It was time for the Bishop to make his move. Was it going to be checkmate and game over? I didn’t know. I did know that whatever happened following as a result of meeting my local Bishop was going to be significant.
In preparing for the meeting I had been advised to read the pieces I had written for the Examining Chaplains (see Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry) and to think over a few questions. The answers the Bishop would be looking for were within me. I ‘only’ had to bring them out of deep storage into my conscious memory and deliver them in an articulated fashion.
I did as instructed. Nothing particularly jumped out at me, nothing that I hadn’t said to the Examining Chaplains when I had met them. I read through the liturgy for the ordination services for Deacons and Priests once again. In them held the words that defined their difference something that had been suggested needed to be at the forefront of my mind.
I kept running over the questions the DDO had suggested I think about. What is the Gospel to me? What is the church here for? There were the questions I hadn’t answered to the satisfaction of the Examining Chaplains as well: why did I want to be a Priest not a Lay Reader, and how do I know when it is God talking?
I thought over all these things and wrote anything that came to mind. My thoughts were scattered across my journal. Each time I added some I deleted anything that felt superfluous; brevity and clarity were my watch-words. My list of spiritual soundbites was coming together.
Yet something was missing. I was looking for a thing. Thing 1 or Thing 2? I wasn’t sure, although I suspected that it was a whole new type of thing that even Dr Zeuss hadn’t imagined.
It came just when I wasn’t looking for it, when I was deep in conversation with my wife and two friends who have accompanied me on my journey for over 10 years. With their involvement in the pastoral care of our church it was natural that we spoke at length over the spiritual health and boundaries of Christian leaders.
For me the most important thing for a priest is to spend sufficient time praying, studying worshipping and listening to God so that their relationship with God is strong, and so that they can know how God wants them to act out His will for the body of Christ. Everything else flows out from this.
Instantly I knew that what I had just said was going to be significant. Somehow I knew that it covered all the areas of concern. I felt at peace.
I arrived at the Bishops’ Palace in Wells in plenty of time, and read over my notes as I sat waiting for the meeting to start. Praying was hard as my mind flitted between the sights and sounds around me and the paper in my hands. A powerful painting faced me which managed to cut through it all. Amongst the busy image there was a section showing a war taking place; people pointed to Christ upon a tree whose roots penetrated the carnage. It was a helpful reminder of why I was hear: seeking to follow God’s will so that He could use me to reach out and rescue those in need.
The moment had come and I was guided to the Bishop’s room. I took my seat. The Examining Chaplain’s reports were on the coffee table between us. It was time to face my fears.
The Bishop was good, good at getting the conversation going and making me feel at ease. Questions were encompassed within discussions and I did as much listening as talking. Neither of us hid from the negativity of the first report but the concerns it had raised formed questions not judgements, questions were raised gently and unthreateningly.
The significance of my conversation with friends became apparent. It provided the answer to the most important question I was asked. Not only was it a sign that God was intimately involved in my journey but told the Bishop what he wanted to hear. In a pointed reference to the negative report the Bishop told me that he was finding my answers to be articulate. I knew my DDO would be raising a smile had she been there.
As the Bishop brought the meeting to a close he told me that generally he makes his decision as the meeting starts and spends the rest of it looking for the evidence to back it up. Perhaps I should have read something into the fact that the meeting had been enjoyable and encouraging but I couldn’t bring myself to predict what his decision had been. There had been the chance that he would have been told me his decision there and then, but he wanted a chat with my DDO first. Given my Examining Chaplains’ contradictory reports I thought that fair enough. Instead I was going to have to wait a day or too, given the amount of waiting involved in the discernment process that felt rather quick!
I drove away feeling at peace, which was a gift in itself. The phrase “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” came to mind out of nowhere. It felt like it held some significance to what had just happened and what was about to happen. It was only when I got home that I realised it’s link to the meeting, that being immersed in preparing for a man dressed in purple had made the future hazy. The outlook was about to get clearer.
Late into the night an email arrived from the DDO. The Bishop had made his decision and she was wasting no time in letting me know. He wanted to sponsor me to go to a BAP as soon as possible! The application had already been sent and a date would be known within days.
I leapt around and danced like David. I was on a high. Sharing the news with friends extended the high and the number who joined the celebration was humbling. Having people who support and believe in your call is essential and has been since the formation of the early church. To get to this stage and have so many people who have seen God at work in you helps to build confidence and assurance that it is God’s will for you to be pursuing ordination.
Despite all the support, despite even the Bishop wanting to put a person forward for a BAP, there are no guarantees of being recommended for ordination training if you attend one. God works in mysterious ways and a no at that stage is not unheard of, but it is a hard and confusing time to hear it. Balancing planning for training and not expecting to train is a challenge that gets harder as the emotional investment grows.
I settled in for the wait for a date. The date of the BAP would have a huge impact. A BAP in May would mean my wife could leave her employment in time for me to start training in September 2014. Starting then felt significant to several people, yet getting all that would be needed to be done would be a challenge needing divine intervention. A BAP in June or later would delay any training by a year. Each would have different implications for family life, positive and negative.
My DDO thought it likely that we would both hear the date sent to us after the weekend, so when an email arrived from her I had no expectation of its contents. It contained the date for my Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP). I had been given one in mid-June with an end of June decision date.
Although I had tried to remain detached from the situation, the emotional investment of preparing for starting this year meant that not being able to do so knocked me sideways. Initially I panicked and searched for anything that might make it still possible. None were to be found. I hit rock bottom.
As the implication of the date began to sink in I searched for the positives. There were plenty to be found but my emotions were too raw to be happy about it. There was not going to be any dancing this time.
The ironic thing is that having hoped so long for a chance to go to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel I have had to give it away. My application for the place had been submitted at 10pm last Wednesday and by 3:27pm the next day there were no more places available for BAPs in this academic year. A waiting list for cancellations had started forming. Whilst I might not be able to start training this year one of those waiting might be able to, if they had a BAP place. Taking up my place, only to defer training for a year, would deny them that opportunity.
Despite a year being added to my timescale the urgency that has marked this stage of exploring ordination has not gone away. With my daughter due to start school in September 2015 we need to know where we will be living well before Christmas 2014 so that we can join the race for places at a school in that location. That means I need a place at a BAP as soon as possible after summer.
This week wasn’t the end of a race, it was just a pit stop.