We are family

We are family

With my wife away last week I had little time for my theology books.  The children needed to be fed, clothes and dishes needed to be washed, bedtime stories needed to be read.  It all took my mind off the fact that the DDO was coming to my house at the weekend.

She was coming to see my wife more than me, her involvement and support being crucial to my potential ordination.  It was to be an opportunity for my wife to ask her questions, though in our minds we had built it into being an opportunity for the DDO to ‘discern’ our potential ordination as a couple and a family.

The house had been tidied, and then tidied again as our enthusiastic children quite rightly saw no need to alter their plans for the day!  Special biscuits has been brought, scented candles lit, and a few items such as my Pope Pinion toy car and stack of theology books had been strategically placed.  If you were to suggest we felt nervous, on edge and even insecure, you would probably be right.

When the door bell rang my wife went to greet the DDO.  It was, after all, her meeting and not mine.  She, the family and our collective future was the focus.  I was essentially an observer, but one politely invited into the conversations that developed.

The DDO was wonderful, kind and caring.  She was there for my wife, she was there for my family, she was there for God.  The seriousness of the finances involved were not deemed to be unworthy of such a spiritual pursuit as ordination, but were tenderly discussed.  It isn’t something that can be avoided.  The fact of the matter is that no matter how much all involved believe that God wants me to be ordained the family still needs to be fed, clothed and housed.  Going into debt in order to be ordained is not an option, yet the debt of a mortgage and a car loan are real world practicalities that can not be ignored.

Money and faith have always felt uncomfortable bedfellows.  Jesus certainly had plenty to say about their relationship.  He certainly has provided for us and we have had moments of miraculous provision, but still finance is probably the biggest struggle I have in my journey with God.  I know some say that if God is calling me to be ordained that He will not see the family destitute, but that is one big ‘if’.  We thought God had called me into teaching and we are still paying the price of that decision.  I would be being irresponsible as a husband and father to commit the family to something that risked that fate once again.

There is not a standard and fixed bursary for those training for ordination, people get what they need up to a national level.  The lack of a published formulae makes it difficult to work it out in advance so when the DDO offered a meeting with the gentleman responsible for ordinands’ funding we instantly accepted.  She made us feel at peace, that the Church of England knows and understands these pressures on people, and will help us through it.  For that I was very grateful.

I felt more uncomfortable when the DDO asked my wife to talk about me, whether she was surprised by me looking a ordination and what qualities I possessed that would be useful.  My wife was very kind in what she said but as I find receiving compliments difficult, and repeating them even more so, I am not surprised in finding it hard to remember what she said!

What was interesting was being reminded that my wife had not been surprised by what I had felt God say to me.  She remembered better than me when God had spoken similarly to me in the past and my passionate resolution never to retrain again sounded the alarm bells in her!

Having sensed a change recently in how I and the DDO were viewing my potential ordination, we were keen to ask about timing and training.  My earlier fears about not being able to commute to a local theological college came to the foreground again.  A cold realism was brought to the conversation.  It might be possible but previous ordinands experience suggested that such a method of training would be a hard road to follow.

God graciously, miraculously, brought a tremendous sense of peace, and even excitement, to the prospective of moving the family to both my wife and I.  If we had to move to go to theological college why limit ourselves to moving to the local one?  Indeed the DDO said that in the past people have often found it helpful to leave the area for training as it helps them get a fresh perspective on their sending church and diocese. A whole host of new possibilities opened up but also new questions and complications.  Moving the family means that I would have to find a course and college that me my needs in a place that meets those of my wife and children too.

As my wife’s questions finished and the meeting headed towards a close I took the lead in asking about where we would be going from here, and when.  Before now I had been an unquestioning passenger, slightly fearful about asking “are we nearly there yet?”.  The time seemed right to change that.

I was somewhat taken aback by the response I received.

I am to be booked in to see some Examining Chaplains in mid January, a sort of mock Bishop’s Advisory Panel.  After meeting them they would write a report to the DDO suggesting either a church placement or giving a green light to proceed to the next step.  A meeting with the local Bishop would be arranged, which means that I will be one of the first person to meet him as he has yet to be appointed following the retirement of the previous one.  Subject to his approval a place would be booked for me on a BAP, which is 3 months from the date of application.  All being well, the DDO said, I would be going to a BAP in May and if recommended for training would start in September 2014.

I was in shock.  I had gotten used to the idea that even if I had a BAP next year I would not be starting training until September 2015.  That still may be the case, especially if the Examination Chaplains recommend a church placement or further work, but my wife and I were facing what felt like a drastic change in pace.  Potentially we were facing moving house, finding a new school for my son, and a change in jobs for my wife within the next 9 to 10 months,  Suddenly the process feels like it is rushing ahead of us and, with so much to do in so little time, it is both scary and overwhelming.

We were advised to start finding about open days at theological colleges as soon as possible; fitting those around school and family life will itself be a challenge.  I was asked to organise references: from my vicar; a lay/non-ordained person who knew me and my journey of faith well; an academic reference; and an employment one.  The latter, the DDO emphasised, would not be contacted before a positive outcome of a BAP which was a relief.  Apparently I am quite normal in not telling my employer what I am doing, and with my contract up for renewal in the new year the DDO did not want to put me in a difficult position.

Then the form, the big one, all 8 unexpanded pages of the Bishops’ Advisory Panel Registration Form, was given to me.  It had the usual stuff found in a job application form but then there was all the questions about my faith, life and my personality.  It is quite a scary thing to behold and is not something I can tackle in 1 go.  I would not  be facing the form completely alone, the DDO would help me with it, which was a big relief.

Added to all this work to do and meetings to have would be further meetings with the DDO to go through areas we have not touched on before,  I am not expected to be strong or perfect in all of the 9 criteria used to assess prospective ordinands but I do need to look into all of them with her.

After the DDO left I felt like a wreck, wiped out and devoid of energy.  I was not alone.  Whilst my cough and cold hit me full force once again, the family got hit by illness too.  My son was sick hours later, and my wife the following day.  It was too much of a coincidence to be anything other than a spiritual attack.  God is ultimately victorious I know, and prayer helps in counteracting such attacks but so is determination.  It is why I decided fight against my lack of energy and my cold and instead write late into the night (which will explain why this post may not be as concise or coherent as it should be).

2014 looks set to be a busy year and where I and my family will be at the end of it is more uncertain than ever before.

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