My exploration of ordination feels like it has entered a new phase.
The first was private and tentative, like a child unsure if the venture is safe. I spoke informally with my vicar, I spoke with friends ordained and not. I had questions, I had doubts: what did I possibly have to offer of worth to the church? Whilst I couldn’t see it myself I knew that God would have good reason in asking me to take a look at it.
It was after my vicar told me to stop telling him why I shouldn’t be ordained and start saying why I should that I began to consider it a possibility and not a way of occupying my thoughts. And when my wife and I returned from a CPAS weekend looking at ordination did we formalise the process and start it in earnest.
Two visits with a Vocations Chaplain followed. Questions were posed and for the first time I was forced into considering theological issues I had been able to hide from in the past. Then began the first serious session of waiting, waiting for the DDO to get in contact.
Simply waiting is frustrating for me. I need something to do. Left twiddling my thumbs my mind can wonder and I can be off onto something new. Time is too previous to waste on a whim.
There was something that kept me focused and wanting to go further that kept me from dismissing ordination as a whim and move on. Whatever God’s reasoning behind it all was, it became clear that this was serious.
As my sense of purpose grew, so did my DDO’s sense of my calling as our meetings developed to a crescendo culminating in meetings with Examining Chaplains and a Bishop. Others joined in on the trip as it became more public and known about. The nay-sayers became less and the encouragers more. The journey was, is, well and truly established.
Although many more than simply myself believe that God may be calling me to be ordained, we cannot say for sure. For me that is one of the tensions, mysteries and core aspects of what makes Christianity a faith not a concept.
The question remains though, is ordination a direction or a destination? I have six months before I find out whether then journey will continue, be diverted or hit a cul-de-sac. Even if it continues onto training it would be a further two years before I would know if I will be ordained.
As I contemplated the six months before me this week I was reminded that struggles with faith and theology do not stop, and probably never will. As people write or speak with absolute certainty and conviction about what God says about an issue It can feel like you are the only one who isn’t quite there, who doesn’t get it yet. You’re not.
What we need as a community of faith, and as a family, is to be able to lovingly disagree with each other. We need to be open and humble enough to accept that we might not be right and that other people’s views on things may be correct, however unpalatable they may seem to us. We need to accept not condemn our differences and to come alongside each other so that we can see and feel what the other person sees and feels.
We need to be gentle and caring with each other. Above all we need to love each other. On that Jesus was clear… I think!
Of course I could be feeling that out of hope because God’s plans for keeping me moving forwards saw me preach my first sermon last Sunday (available here: Unconditional Investment).
There I was standing in front of a congregation with expectant hearts. I was not there as one with years of authorised theological training, I was there simply as a Christian. I had had the passage for a while and prayed over it a lot. I had shared my subsequent thoughts with my vicar, then met with him to discuss my draft sermon. He was very encouraging. And though I have given many a presentation in my time and kept the attention of a classroom of 5 year olds, I had never before last Sunday been responsible for giving people their Sunday-fix.
It was one more step out of my comfort zone, one more fear to be tackled.
As I sat being introduced my heart began to beat faster. It felt uncomfortable being singled out and talked about, it always has for me. I took to the lectern and gripped it tightly, if only because I knew of my tendency to fidget when nervous. Gradually I found my stride, though my nervousness was never far from the surface. Less expected was having to fight back the tears when I talked about my mother-in-law; I had found peace with her tragedy a long time ago and in preparing the sermon was able to write about it as a moment in history. When time came to speak the words the pain of the situation came out and I took a moment to compose myself.
Although I had prayerfully prepared my sermon I had been concerned that I be open to let God in as I spoke the message I had felt Him give me. As God delivered some calmness He helped me to depart from the script and add some richness that might otherwise have been lacking, and hopefully make it more pertinent to the unexpected visitors in the congregation.
The feedback I had was very encouraging. Whilst my nervousness had been picked up by some, the content of my sermon had been well received. There was, alas, one negative comment but thankfully not about my sermon. One member of the congregation decided that they needed to suggest I try to lose some weight. I successfully fought my urge to utter some choice words and simply explained that the combination of injuries and exploring ordination had limited by ability to exercise. That was a comment I could dismiss, the others were points that would help me to improve should I get the chance to preach again. I hope I do.
In the eighteen months before me, whether I am recommended for ordination training or not, I am likely to have more opportunities to step out of my comfort zone in serving God. Whatever the result of my Bishops’ Advisory Panel I will finish this part of my life transformed and closer to God than when I took those tentative steps of exploration.
- Unconditional Investment – my first sermon on Joshua 3, the culmination of my church’s look at the Exodus story.