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?
3 thoughts on “T minus 3 weeks”
I remember the run up to my conference – known as a MinDiv at that point (2002) very well. I was having a dreadful time at work and in the week before I developed a dreadful hacking cough which seriously looked like stopping me going at all. I made time to get away for three days on my own at a retreat house and spent time doing things that were fairly unrelated like reading and watching DVDs, going into the nearby town etc. I did do some praying and visiting of churches, but it felt like the most important thing was to offload any unnecessary baggage that I might accidentally take with me in the form of stress, a lack of confidence from previous vocational exploration, etc.
My own experience of the conference was that it was the least stressful point of my whole 8 year vocational journey. The assumption at the conference is that you ARE a viable candidate, so you don’t have to prove that. I think what they are mainly looking for is as much demonstrated in the way you approach the various tasks and interviews as what you say in them. There will be people there who seem much more articulate/experiences/confident than you, and people who seem to be less! But fortunately it isn’t a competition but an assessment of whether the right way ahead for you at this time is to progress to training.
Before I went to mine, I thought it was odd when people said they enjoyed the conference but I can honestly say I did as well. There were some difficult questions, of course, but the other candidates were really interesting and the interviewers were fair and interested in what I had to say. There was a great sense of peace in having got to this point and even if the answer had been ‘not recommended’ I would have felt that I’d had a completely fair hearing.
Not many people get to a selection conference so enjoy the experience!
Thanks Pam. I was chatting with someone who said similar things, that if the sending diocese have done their job properly most people get through. Thankfully my diocese is reputed to be quite rigorous but apparently some aren’t, or allow candidates who don’t or can’t realise ordination isn’t God’s will for them to go to a BAP. Whilst I don’t think I fall into the latter my experiences with the Examining Chaplains has taught me to not take things for granted and prepare well so that I can articulate what I know, and to communicate effectively in a language that will be understood by advisers who come with a different church background to my own.
What I am finding interesting is the peace and confidence (not arrogance) I feel: I know who I am in myself and in God, and my reading and discussions are all part of keeping moving forwards with addressing my weak points my sponsoring papers identified. I know I’m praying and hoping to be recommended, and to not be will be hard to take, but am thankful for the discernment process and the transformation God has achieved through it. I’m intrigued to see what happens next and where God’s magical mystery tour takes me next!
One friend who went to conference a few years before I did seemed to get completely ‘in the zone’ before she went and I think that’s what happened to me too. Vocational exploration is quite a frustrating process because you’re being asked to talk about something you haven’t experienced – ordained ministry – in a way that convinces people you would be suitable. This has made a lot more sense to me with hindsight – I don’t think what is looked for is an encyclopaedic knowledge of ministry and theology so much as a lack of ‘red flags’ which would mean that ordained ministry would get on top of you. These aren’t so much personality traits as an over optimistic view of what ministry would be like or a lack of resilience in dealing with problems.
While I was in vocational discernment I felt very frustrated that I didn’t know what was being looked for (the criteria for selection weren’t made public in those days) – it felt a bit like taking an exam without having been shown the syllabus. But I’ve come to recognise that the ‘suitabilty’ question isn’t ‘are you good enough?’ but really and truly is ‘Is this the right way ahead?’