The Bishop’s report came as I was heading home from work. I was a passenger in more ways than one and leapt to the email like I had done with each incoming email throughout the day.
The opening complimentary paragraph passed me by as I went straight to the reason that I wasn’t recommended. It was frustratingly short, vague and confusing. Concerns had been expressed against some the selection criterion but the explanation was limited at best.
I didn’t recognise some of the person being described and there were things that were simply unfair. What was more painful though was the person I did recognise. The Advisers had not taken to me.
Most people say to those going to a BAP to just be yourself, but taken at face value it is too simplistic a piece of advice.
You need to be acutely aware of how you may be received and perceived by others. That doesn’t mean you should put on an act but it does mean tuning your personal traits to the occasion at hand. I didn’t take enough account of how the impact my style would affect people in that particular situation, or consider other approaches I use which may have been better suited.
Although I had asked the Advisers and other candidates questions about their lives and interest, my style of showing similar experiences and likes in my life to establish links and empathy had not been to the Advisers’ liking. Should I go back to a BAP I will know to tone that down, to ask more and say less.
There was a referral to my pastoral interview that left me angry. The comment suggested that they expected me to be skipping through life with one big smile on my face since the day I met Christ. My dark times that God extinguished when I came to faith were always going to be a point of focus for the advisers. They didn’t see enough of my resilience born out of a life full of change, or of my ability to cope with challenging times.
I was particularly confused by the comments the Advisers had made about my articulation of the sacraments. Apparently my understanding of them is deep and lively, yet not in the Church of England. What that actually means will remain unknown until I get the chance to see the Advisers’ full report with me DDO about it.
Ultimately my rejection came down to a failure to articulate my understanding and experience of vocation. Whilst I had been commended on my realistic vocation before the BAP the opposite had been felt by the Advisers. A failure with that particular criteria of selection results in an automatic non-recommendation, irrespective of how the Advisers felt I measured up against the others.
It is hard to take comfort in the strengths that were mentioned by the Bishop. Whilst they might suggest a possible future direction it is the weaknesses that will need to be addressed if I am to attend a second Bishops’ Advisory Panel. In my mind the concerns look to be ones that I can address and overcome. They need to be, whether I go to a second BAP or not, as they point to areas of self-improvement that would bear fruit whatever my future.
The Bishop’s letter was, as expected, a painful read and I know the full report by the Advisers will be even harder to read. My sense of call has not changed though and my fighting spirit is rising.
My forthcoming meeting with the DDO will not just clarify the reasons for my non-recommendation but will give an indication about whether going to another BAP is a possibility. It isn’t wholly within my hands. I need the support of my Bishop and my DDO. Whether I will be able to rebuild their confidence in me has yet to be seen. If they’re agreeable I have had a comprehensive dress rehearsal for it.
I have begun to think about how I would do things differently, including on how I should prepare for a BAP. Whilst the preparation I had was useful it left areas not adequately addressed. There is much more I need and want to know about ministry in the Church of England and I know just where to get it.
There are books I can read but there is something much better than that, there are the people who live, work and breathe the ministry that I feel called towards. As my own exploration of that ministry has progressed I have come to know more and more of those whose call has been realised in the church. They will be able to communicate much more than a book.
Exploring ordination has meant sacrificing time with my family, and now is the time to give something back to them. A weekend away together has helped to make up on time lost together due to the preparation for my BAP.
My family will continue to be my main focus in the coming weeks and thoughts of ordination will take a back seat. Moving house beckons, but instead of moving across the country we are moving down the road to a house with the space my family needs.
I have no doubt that I will pick up my theology books again soon, my curiosity and desire to go deeper with God remains undiminished. My meeting with my DDO will indicate what purpose reading the books will have.
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!