Are somethings too good to be true? When things appear to come so simply and easy, do you question them like I do?
Right now I can sense God rolling His eyes again.
In a break from redrafting my BAP form I had my first visit to a theological colleges and the first experience on this journey where the whole family were involved. I knew that as I drove towards the college that it was going to be was the easiest and the hardest college to visit. It was my local one.
At every stage on this journey of exploring ordination I am trying to discern God’s will for my life, the purpose for which He is calling me to do. It becomes rather difficult, for me at least, to discern His will when the practicalities of every day life get involved: is it God or me talking?
Such dilemmas show up in many guises. Do I have a message from God to be be shared or is it just my own thoughts? Is God calling me to do something that will strengthen my faith and bring Him glory, or am I wanting to do something for the glory I perceive I will receive as a result? Is this college exciting me because God thinks studying there would be good for my future ministry or because I could study without moving the family?
Not moving would be very convenient.
It became clear to my wife and me that commuting to the college would not only be possible, it would be nonsensical to move the family at all if I was to study there. Just as the diocesan finance gentleman had said lots commute to study, so did the college. Indeed it seems that the only one recommending against commuting was the DDO.
Moving would not only mean removing my son from a wonderful school, it would mean losing the amazing child care and help that my mother gives the family. It could even result in a busier and more complicated commute for the whole family as we would have to juggle getting each member to nursery, school, work or college; 4 people, each with different needs in different locations. Commuting also brings benefits: the time on the train would provide a haven in which to start the day in prayer, provide some exercise, and get me in college in time to pray, read or study before the college day started in earnest.
We know that it is highly likely, if not preferable, that the family will move in the future, most probably to start a curacy after training. Moving for the sake of it for 2 years of training though is not something I will countenance, not with my experience of moving a lot as a child. Minimising disruption to the family is therefore a strong incentive in choosing a college to train at, so strong that it could cloud us from discerning God’s true will.
Could it be that God was providing the convenience for a purpose? The college certainly has an exciting future if the buzz in social media about the incoming Principal is anything to go by. Was I being called to be part of that future?
As the college visit progressed I found myself wondering whether it was God or convenience calling me to study there. The vision of the college outlined by the Acting Principal pressed all the right buttons: evangelical, charismatic, ecumenical, community, servant leadership, application of theology to ministry and mission. The level of study I was contemplating was supported. The opportunity for my wife to get involved was there too. The sample lecture and the students’ experience excited me but was that God stoking the fire within me or just a lecture appealing to my personal likes?
Just as I was fighting my selfish desires in favour or God’s I was given a surprising revelation that the convenience could actually enhance my preparation for ministry.
I had assumed that I would be leaving my current church if I began training, and that though such a move would be painful it would also prove fruitful. A new church would bring new opportunities and expose me to new experiences. There would be no preconceptions of who I was that might inhibit attempts at exploring new
Yet as staff and students described their experiences and the courses of study I had a sudden and strong sense that I might be being called to stay attached to my current church. This went against every previous thought I had had. This time I was fighting rather than welcoming convenience.
Staying attached to my current church during training would enable my vicar to continue the work God had asked him to start last November, that of investing his time in mentoring me. It would, ironically, also expose me to a whole host of new opportunities, much like going to a new church. My church is 1 of 2 in the parish but also part of a collection of parishes (a benefice) that in total contains 5 churches, although my experience has largely been limited to just 1 of them. Each church is quite different: there are 2 contrasting rural churches; a church in an affluent middle class suburb with 3 different styles of worship; a church in an area of social deprivation; and a student church serving people from 2 universities.
I posed this possibility to my vicar the next day. His reaction was much like mine, one that suggested it was unexpected and not the norm, but also one that had lots of benefits for me in my preparation for ministry. The staff member at the college thought the idea a good one, though I suspect that the DDO and Bishop may well need some convincing of its merits.
For me to truly know if God is calling me to study at my local theological college I need to visit others. The reactions my wife and I have will be quite telling I’m sure. The other colleges wont have convenience but I’ve no doubt they will still be able to create confusion in my thoughts.
Where as I was fighting feelings of convenience during my first college visit, during the remaining visits I will be fighting a sense of selfishness. I would dearly love to live in some of the locations we will be visiting but that might not suit the family; indeed I have had to cancel one visit because it though it might have suited me it wasn’t going to suit the family’s needs.
In the meantime I need to get back to redrafting the registration form for the BAP, and chasing up the DDO for dates of my meetings with the Examining Chaplains – they are supposed to be any week now!
It has been helpful revisiting the BAP form but I’ve hit a wall, one that troubles me. Whilst I didn’t have much of a problem redrafting and expanding my sections on my sense of calling and future ministry, expanding on the most important aspects of the Christian faith to me is proving difficult. It doesn’t bode well though if I can’t articulate what the Christian faith means to me. I had my work for the Examining Chaplains to draw upon for the former 2 sections. For the latter I am writing a new and that takes quite a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy to do.
Exploring ordination is turning into an endurance sport, and pacing myself is important. An evening spent simply looking at the content of a Bishops’ Advisory Panel and the forms my referees have completed left me feeling drained, overwhelmed, inadequate and unsuitable! Long distance runners have much to teach prospective ordinands; they prepare for the psychological aspects of running as much as the physiological aspects.
The list of people who have supported, accompanied and worked with me on this journey is getting quite long. More people were added to that list this weekend, not least my two children. Their efforts are quite humbling (take a look at the Lay Referees’ forms for an example!) and I suspect will energise and inspire me.