Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.
Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I had found as much peace with being rejected for ordination training as was possible. Questions remained over what had happened before, during and after my rejection but the answers remained stubbornly on the horizon. They hung in front of me like an elusive carrot on a stick and for all my efforts to reach them they remained out of reach.
Was the Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) and the preceding period a stand alone lesson to teach and transform me into the person God wanted me to be for the next stage of our journey together? Or was it part a series of lessons, and if it was what was the next one? Was it to attend a second BAP ? Did I even want to go to another? Was it to be ordained? Do I even want to go to a second BAP ? Linked yet separate questions with fathomable way of being answered.
Knock-backs and rejections had robbed me of confidence in myself and my abilities. My doubts and confusion clouded my judgement so it was no wonder that trying to discern what God was trying to teach me in this period did not bring the clarity I needed.
Pursuing answers had become fruitless. To find the answers I had to stop searching for them.
Sometimes it can be difficult to summon the energy, willpower or focus to consciously move forwards. But, sometimes inaction is the best action.
I set myself the simple of task of being rather than doing. I gave up seeking control. I gave up the search for why, what and when. I decided to let opportunities and answers come to me.
Strangely abandoning a timetable for solving the riddle or pursuing opportunities came easy. Apathy, weariness and even depression became strange bedfellows that helped rather than hindered me.
Although I had abandoned a schedule for my search I couldn’t seem to abandon thoughts or ordination. The unanswered question sat quietly in my subconscious, ever present but never seeking my attention.
More time passed.
Nothing happened. Nothing ever happens. Except it did, imperceptibly through my own ignorance and inattention on the question hiding in the shadows.
When I preached a sermon God preached to me. My lack of confidence in the message I had prepared did not stop God using it to reach into people’s lives, including mine. It was a lesson that taught me just how poor a judge I can be of my own abilities.
One sermon, one lesson and one seemingly isolated from the question. It consolidated the importance of writing, teaching and preaching to my current and future direction but that was all. Yet still I found any inclination to write lacking.
The internal conflict between thoughts and doubts remained. The conscious search for answers was still off.
Redundancy came to loom over the family. Unexpected and painful bills needed to be paid. A severe, degenerative and permanent illness hit a close family member. In short, life as many, if not most, experience happened and occupied my consciousness.
I was invited to join my church’s All Age Worship group and duly did, there was no reason not and I had prayed for opportunities to come my way after all. Still I joined with no expectation about what God might teach me through it or how it fitted into His plan or my life. We met, we prayed, we planned. I offered my thoughts. I went home.
More meetings happened, more services were planned. The standard routine of a committee looked certain to be formed, except a bombshell was dropped: none of the group was available for the service we were planning, none except me. It was as though having seen me beginning to grow accustomed with preaching God had decided to pull me once more into my ‘uncomfort zone’.
It turned out not to be as I feared, help did come in the form of a curate to lead the service and a couple to lead the worship. All I had to do was deliver an activity and a message that engaged and spoke to all generations, and to 10 times the usual number I had previously preached to. No pressure.
The service happened, people engaged, people appreciated. I had done something new, something I hadn’t sought out. I wasn’t a one trick sermon preaching pony after all, I could do more. My horizons were beginning to widen.
Preceding this time a home-group I had led had come to an end with members’ time consumed with their own family’s needs. Now though the was reborn. The group transformed into a new Family Fellowship Group, a place where children and parents could mix and encourage together. The home-group had fitted into what I saw as God’s plan for me, the new group became part of God’s plan for me and my wife as one. We were in ministry together. New friendships within and across generations were being formed and people reached out to those outside of the church to invite them. It was early days but it felt important and natural.
No doubt fed by the opportunities that were coming my way, elements of ordained ministry that had felt cold to me began to feel warm. Continued involvement in supporting another church had even begun to encourage me that I might be able to deal with elements of parish ministry I feared. Yet still there was no answer to my dormant questions. Thoughts, doubts, experiences and knock-backs continued to occur in seeming isolation.
Then the unexpected happened: a reminder of a forgotten meeting with my Spiritual Director popped up on my phone. There was no reason to go, though I had nothing new to say or ask not anywhere new that I wanted to go. The routine humdrum of everyday life was fine, the rest could wait and God could continue to work under the radar.
The reminder came too late though to cancel the meeting, it would have been rude to do so. Going as a result of a quintessential British characteristic and a lack or forward thinking I arrived with no expectation as to what, if anything, the meeting would deliver. Instead of beginning with the usual quiet time of prayer I found myself launching into a rapidly spoken stream of consciousness.
The two of us tried to make sense of what I was saying, to link my scattered thoughts and discern God amongst them. My Spiritual Director steered the conversation towards considering where God enriches our lives.
As I had progressed towards my BAP I felt increasingly alive and enriched. However, when I attended the BAP my sense of God’s plan and personal desires was rather narrowly and selfishly focused. It concentrated on a love of theology and a desire to daily emerge myself in it and explain it to others. It was more about satisfying me than satisfying the needs of others. In effect, ordination had become the destination, not a stop on an ever continuing journey.
Having abandoning the search for the answer to the question of whether God wanted me to be ordained or not I had unwittingly begun to live my way towards it. The opportunities and experiences had not only enlarged my heart for God and His people but also the scope of my vision and vocation.
Clarity hit me. I knew that I was enriched by serving, encouraging, learning, teaching and preaching. All are elements of ordained ministry, but all can be done without being ordained. And whilst fulfilment seemed as though it might be greater through having my ‘working hours steeped in them it didn’t mean I should be ordained. I had come to this conclusion each time I had contemplated whether I should return to a BAP so what was different this time?
I realised that I didn’t need absolute certainty that God wanted me to be ordained in order to go to a second BAP . It was a eureka moment.
I had been trying to recover the certainty I once had about ordination since the BAP had removed it, but I had been doing it by focusing on that narrow question and at the wrong stage. The place of enrichment was key: working out with God where He would enrich me would be the foundation that would support my future ministry, ordained or not. The question of ordination was something best left to God and other people: I had found peace with the panel’s deciding the direction of how I would serve.
Without finding clarity any return to a BAP would have been done with the same sense of doubt that had been plaguing me since the first BAP, but with an even worse aftermath.
The clarity that I have received may have brought me to this conclusion but it does not mean that I will return to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel, the Church would need to discern that for themselves. What the clarity does provide though is the encouragement to go and find out.
Should the Church decide a second BAP is not appropriate I will have to work with God to find peace with the mystery, but my experience of late has at least given me the confidence that he will work in and through me to deliver that. Should the Church decide that a second BAP is appropriate I will have to find peace with the prospect of ordination, and that is terrifying!