After an intense period of writing over Christmas (see my last three posts at the bottom of this post) I had a momentary break from thinking and writing. It had been a fruitful period and God had helped me make some great progress in finding out who I was and might become.
God seems to reveal a lot to me as I write, and the last month had been no exception. The revelations were sometimes liberating, sometimes surprising. Memories from a lifetime of searching made sense like never before. Getting my head around what ordination actually is came as a big relief, and I will forever me indebted to Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley for the help she gave me in getting there. The challenges surprised me the most, or rather my reaction to them: I had been living in a fear of the ever increasing antagonism towards Christianity but God showed me that such attitudes were exciting opportunities and invitations to put people in touch with Him like I had never seen before.
Mixed in with a relaxing freedom and a sense of excitement about the future came moments of doubt. Reports on church decline and growth were hard to read, mainly because I could not see how God could possibly use me to change things. In the face of such a challenge, and the obvious gifts others possessed, I was left feeling inadequate. I couldn’t see what I could contribute to achieving the task. Thankfully I don’t need to, I need only to trust God. As I was helpfully reminded He knows what He is doing in all of this and will provide me with what I need when I need it.
Such feelings don’t surprise me, indeed I expect them. It is obvious to me that this year, like this path and indeed life in general, will be a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. Seeking to live a Christ-centred life, and pursuing God’s will for it, is always going to be a spiritual battle. Such battles will be more frequent when God is trying to do great things in and amongst us, as the devil tries to divert, distract and destroy. It is in these moments that we need to keep a tight grip and focus on God, and when words of encouragement can feel like manna from heaven.
I needed some encouragement as I began to tackle the Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) Registration Form. This is the information the Panel get to see before they see the person they will be assessing over the 3 days to see if they think God is calling them to be ordained. I had glanced at this a while ago and then buried my head in the sand – having completed thousands of forms in my life I have a strong dislike of forms and this one wasn’t going to change things. Uncompleted the BAP form is an 8 page job application form with attitude. Instead of the ‘supporting statement’ to show how your skills match the job description there are questions probing your spiritual life, hopes and fears.
When the DDO emailed me, minutes after sending her my Christmas writing, I knew that I could not put off tackling the form any longer. She needed it as soon as possible, and certainly before I saw the Examining Chaplains (they are another discerning check that my diocese arranges before deciding to send someone to a BAP).
Working on the BAP form exposed my insecurities and brought dark memories to the forefront of my mind. Yet the brokenness contained with my answers held clues to the future ministry God has planned for me. It also proved to be another opportunity to work with my wife. As hard as extracting blood from a stone, she managed to coach and guide me to a place where I could begin to write about just who I am, my weaknesses and strengths. She was the check on my ego that I needed, to make sure that I wasn’t selling myself short or writing a caricature of myself.
After a week of seizing every possible moment to work on the form I had a first draft. It proved to be a timely achievement as it coincided with meeting with my vicar to catch up on things and discuss the future, including my first opportunity to preach. It also gave him and another referee a valuable insight into parts of me they knew little or nothing about.
Emailing it to the DDO felt good and came with a sense of release. It didn’t last long: I had an email in return saying that it was too short. My efforts of keeping my form concise had gone too far. I had not taken on board that the BAP would not see the pieces I wrote for the Examining Chaplains. Thankfully those pieces contained much of what was missing from the form so I wasn’t going to have to start from scratch. Still, I couldn’t face redrafting it just then; working on the form had been quite a draining experience.
I needed a pick-me-up and an encouragement. It came from an unexpected source, a meeting about money.
Money is tight for most of us, and the financial commitments we have can be heavy burdens to carry. It may well have been part of God’s plan but my foray into teaching has left my family in a vulnerable position. Whilst I know that faith means trusting God, God knows my limits and just how far He can push me on before I would be in danger of running away in fear and panic. So it had been with some eagerness that my wife and I had arranged to see the diocese about financing any ordination and theological training.
We had prepared well for our meeting with the gentleman responsible for arranging the finances those training for ordination; we had a list of questions that covered every possibility. Our apprehension quickly disappeared. He couldn’t have been more helpful or made things sound so simple and straight forward. Worries about housing and our car loan were put straight to rest. Instead of bureaucracy there was pragmaticism, love and grace.
We left with a burden lifted. The options for the future had been clearly laid out for us to consider and pray over.
The meeting did have one unexpected impact, it caused to push our local theological college to the top of the list should my wife continue with her current work. We know better than to jump to the conclusion that this meant God was saying to study locally. Our visits to other colleges will continue, each one approached with an open and prayerful mind: ensuring that we know and follow God’s will is essential on the journey we are on together. Each one, including our local, has aspects that are calling to us.
Choosing the college is not just down to me and my wife. My local Bishop will have a significant influence on where and how I might study should he and the BAP recommend me for training. The college has to accept me too. Perhaps though, the location of any training will be taken as pragmatically as the decisions on the finances.
Of course I wont be going to a BAP if I haven’t completed the registration form; the manna God gracefully sent me this week will certainly energise and help me to do just that.