The date is getting closer. So much to do, such little time. Or is there?
As I continue my preparations for attending a Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) there I the list of things I want and need to do beforehand at times feels impossible to achieve. Yet I also feel a the sense of peace and excitement I feel as I pass through each day is palpable.
There isn’t just the BAP to prepare for, there is life away from it which continues regardless and needs time and attention. I have my day-job, my role as a school governor, a house to sell and of course my children and wife to attend to and spend time with. Such things keep me grounded and from becoming tunnel visioned and obsessed by all things ordination.
That said, most of my spare time this past week has been spent reading, contemplating and interacting with ordination.
I am reading a book by Tom Wright (also known as N. T. Wright) called Simply Christian as recommended by my DDO. Though only half-way through the book it has already provided moments of revelation, helped by the clarity and warmth with which he writes. Like with Rowan William’s book Being Christian beforehand I have found my writing down copious notes and quotes into my journal; whilst I may only look back at these notes the act of writing them down helps to ingrain them into my memory.
A sense of urgency lay behind my reading of Simply Christian not caused by the BAP but by a meeting I had arranged to discuss the theology that the book illuminates. Some members of my church with minds much wiser than my own had offered to help me improve my ability to articulate my understanding. Their insightful minds were to be put to use in questioning my own and helping to tease out the knowledge contained within.
As the meeting loomed I felt a little intimidated. Though offered in as a humbling act to enrich my journey I was only too aware that my understanding and articulation of theology would pale into insignificance next to those I would be conversing with. But if I was to make the most of the opportunity I was going to have to let go of my pride and concern about how clumsy and immature I might appear. There was no hidden meaning behind the offer of sharing their time and knowledge with me, there was only grace.
In many respects the meeting mirrored what I will experience at the BAP where minds much mightier than mind enquiring about my own. Overcoming any sense of intimidation will be critical there too if God’s work in me is going to be accurately communicated.
My meeting with my local bishop had taught me many things, but chief amongst them was that I need to have the confidence to go with my gut instinct, to listen to the inner voice that Gerard Hughes talks about.
When my bishop has asked me what was the most important aspect of being a priest was an answer came immediately to mind, yet it seemed such a simple one. My mind was in conflict with itself, as though a battle was taking place between choosing to go with the simple answer or to believe that the bishop would be wanting a much more complicated and flowery definition. In the past, especially when unsure of myself and lacking confidence, I have taken the latter approach. Often I have regretted it as the answer not only fails to accurately reflect what I know or feel, but also comes back in reply.
It matters less when a conversation is taking place, such as I had this week, than an interview when first impressions and answers count for so much.
When the bishop asked the particular question I went against the voice of doubt and chose the simple answer that my inner voice spoke out. It was the right choice. The incident taught me to stop trying to read too much into the questions put to me, or to wonder about the motivation that lay behind them. It taught me to trust God and go for it.
So when I was asked during my meeting this week to describe how the Kingdom of God manifested itself in this world I went with the thought that had come to mind whilst reading Simply Christian a few days previously. Once again it proved to be the right choice.
Not only did I leave my theology meeting on a high from the buzz it had given me, I also left encouraged and affirmed. Once more I had met people who knew little or nothing about me, but whom felt certain and confident in the particular destination God has apparently called me towards. More meetings were arranged and the mobilisation of an army of prayers from my church was organised: I will be able to face the panel’s questions with the knowledge that I will be being supported by prayers being uttered as I do.
I also know, and am grateful, that I have many who are praying for me as I prepare for the panel. It all brings encouragement and a sense of peace that would simply not exist if I was preparing in isolation. They are needed too as I begin to write my presentation: a five minute talk that leads into a 13 minute facilitated discussion.
The weeks leading up to my Bishops’ Advisory Panel may be intense, but they are proving to be very enjoyable and fruitful as well.
The question remains though, will the panel’s decision further my journey or redirect it?