood I felt rootless. I longed to belong, to have a place that defined me to an extent. Even at the age of 16 I knew that I wanted a family of my own and a different upbringing. I wanted a secure and stable base for children to grow up in.
I can certainly see the benefits from living and studying alongside other families. Selfishly I would love it but I have to think of my family as well. Commuting would require us to put in extra effort to ensure we were part of the community, making sure that we were around and did things with the other families at the weekends. That sort of commitment could be challenging and tiring but it would be worth it, at least that’s what some I know that have trained this way have told me.
This particularly issue is not something that I need to sort out immediately, though I would dearly love to. It may be that when the time comes to discuss such issues with the bishop I find it not to be the game changer it feels like to me right now.
As a family we may find ourselves moving willingly or that the bishop agrees with what I feel right now. Either way if I don’t hand it over to God, to constantly seek His help in dealing with it, I could find the issue clouding my ability to focus on exploring God’s calling on my life. That is a lot easier to write than too do; I know I will wrestle a lot with this – I’ve been wrestling with it right from the start of exploring ordination.
As was reminded in church recently there is often a cost involved in following Christ. Maybe moving is the cost, or one of the costs, that I am being asked to pay.
For now though I have some reading to do. More than ever I know that I need to get round to sorting out my spiritual director, right now I need all the help I can get!