Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

With a DDO it can feel like a fine line between an interview, interrogation or inquisition, but they are being helpful, really!

With a DDO it can feel like a fine line between an interview, interrogation or inquisition, but they are being helpful, really!

Have you ever found that the more you look into something the more you realise you don’t know?  Exploring ordination has made me realise just how much I don’t know, or understand, about the Christian faith.

I met with the DDO for the second time last week.  It was quite unlike our first meeting, which was a fairly light hearted chat about my life, my route to faith and to exploring ordination.  Having said that, the DDO did throw a curve ball at that meeting though, about possibly having to move my family in order to train (see Ordination at any cost?).  I should have taken it as a sign that our conversations wouldn’t always been easy.

The conversation started easily enough though, but it didn’t take long for it to become serious.  The intensity of the situation rose as the questions began.

We had got together to discuss the thoughts I had had when reading John Pritchard’s book The Life and Work of a Priest (see last week’s post).  Having prepared the basis of our conversation meant that I had the benefit of having thought about many of the topics I was being asked about.  The questions were certainly serious but I felt reasonably secure in answering them, well most of them.

Infant baptism was added to the mix when I shared that I had been discussing it with a number of people recently (see my post A baptism in social media).  Whilst I am beginning to understand why people opt for infant baptism, I still believe my wife and I were right in the decision we took.  That puts me at odds with the official position of the Church of England which is in favour of infant baptism.

Naturally this led to me being asked about whether I could would feel able to baptise babies, and whether I could cope with people questioning why my children were not baptised.

When people see a clerical collar they ‘see’ the Church of England and all that it represents in their mind.  The priest needs to be able to cope not only with taking any negative flak this creates, but also to be able to do what can be expected of him or her.  I could suggest that people consider alternate options but I could not refuse to, for example, baptise their baby if the parents asked me to.

The broad nature of the Anglican Communion it testimony to its ability to accommodate a wide range of views.  Thankfully the Church of England recognises, and seems to encourage, individuality.  The church is, after all, made up of a group of individuals whose unique walk with God has happened to have brought them together with others on a similar journey.

I have had plenty of experience at having to represent a position that I don’t necessarily hold myself.  Having run a number of public consultations for various organisations I have had to understand and manage a large range of arguments, whether I agreed with them or not.  It is something I am comfortable doing, although keeping my integrity can mean refusing to put certain things into action; infant baptism doesn’t feel like one of those things.

Satisfied with my answer and ability to cope with being in such a position, the DDO recommended I read Michael Green’s book Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice and Power.  The book, like others I’m being encouraged to read, would help me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding.

After a period chatting about a topic the DDO would peer down at her folder.  She had prepared for this meeting too.  Raising her head, her gaze would return to me and a new question would follow.  It felt like I was being interrogated.

Though the DDO‘s questions were deliberately and necessarily probing, and therefore challenging, they were also designed to be helpful. They, and her advice, were part of her helping me prepare for a possible Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP).  The panel would, over 3 days, interview and observe me, and ultimately recomment the Bishop send me for ordination training or not.

At a BAP I would need to be able to articulate why I favoured dedicating children but also respected the corporate view,  The panel would also need to be confident that I could cope with people wondering why I have not done for my children that I do for other peoples – it could so easily be seen as hypocrisy.

The spot light was on me.  The screw was being tightened.  The DDO wasn’t just asking questions, she was taking notes as well!

The problem was that I didn’t have answers to every question I was asked.

I was asked why I needed to be ordained.

I should have expected that one.

My mind was blank, I didn’t know what to say.  The truth is that even as I write this I don’t actually know why I need to be ordained.  I know that God is calling me in that direction, and it certainly feels like He wants me to be, but He hasn’t told me why.

I joked that this would be much easier if this was Sunday School because the answer would be Jesus!

I knew that at some point I needed to understand why I need to be ordained.  That time has come.

The task can’t be put off for a later date.  Hoping that the issue will mysteriously become resolved if I ignore it won’t work.  That would be nice though.

I need to know what I an ordained person does that a non-ordained person doesn’t.  It must be more than being accredited by Bishops that God believes you should shepherd some of His flock.  I need to know the theology behind it all.

I’m searching, praying, questioning and listening too.  One day, hopefully soon, I will have my ‘eureka’ moment and all will become clear.

I’ll let you know when that day comes.

In the meantime, perhaps you can tell me why some people need to be ordained?

8 thoughts on “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  1. Thanks for linking to my blog! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there going through this. If I may offer a possible answer to the question why do you need to be ordained, it might have something to do with mediating God’s gifts (sacraments and others) to God’s people. Just a suggestion.


  2. As an individual Christian (rather than an ordained one) I’d say that God doesn’t need ordained people, but that the church and wider society needs them. I’m not really sure that ordination changes me or the words I say (for example, the eucharistic prayer or the absolution) so much as ordination shows some degree of recognition and setting apart of myself as minister on behalf of God’s church so that they can be heard by others, received and acted upon. As mentioned above, being a mediator of the sacraments.
    When I started exploring vocation it was as a result of many other people recognising gifts/skills/attitudes in me that they saw as pointed towards my role as an ordained minister. A key, and probably rather odd, motivation for me was one of recognition, of being able to move between churches and communities and being recognised as able, qualified and suitable to function without all the tedious process of settling in. Looking back it is most bizarre, and I’m not sure whether I learned to stop talking about it when questioned or whether certain people were gracious and generous in the face of my eccentricity.
    As you identify, you need to know why you are being called to ordination, but somewhere at the heart of the experience for me was that it simply made sense. It fitted. I could go through all the things it would enable me to do, or the doors it would open for mission and practical love, but at the heart of it it simply felt right, that I had to explore it and see if the door opened or closed. If that’s the case for you, don’t belittle it.
    That said I know people who are acutely aware that the word “priest” is written within the core of their being like the words in a stick of rock. (There are also others with similar words, “evangelist” or “archdeacon”). If there’s a word for me, then it’s “Chaplain”, for which ordination is not a pre-requisite, but is a door opener to a fuller expression of ministry. It just took several years of ministry before I was able to follow that direction, and going through the traditional parochial experience was part of the journey. However I’m now losing the thread. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. I recognise the need for recognition, no pun intended if that is a pun! To some extent it feels like I need to be able to pin it down and articulate it in order to give a good/satisfactory answer at a BAP. Having said that, for my own sake, I need to understand it more clearly than I do now – I’m not going to let myself be put forward for a BAP if I don’t see a need for me to be ordained if I can do what God seems to want be to be doing.

  3. Thanks for this….I recently went through the process to BAP, having been interviewed by both an Archdeacon and Bishop along the way – both of whom were excited for me, to continue. However, it seems that they were interviewing a different person, at BAP, because I didn’t recognise me, in some (no, many) of their written comments, afterwards. Either they hadn’t been listening, or the assessors simply have a pre-decided idea of who or what a typical Ordinand should be….basically, a manager of decline, or a Chaplain to people who struggle with decline. That’s not me – and that’s why they tore me apart, at BAP.

    • Thanks for the comment John, sorry I didn’t reply immediately – it was a strangely tough post to write and my brain needed an evening off from thinking all things ordination.

      Sorry to hear your BAP experience wasn’t good. It is worrying that the advisors weren’t able, or willing, to see the real you. That so much hangs on people who have never met you before, and possibly will not in the future, may not be the best method of making the final decision on a person’s future. I wonder whether a different model of assessing would be better, along the lines of the DDO experience, i.e. perhaps instead of 3 consecutive days maybe have 3 or more with gaps in between?

      If it’s any consolation (you’ve probably heard that before), Justin Welby said that at his BAP he was told he was the least suitable person for ordination an advisor had ever seen (I put a link to the interview in my post ‘Who am I today?‘). He was turned down the first time I wonder whether that advisor is still alive and feeling rather embarrassed now?! I can only hope and pray that if you go for another BAP (I hope you don’t let a bad experience put you off if that’s what God is calling you towards), and if I go for one, that we have advisors that are seeking God’s will and agenda, not their own.

      • Thanks for your kind comments – I’ve haven’t ruled out returning to BAP in the future, but I do wonder if I’m being called to full-time evangelism…and to the fringes of the denomination. The assessors only get a snap-shot of an individual, and I wonder how many of them even pay much attention to the candidates, then – one assessor let slip at breakfast, that he’d already made up his mind, by reading the application forms and the references, before he’d met any of the individuals he would be assessing. Funny, how he therefore disagreed with the Bishop of Chelmsford, who was very keen for me to be endorsed, and had actually met me…but no doubt they could justify their every inconsistency and present an image of someone who was supposed to be me, but whom I didn’t recognise.

  4. I don’t have an answer to this question…but I so wish I did, as I am in a very similar position. The meeting with a lovely, supportive DDO…who then springs what should have been a totally expected question, good ol’ “why do you feel you need to be ordained?”, with the added “do you think this could hinder you, would people still relate to you?” aspect.

    Suddenly I realised that I just don’t know how to put my calling into words…it’s like reverse engineering. You’ve got the machinery and it seems to work okay, but your investors want to know what the mechanics are, how it works, *why* it works…meaning you have to take it all apart and look at the pieces. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pleasant either.

    I have figured some of it out now after a lot of talking to people, thinking, praying, more talking and a little bit more talking. And perhaps a tad more praying, too. And I’ve prayed every now and again, as well. But, honestly, I’m still not *totally* certain that I’ve got it right. I just wanted to comment as I am so very, very grateful that you have been open and shared this; it’s wonderful to read that somebody else got taken by surprise by such an obvious question (I’m not just a silly person! Huzzah!) and it’s also reassuring. I did spend some time wondering if, if I found it so hard to figure out, I’d simply misinterpreted my calling after all. Every now and again it’d be nice to have a talking donkey, eh? This is a very long comment simply to say: thank you.

    • Thank you for your thank you! Things are becoming clearer for me and it feels like I am certain God wants me ordained but of course, like you said, doubt easily creeps in. I’m not sure I can articulate the ‘why’ yet, not to my satisfaction at least, and I can imagine the frustrated raised eyebrows if I went to a BAP today! Praying, thinking, praying!

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