The time I had spent over the past year picking the brains of those with good pastoral experience and skills, coupled with the thoughts of others present on the day, meant that I finally felt I understood what BAP Advisors expected to see in a candidates response. Even more encouragingly I felt like I might be able to write one that would at the very least be acceptable and not spat out like a rancid piece of food. That was just as well for the DDO dropped a bombshell into the conversations that shook several of us to the core. There was no sugar-coating of the pill, there was just the bare facts: the funding and training pathways for ordination had changed.
If you were of the age bracket the Church of England loves to advertise for, the under 40s, you would still be funded for full-time residential study: 3 years if you are under 30, 2 years if you were older but not yet 40. Up until that moment, for the 2 to 3 years of exploring ordinations, I had been told that I would be funded for 2 years residential training and that was ‘encouraged’ to move; indeed several friends had done exactly that and were half-way through their training. I had not suddenly aged, the age range had shrunk and I had a bad feeling about the next sentence to come.
Casually, and without missing a beat, the DDO told the group that if you were aged between 40 and 55 you would be expected to train part-time over 3 years, your tuition fees would be paid, you would get a book grant and some travel expenses but you would have to fund everything else yourself. Moving to study was an option but you would have to fund that yourself, and good luck with finding the right jobs in the right places for each working member of the family because they would need to work – thankfully they were not the words used, just the impression given. It was expected that we would study at a theological college we could commute to.
Training for ordination for the over 40s has become dependent on the candidate’s family’s wealth and income, not a problem for some but a problem for many. Indeed one person spoke of how it felt as though his discernment journey had just ended: his salary was the sole source of income and with a family dependent on it he could see no feasible way that he could study and support them all. None of these issues were acknowledged in the telling of the news.
The recurring absence of anyone over 40 in the Church of England’s recruitment campaigns had been giving the impression over 40s seeking ordination were not valued; the new funding regime reinforced it. Whilst it is logical and understandable that the church is targeting the under-40s to fill the gaps left by retiring clergy, the impression given by their campaigns and funding changes is that over 40s are of a lesser value at best and not wanted at worst. Yet the majority of those in attendance at this discernment-related event were over their 40s. It is no surprise that several of us felt that whilst God may be calling people over 40 to use their life’s experience in ordained ministries the Church of England was not.
As my anger and frustration with the news and way it had been communicated began to subside I began to laugh at the irony of situation. For several years my wife and I had been wrestling with the idea of moving our family for 2 years, and her having to give up work which we had been told was advisable (a summary of the blog posts that deal with this is below). Even her post-redundancy move into teacher training had been orchestrated and planned in a way that could work with us moving after she had finished her studies. We had driven around the country with our children to involve them in the discussions, had arranged play-dates with friends who had moved. We had had difficult and soul searching conversations with family members whose health was failing and found the thought of us moving very hard to bear. And now, having found ourselves not just willing to move but embracing the very idea, and eagerly anticipating the prospect of being part of a residential community the church had said was the best way to study, we were now being told we would be expected to stay where we are and commute to any lectures and meetings.
As I tried to adjust to the change I quickly began to see the benefits and advantages, though my disappointment of a future I had learnt to look forward to continued. Not moving would mean my children’s education would not be disrupted. Not moving would mean we could support our ailing parents. Not moving meant that we could continue to make the house we moved into after my first BAP a home.
I remembered the ordinands that I had observed and come to know who had studied part time, and the richness they had found in their experience. I remembered that some studied part-time whilst working full-time. I remember the ways in which they had ministered to their colleagues as they studied their way to ordination. I remembered that I had been unable to discern any significant negative difference between their experiences and those studying full-time. Still, when the DDO asked for feedback I suggested that an occasional newsletter to let us know of important news, changes and developments would be useful – not all of us could afford a subscription to the Church Times!
The future had changed. It was different but it was no less. And though the time between embarking on my journey of discernment and ministering as an ordained person would lengthen each moment would still be on offer to God to use as He sees fit. God does not waste opportunities and works through us whether we are ordained or not, whether we are 4, 14 or 40+; it is something that having been turned down for ordination training once I will need to hold on to as I move closer to finding out if I will be turned down once again or face the new future.