An overwhelming Advent

Advent may have be an overwhelming time for me this year, but it is nothing compared to how overwhelming it was for Mary and Joseph.

It is no wonder that stress levels and tempers rise just at the time of year we are preparing to celebrate the greatest birthday that has ever happened.  The period of Advent comes some time after many people have had a holiday.  Months of working, schooling, and household chores without a break takes its toll on us all eventually.  Hopefully by stopping to think about and prepare for Christmas will result in us not loosing site of what the big day is all about.

My energy levels are running low this Advent too.  It has been weeks since I have done any serious reading.  My book on baptism remains unfinished.  The pile of books still waiting to be read are in danger of becoming ornaments, lying untouched and gathering dust as they currently are.  Similarly, I have a stack of DIY jobs around the house that haven’t been started, or worse finished, for months.  Much of this is down to sheer tiredness but also because of the amount of time needed to explore ordination, as this week has proved.

As each week passes with things still undone I become a little bit more frustrated.  With life looking to become even busier in the new year I need to find a way through that.  I need Advent as much as I need a break over Christmas.  I need to be reminded what the point of exploring ordination was in the first place, that of seeking to discern, obey and honour God’s will, plan and purpose for my life.

The sign of busy year ahead came when my wife and I met with the DDO last week.  She had was suggested that I start arranging visits to colleges for early in the new year in readiness for training next September, should a BAP recommend me for training (see We are family).  The search for a possible theological college commenced in earnest soon after my meeting.  It marked the start of another period of struggle and soul searching, as will become evident later in this post.

We had agreed with the DDO that we needed to look beyond our local theological college for where and how I might study for ordination.  If we didn’t consider all the options we might forever wonder ‘what if’, and that is precisely what God told me to avoid when he asked me to explore ordination in the first place!

The choice to how to study, whether full-time or part-time, was an easy one to make.  Part-time is rarely just that.  Without tremendous discipline and boundaries part-time work fills in more and more hours, gradually impinging on and causing conflict with other areas of life.  I also know that personally I would find it difficult switching between the various roles I would have to balance each week: student, worker, husband and father.

For me the simplicity of full-time study is more attractive, as is the shorter time to complete the course!  Removing worker from the list of roles whilst studying makes it easier to become immersed in the study, and the time away from study is then available you and your family.  Alas choosing full-time reduces the colleges I could attend without moving to one.

My wife and I have to be in total agreement where we go, so finding the combination of a location that meets our needs as individuals and as a family is crucial.  Part of our consideration is my wife’s career.

The influence of the increasing numbers of female clergy is ironically influencing my path as a man exploring ordination.  In times past the Vicar’s wife was expected to dedicate herself to her husband’s ministry, it was a buy-one-get-one-free type of employment.  Yet with a corresponding increase in male spouses of vicars has come a change in attitudes and expectations.  As the DDO said to us, that vicar’s husbands not being expected to give up their work has meant that vicar’s wives are not expected to either.  Whether male or female, their identify is equally important and they are not expected to devote all that they are to the work of their ordained partner.

We haven’t decided whether my wife will continue in her line of work or not.  Stopping has some wonderful benefits, not least for our children, but also giving my wife some space in which to discern how her ministry would interact with mine.  It may be that God wants her to continue ministering within her scientific community, it may be something completely different.  Whatever God’s plans for her are, our search for the right theological college is therefore being focused on the limited number of locations around the country where her type of work takes place.

Working together we whittled the list of colleges down to 5, though the final list may have even fewer.  As we began contacting them to arrange visits the peace, even excitement, that came upon me last week about moving the family disappeared.  It didn’t help that some of the colleges require an in-depth application form just to visit, although some turn the visit into an interview for a place on a course.  The forms, the interviews, the distant locations, a move, changing jobs, changing schools, all these thoughts led to me feeling overwhelmed, even scared.  I knew a degree of that feeling came as a spiritual attack.  I could sense the enemy taunting me with the suggesting that the upheaval is too much, too soon; that life is best left as it is now.

Even discounting the enemy’s voice, the path ahead is still overwhelming.  We are fortunate and blessed to have been able to get on the property ladder but being on it brings complications.  The house needs work on it, work which costs money and time that we don’t have.  Yet if we were to rent out our house during training, and perhaps beyond in order to have somewhere to live in should we ever retire, we would need to spend money and time in order to bring it up to a rentable standard.  The alternative, of selling and buying a more easily rentable house, is no less complicated and is harder to envisage being possible.  Selling, buying and renting a house in the couple of months between a possible BAP and starting college seems an impossibility, or at least a task too stressful to take on.

Likewise ensuring my son has an easy and peaceful transition in moving between schools looks to be something I will struggle to achieve satisfactorily.  Though we would most likely have a theological college in place before a BAP, and therefore know where we might move if recommended for training, we would only have a month or two to sort out a new school for my son.  As someone who moved a lot as a child, and knowing my son as I do, I know how unsettling it could be for him.

Maybe it is another test of my faith, of my ability to trust and depend on God, but it is a stressful one.  I fear the impact on my son and the rest of the family if, whilst God is at work transforming me, I struggle to deal with the stress.  Maybe I am being too protective, maybe I am considering others more than I should, maybe, maybe, maybe.  But this is who I am, the person God made and moulded into being.  What are the things I should release and what are the things I should fight to retain?  These are is but two of the mysteries of life.

Overall the path seems clear enough, God does seem to be calling me towards ordination, but at times like now it is hard going.  Sometimes it feels like it is a case of riding out a particular storm and depending on God for the energy and peace I need.

God, in his graciousness, gave me an instant fix at my church last Sunday.  A powerful testimony from Katherine Welby, a sermon from my vicar and a picture from God, all combined with the Holy Spirit to bring more tears to my eyes than I had experienced in church before.  They were tears of healing, of strengthening and refreshment.   Katherine’s testimony spoke of the struggle with depression that she and so many of us face.  The picture showed God using a funnel to pour in a liquid into a broken heart, sealing and healing it from within.  The sermon spoke of focusing on what God is doing instead of what He isn’t doing, of holding on to His promises even if you can’t see how God will take you there, and of giving thanks and praise in the wait.

God was in the house, at work amongst His people and I was included.  I went up for prayer ministry and within that He paraphrased scripture (it is His word after all, so He can do what He likes!) and spoke to me, saying:

“You are my son, with you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16ish)

Once again God provided what I needed.  I left church a different man.

2 thoughts on “An overwhelming Advent

  1. Thank you for your honesty! I remember the call and move to training as simultaneously joyful and stressful, but I came as an engaged man, with no children or property! Your concerns are absolutely right and reasonable, but they will also be part of the growth process, even the training process before you even enter training (should that be upheld by the BAP). I don’t know how old you are, but moving to college is, of course, only the first move. After that comes the transition to curacy, and then, not that long after, into the next stage. Certainly in the early stages the process is much like one of pilgrimmage, or Abraham’s journey to a land he knew not. It sounds cliched, but the God who calls is the God who will guide and walk alongside (or in my current phrase of choice “God is bigger”).
    May you find peace in the puzzle, strength from the Spirit, and, if it helps, know that it is a way that many have already trodden, and within which they have found God faithful.

    • Thank you for your, as ever, helpful comments! I’m trying to be as honest as possible, in part to help others who may be tredding this path at some point, to document the sort of trials and transformation that arise when seeking to follow God’s call on our lives, and to record how God can change a person.

      Although I moved a lot as a child and adult, this will be my first move with children and a house to taken into account. The greatest degree of complication and pain is in this first move, future moves should be easier – indeed the prospect of where God could take us is rather exciting.

      It feels like I’m in the pregnancy stage of my future ministry, and that the move is giving birth to what God is forming now.

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