I could tell by her tone of voice that it wasn’t good news.
The call from my DDO came earlier than expected. The Advisers at my BAP had not recommended me for ordination training. I felt numb.
I couldn’t find many words to keep the conversation going for long. There didn’t seem much point either when I was told that we wouldn’t find out why for almost a week.
The future that I had been preparing for had fell apart in an instant. I had been preparing for rejection too but experiencing it is very different. My emotions took the expected hit. It felt like a light had gone out, like a door slammed in my face. I knew that I would find it tough to hear such news, that I would be in a state of grief, but I hadn’t planned for my mind to be hit hard as well.
The rejection came without an explanation, I will have to wait for that. Not knowing why I would not be heading to theological college left me in a state of confusion. It felt particularly cruel for Ministry Division to let my DDO know the outcome without the report, although I suspect I wouldn’t have minded had I been recommended for ordination training.
I had gone to the BAP with such support and with so many people expecting be to be recommended. The paperwork that had been sent to the Advisers had been approved with confidence by my DDO who had sent me off with such high expectations and hopes. Being rejected on the basis of my paperwork didn’t make sense, which led me to think that the Advisers must have seen or heard something at the BAP itself that led to a rejection.
Whilst my presentation wasn’t delivered quite as well as I had hoped it led to a thorough discussion which I felt I chaired well: all got to speak and lot of ground was covered in a limited time. My personal inventory was fine, even if I did have to scrape the barrel of my mind for a couple of questions. Surely neither those answers or the presentation and discussion would have led to a rejection?
There was no doubt in my mind about the letter I had written in response to the pastoral exercise. With personal experience of dealing with the very issue I had been asked to respond to I was, and still am, confident that my letter was correct both in its content and tone. There will always be differences of opinions on how to respond to any issue but , harsh as this may sound, if the Advisers had found it not to their liking enough to question my calling I would probably find myself questioning their judgement and possibly their pastoral care skills.
That left only the interviews. There was only one interview that had left me feeling bruised; I had left the others feeling confident in expressing myself, my understanding, my experience and my ability properly, effectively and with articulation. My pastoral interview focused on my leadership and conflict management skills, and on my depression and suicidal thoughts before coming to faith. Although I am not the finished article, I had felt that I had demonstrated my overcoming and escape from darkness, and enough promise of an ability to lead. Indeed having experienced such dark times has enabled me to reach out to those finding themselves struggling to cope with life.
Even after being particularly critical and putting the various flaws together I still couldn’t see what would have left to the Advisers not recommending me for ordination.
One thought remained: I had been myself throughout the BAP and that wasn’t of been the the sort of person the advisers wanted in the church. Perhaps the Advisers felt I wasn’t suitable or that God couldn’t or wouldn’t work through me in an ordained role. Yes God was there and was part of the decision, but the advisers are fallible.
Whilst I had hoped for some space and time to deal with the news in private I knew that it was futile to try. Despite my requests not to friends, family and colleagues had been enquiring about how the BAP went and whether I had heard the result each day since returning home. I decided to let people know without delay.
It was impossible to find solace in the shock and surprise of those that heard the news. There was nothing that they could say that could change the situation or make me feel better; their prayers did what they words could not. Like me they would in limbo until the Advisers’ report was released and an explanation as to why I had been rejected was known.
The prayer support I have received is a valuable source of fellowships as well, in part because the very place that is difficult to go back to was, ironically, my church. I knew there were people eagerly anticipating the result of the BAP. And so it proved.
The questions came as soon as people saw me and my family, before we had even reached the church gates. Their faces showed that they expected we would have good news to share. When we didn’t it was understandably difficult for them to know what to say. When I couldn’t offer an explanation for why I wasn’t recommended their responses varied from bewilderment to anger.
Talking to people about the BAP result is difficult so soon after the event: my emotions are raw and close to the surface, so maintaining my composure whilst talking about them is an aspiration I haven’t always achieved. Maintaining my composure in worship was equally challenging. The words in the hymns and songs were often too powerful for me to be able to sing, at times all I could do was to let the worship, preaching and prayers wash over me. It was a service that reinforced my relationship with God, my faith in Him had not wavered even if my faith in the Advisers had.
It isn’t yet possible to see how the rejection fits in with the signs and signals from God throughout this process. It is akin to finding yourself being taken down a cul-de-sac without a reverse gear: all I can do is hope for someone to build a road out of it that will move me on. Clarity and direction can only come with the report. When that comes my emotions nor intellect can begin the healing process.
I know that the report will be painful to read but I also know I need to read it as soon as possible. Until I see it my paranoia over what I said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, am and am not will continue to feed on itself. It is hard to stop such thoughts in this limbo state; it is like waiting in the darkness where the shadows feed the imagination and innocuous things become monsters.
The report might, just might, prove such fears to be false. It’s possible it might prove to be helpful reading, a constructive piece of direction to where God will take me next. It may even be an effective “not yet”, a suggestion of gaining more relevant and diverse experience before going to another BAP.
Plenty of people do go back and do get recommended on their subsequent visits, most famously the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. But if I’m not acceptable now will 2 years really change me into a person that the church would find acceptable? Do I even want to be part of a church that finds me unacceptable? Such are the thoughts that come when rejected without an explanation.
Through discerning if God was calling me to be ordained I had come to believe that I had finally found my purpose in life, the work which God wanted me to do. Sacrificing having a rewarding job for the sake of the school run had felt right and appropriate, even more so whilst I had the carrot of ordination dangling in front of me. Having had a taste of ordination returning to a life where my job is just a means to an end is unpalatable. I do not want to return to life where work is something that helps to pay the bills and fills in the time between doing the things I feel passionate about and called to be doing.
The discernment process had shown me a place where work, life and faith combined, where all that I was would be used, where my service for God and others would feel united and with purpose. It showed me a place where work became a vocation. Not being recommended has taken that away from me, for now at least, and I feel lost and bewildered.
Even when the report comes it will take time to see where I go from here., no matter how much I wish differently. I have my dreams, gifts and other things that have been affirmed or discovered through the discernment process. They seemed to find their form and focus in ordination but maybe they are to be used in different way.
Maybe the future will take me to another BAP. Maybe the church is testing my determination to follow God’s calling. Maybe it needs more convincing that this is not just a passing fad, that I have the staying power that they couldn’t see in the nature of my employment so far. Maybe they want to see if I will fight for it and if so they had better be prepared for one, because this is one rejection I won’t take lying down.
I have pushed the final door and found it locked. There are no further doors that I can see to push. Right now I need the future to come and fetch me, and the future begins with the BAP Advisers’ report. Bring it on.
Postscript: I did indeed go to a second BAP. if you would like to jump ahead in the story and find out what happened read Going to a BAP, again!