I had been handed the report by the BAP Advisers by my DDO and read it in silence. Its tone took me aback. Never before had I read such a bitter report. It was anything but constructive, instead it seemed intent on destroying me, my spirit and my hopes.
The report took each part of the panel, the interviews, presentation and pastoral letter, and slated what I had had to say or write. To say that they didn’t like me would be an understatement. They didn’t like it that I showed empathy and commonalities with them and my fellow candidates by sharing my similar experiences and thoughts. To the advisers being self-referential is a style or concept that should not be used.
Not only did I not recognise myself in much of the writing, the actual BAP itself seemed unrecognisable at times. The lively discussions that my group had following each others’ presentation were not what the Advisers had wanted to see. Although I tried to limit myself to only making 1 contribution to the debate, the topic and groups’ dynamic had led to the conversations bouncing off each other and several of us made contributions more than once. To me that is the sign of a good presentation and debate, to the Advisers that was dominating, harmful, insensitive and unempathetic. It gave the impression that what the Advisers had wanted to see was an ordered question and answer with no one speaking without being asked, speaking impersonally or academically, and then not more than once.
The reports of the interviews also seemed somewhat at odds to what I experienced. Questions that had been focused on me had been answered with wider perspective where possible. Although I had tried to ensure that I responded by referring to other people, views and experiences the report suggested otherwise: that all I talked about was me and my narrow views and experiences.
Ironically the lack of pastoral sensibilities showed most starkly in their comment on my letter responding to the pastoral situation we were given which the Advisers said “completely lacked sensitivity and compassion, and was a most inappropriate reply”. This comment was one that particularly angered me, the letter having been written from experience of observing close friends and family who had been through experiences similar to the scenario we had been given.
The Advisers’ comment felt as much a comment and judgement on them as it was on me. Whilst I could have referred less to their story in responding to the friend in the scenario, the crux of my letter that acknowledged the pain but expressed the hope and love that was to be found was what I felt the situation called for. Although the Advisers’ response raised a serious concern in me for those subject to their pastoral care, I know my judgement is not objective at the moment but clouded by confusion, disappointment and unfortunately anger.
The chair of the BAP had done his job well in taking the pieces written by the interviewing advisers and forming them into one style: even the good the Advisers expressed was tainted with negativity. It was as though they seemed reluctant to admit that there was anything of worth in me: sentences that started with a compliment ended with a bitter and patronising barb. The report was a piece of character assassination.
My grief of being turned down, of being rejected and not recommended for ordination training, had been replaced with anger and numbness.
The DDO explained to me that if I wanted to attend a second BAP I would have to work through the report with another DDO. Furthermore I would have to demonstrate to the Bishop that I had addressed the Advisers concerns, whether they were valid or not. I would need to search for the grains of truth in the report, truths that though painful would need be dealt with.
There certainly is some truth amongst the falsehoods, and they are hard to read. I can be too self-referential for some people, but that comes out of a heart that I have been told is empathetic, at odds with the Advisers’ perceptions. I don’t like to pry into people’s lives so try to create opportunities for people to feel able to share. I need to be able to express my empathy not simply through relating my experiences to another’s, but by asking questions and simply listening.
It will take time though before I will be able strip away the Advisers’ criticism and be unaffected enough to work through them, as it will to be able to see the compliments and praise hidden amongst the negativity.
There is no rush. Even if I wanted to and felt able to go to a second BAP quickly, and if I could convince my Bishop that I should, I would not be allowed to return to one for two years. Throughout that time the Advisers’ report will go with me, a black mark staining how those will perceive and receive me.
Thankfully I am not alone in having found the report distasteful, nor am I alone in having had such a report. Although my DDO remained neutral and did not share her feelings about the tone of the report, my vicar did: he was not impressed and let her know his unhappiness with the devastating tone of the report. Both suggested that I contacted someone else who had received a similar report, someone who went to a second BAP and was recommended for ordination training.
My vicar and I met to discuss my BAP, although it was hard to make much progress so close to having received the report. It was a report in which he also found it hard to recognise me. He found my answers to the questions he asked, similar to some of those the Advisers had asked, valid and good. That they had not been what the Advisers had wanted to hear led him to questioned whether he would have been recommended for ordination by my panel.
The report and decision of my Bishops’ Advisory Panel feels like a miscarriage of justice, one that I instinctively want to overturn. It is hard to disentangle that desire from my sense of call and vocation to tell whether returning to face another BAP would be the right thing to do.
With I and others having hoped that I would be moving to train for ordination later this year the two year sentence the Advisers have handed me feels both frustrating and a waste, yet I know in God’s eyes it will be anything but that. Only time will tell and reveal what God has planned for me and my family, and how He will use my exploration of ordination. He has transformed me, but into what and for what purpose is unclear.
I need to share my report with one more person, my spiritual director. Only by sharing it can we work together to discern what God’s will is and work towards preventing me being overcome with bitterness. Once that is done I will put the report to one side and take a break from proactively pursuing God’s call on my life.
Although it is sad to be ending this journey like this, it is the hand I have been dealt by the Advisers. Had they written a constructive and pastorally sensitive report dealing with a non-recommendation would still be tough, though probably not as touch as it is with the report they sent me.
Moving forwards will be painful but essential, staying where I am will only damage me further. And however much I wish and pray that I could walk with a spring in my step again during the week ahead, and that I could appreciate the goodness which has come out of this journey, I know that it will take a while before that happens.
It is a time to be passive, to endure, and to let God work obliquely through me and my life. When the time is right I will emerge and rise once more to seek out the offers of support I have received. My journey is not over, it is simply on pause.
Just as I am taking a break from exploring my call, I shall also be taking a break from blogging. When I resume I will do so less regularly and will be looking further afield than exploring ordination, although I am sure to touch on it if I continue to look into it.
For now I will leave you with one of my favourite poems, one that feels rather appropriate right now: Mary Angelou’s “And Still I Rise”, with a version read by her and another sung by Ben Harper under the words themselves.
And Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
© Maya Angelou. All rights reserved.
Read by Mary Angelou in 1997 at her home outside of Winston Salem, USA and recorded by Jay Fedigan:
Sung by Ben Harper on his 1994 album ‘Welcome to the Cruel World’:
Postscript: I did indeed resume my exploration of ordination and 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!