As part of my ongoing exploration and consideration of ordination, and in readiness for meeting Examining Chaplains in the new year, the DDO has set me 3 questions which comprise the Ministry Enquiry Form. Over Christmas I have been thinking about my past and my understanding of ordination in the Church of England. The future challenges for the Anglican Church in the future, and my role in it, is something I have to think about too.
This post is the first of those questions.
Please write your own account of your spiritual pilgrimage thus far and how your sense of a call to ordained ministry in the Church of England fits in with that journey.
Here is my account.
One of my first memories is of holding an orange circled with a red ribbon and containing a lit candle. It was a memory that regularly emerged from my subconsciousness to mystify me as to its meaning and significance. Looking back at what was obviously a Christingle service it was to be one of several signs of Christ entering my life and watching over me before I was ready to greet Him personally.
As I grew through childhood I experienced various highs and lows that I only understood as an adult. The peace I found on a school visit to a monastery that remained even after I realised that though the monks looked like Obi-wan Kenobi they didn’t have lightsabers. The school choir that took me to stay with nuns and sing to a packed Ely Cathedral, complete with robes and a ruff.
Such memories provided a source of joy in the dark times I went through. Frequently moving house had its impact on me, though how much only became clear as an adult. Friends were fleeting and I felt rootless. I was anonymous everywhere I went, an observer of other people’s lives not part of them.
Life held no purpose or hope for me in my early twenties but was something to be endured. I was in debt and rejected by employer after employer. Having seen several people close to me in the grip of suicidal thoughts meant I knew the pain I would cause if I ended things myself, so I hoped somebody would end things for me instead.
It was at this time that my mind could accept the possibility of God existing, so I decided to research Him by going to the one place I knew of, Bath Abbey. I wasn’t searching for a way out of the darkness, that had me firmly in its grip. It was an exercise in intellectual curiosity.
I remember saying to myself, as much to an as yet theoretical God, that I needed to experience God in a way that would defy the logic that my mind thrived on. And so it was that Jesus entered into my life on a late night train after six months after starting my research into God.
The railway carriage on the last train home was empty, save for one person at the far end of the carriage. Then in the corner of my eye I saw a glowing figure robed in white. As I sat continuing to stare out into the darkness I felt the very physical feelings of despair drain out of my body like water flows off as you rise from a bath. It was a baptism of sorts; I had risen out of the darkness to find that I knew God existed. It was anything but a blind or intellectual faith.
I had been given the gift of hope. It was the first of a few logic-defying supernatural experiences that became the bedrock of my faith, enabling me to withstand the storms and tough times that followed. Hungry to know and understand more of God I sought out confirmation classes. At the service of confirmation I felt the Holy Spirit enter me as the bishop laid his hands on me. It was electrifying and subsequently helped me come to terms with my conflicting emotions over Infant Baptism.
My sense of calling in my early Christian life was very much outward focused. They were the days where I had no ties and my commitments were few. I could respond to where I felt God called me to act. I used all the holidays my employers would give me to go on short-term missions where God acted in amazing and indisputable ways. Serving God and others became something I wanted to do full-time and it took me a long time before I realised that my calling was often to serve from within a secular environment.
Every so often since I would find myself thinking that I’d quite like to be a vicar but always assumed that every Christian thought this and so would dismiss it. For one thing, I wasn’t anything like the church leaders I knew of. A sense of having something to say from the pulpit occasionally arose but as I preferred to avoid the limelight it wasn’t surprising that opportunities to preach never came my way.
Ordained ministry would crop up in conversations with friends but again I would dismiss it as being the same as a conversation about any job. When some left for theological college though I would feel a sense of envy.
Marriage brought a new purpose for knowing God’s calling. Our commitment to each other saw much prayer about what He wanted us to do individually and together. We both felt a very clear sense that I was called to train as a primary school teacher, a path I duly took. I got short-term jobs and was a regular supply teacher at several schools. School Inspectors and teachers commended me but a long-term teaching job eluded me. The apparent failure of my teaching career was devastating. It led to several years of wandering in the desert places, feeling disconnected from God and doubting whether I could ever hear Him speak.
To this day I don’t quite understand what happened but understand that it is human logic that says if God calls you to train as a primary school teacher He must be calling you to teach in a primary school. God has a grand plan for each of us that He only reveals on a step by step basis. His plans are not so easily read and as a person who likes to plan I’ve wrestled with that for years.
One day in January 2013 I went out for a run. Conversations came to mind that my wife and I had had leading up to the preceding Christmas where I vehemently declared that there was no way I would ever become ordained. I was simply not prepared to put my wife and our children though another career change, nor did I have confidence in my ability to discern God’s will correctly.
As I ran I felt a voice telling me that I should at least explore ordination and have a ‘what if’ burdening me later in life. It was as though Moses had struck his staff into my stony spirit and the Holy Spirit came rushing in. Getting home I gingerly told my wife what happened and was amazed to find her agreeing that we should explore it.
Confirmations and powerful occurrences have happened to confirm that this exploration is God’s current calling for me. He has built up my confidence in my ability to hear Him speak by giving me visions and pictures. Sometimes personal, sometimes for others, they have often defied logic but have encouragingly borne fruit.
Gradually as I have gone further on the road towards ordination God has transformed me, bringing scripture, prayer and much more to life once again. Peace has come when troubles have arisen, whether related to ordination or not! People have noticed the change in me too, such as my Spiritual Director who told me that I was speaking not about if I were to be ordained but when.
I have felt the call to try things that previously failed, to not let doubt be in control. I have taken on leading a home-group for families with young children. This time it is flourishing and my heart for pastoring the different generations has proved fruitful.
Others have felt God speak to them about my future role too. My vicar, still fairly new to me, felt God wanted him to invest his time in me, and that that God was calling me to teach and preach (making sense, in part, of the foray into teaching).
I cannot say I know the destination at the end of this journey, but I am convinced God is calling and transforming me for a purpose.