I am an advocate for worriers. I know that Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow but to concentrate on seeking His Kingdom (Matthew 6:25-34), so worrying about the latter must be okay!
Worrying is a matter of perspective. One person’s worry is another person’s preparation, and so it has been with me prior to each Examining Chaplain meeting I have had. Last week I had my second of three, and it was the one had most reason to worry about and prepare for: the Examining Chaplain I went to see had seen and interrogated me before (see A Tale of Two Storms). She reminded me of Miss Marple as her likeness in age, look and character could hardly be separated from the infamous character.
I had begun re-engaging with the Selection Criteria for Ordination prior to meeting with an Examining Chaplain last week, but for my Miss Marple I knew I had to be even better prepared than I had been for him. Digitally dusting off her report on our previous meeting reminded me how tough it had been and how much I would need to prepare. Back then she had been a very astute and discerning interrogator, asking the difficult questions right from the start of our time together and being distinctly unimpressed with my inarticulation and limited knowledge.
There were the easy things to address: reading my previous pieces on defining ordination and revising my knowledge of a famous ancestor with a significant place in recent Christianity. There were the questions that I imagined she would ask given this was our second meeting; she would want to see and know how I had changed since being rejected, or not-recommended, at a BAP. I had a vision for my future ministry back then, had it changed? What had I learnt from and how did I cope with being rejected?
There was one significant difference between our two meetings that would influence her line of questioning, my local diocese had changed what information she would have received before our meeting. Before her questions were perhaps less easy to predict as the essays she had received, my responses to three questions the diocese had set me the task of answering (see Rescued from the darkness; Defining Ordination is harder than you think!; and Challenging and Exiting Times). This time she would have had sight of my BAP Registration Form, a beast of a document that forces you to examine the deepest parts of your soul and faith. As well as the 29 questions within the registration form which gave her the story of my life and faith she would have 4 references giving other people’s view of me. It would make her questions more focused and in-depth than before, and perhaps more predictable.
Then there were the things harder to predict, the questions she would ask to penetrate my mind and discern if I met the Selection Criteria, her primary task set by the Church. There was only one was or preparing for this, and it wasn’t trying to predict the questions. I knew that the best way of answering any selection criteria related questions was to study the criteria in depth, to contemplate what they meant to me and how I thought I had met them.
The Selection Criteria are not for the faint hearted. The summary version describing the 9 groups of criteria had unnerved me enough when I had first read them as I began my journey of discernment; when I had taken a look at the detailed version (covering the 46 main criteria and 135 sub-criteria) I had almost run away in the opposite direction. I only looked at the full criteria a second time after my DDO had said she felt I met most of them and found, to my surprise, them somewhat reassuring.
Looking at the criteria in my preparations for this round of Examining Chaplains I didn’t find them scary or reassuring, I found them infuriating! With so many of them I expected to find them detailed and specific but instead found them vague; they overlapped with each other to such an extent as to render the document an excellent example of inefficient management-speak. It made my task of thinking of examples and opinions on each individual sub-criteria a maddening challenge.
Although some people keep facts, figures and experiences in the forefront of their mind I tend to keep them in my long-term memory and subconsciousness. I rely on the fact that prompted by a question the right reply will be found and recited, but that can be problematic: if I have not contemplated the issues at hand for some time the relevant thoughts are buried under a mountain of other thoughts. Thinking about things before hand means that I can forget about them, relax and then concentrate on the situation taking place, knowing that the relevant thoughts are ready for action in my mental waiting room. I needed to read and contemplate the criteria to feel at peace ahead of my meeting and then forget the examples that each had brought to mind, trusting that they would come back quickly when called for.
I had had every reason to be apprehensive before meeting my Miss Marple, but as with a BAP Advisor I had feared meeting, I found my fears fail to be realised. Instead of feeling the pressure of an interrogation I found myself enjoying a conversation. Both Examining Chaplain meetings had lasted 2 hours, the first had left me drained and exhausted, the second had left me affirmed and encouraged.
We talked about our shared love of Gerard Hughes’ book The God of Surprises (see The God of Surprises is Calling) and of Ignatius Prayer. We talked about peace in church and global conflicts, about answering the unanswerable, and about the mysteries of life and faith and our own ways of responding and dealing with them. Importantly we also talked about discerning God’s will and coping with unanswered prayers, rejection, doubt and pain when we seem to have discerned His will incorrectly.
Finding peace with disappointment is not easy but it is essential, and not just for those trying to discern God’s will for their lives. My preparations for the Examining Chaplains are preparations for a BAP, something that I wasn’t able to properly do for my first selection conference. Back then the Examining Chaplains interviews were not as thorough as this time and I had to compress six months of preparations into 6 weeks. There were no workshops looking at what might happen at a BAP, no advice on the Pastoral Letter exercise, and no time to look closely at the 135 criteria. But good preparation does not equate to being recommended for ordination training, it just makes it more likely that those tasked with discerning God’s will in this matter will get it right.
I agreed to look at returning to a BAP because the signs still seemed to be sending me that way and because I had not been able to test my calling with proper preparations; I had gone into the final stage before winging it and leaving too much to chance and guess work. Without properly preparing I had made it hard for myself to articulate my sense of calling and difficult for the BAP Advisors to discern it.
If, and it still is an ‘if’, the Examining Chaplain, the DDO, the Bishop and I still think that the signs are strong enough that they need to be tested at a BAP then I feel I will be better prepared to articulate my calling and, importantly, to find peace both during the BAP and after it, whether recommended or not.