A few years ago I had been ask to model for an artist leading a team of others designing and making a tapestry for their church. I was, apparently, a perfect match for the image of St James that they wanted to portray in a scene depicting Jesus calming a storm with His power and truth as He instructed the disciples to become fishers of men. As I set off for my third and final Examining Chaplain I diverted to the church to accept an invitation to see the completed work.
Standing some distance away from the tapestry my likeness shone out like a reflection, but as I drew closer I became fixated on my fabricated eyes which were locked onto the unseen face of the lady fighting for survival in the storm. The tension in the tapestry was palpable, yet despite the turbulence threatening to envelop the situation my expression was calm, emanating from a security found in Christ that was being extended to the lady in the water. I wanted save the lady in the physical world but Jesus’s presence hinted at a saving in which I would be simply serve as a link between the lady and Christ.
That the tapestry had reminded me of those fleeing war and poverty on overcrowded and flimsy boats had been no accident. A gift I had been given by the artists showed the tapestry’s journey from concept to completion and included photos of refugees fleeing and fighting for survival in the choppy Mediterranean Sea. This was no meek and mild tapestry for a church, but one that would draw people in and force them to engage with the continuing need to serve those in need. I can only hope that they will want those the lady represents to be saved from more than the water.
Humbling as being immortalised in cloth was, the reminder of a desire within me and sense of calling (not always the same thing) to be a link between God and others, whether saved or not, was timely. The journey to my first BAP had created a level of introspection that I did not successfully escape from; I and the church had been too focused on working out if I was right to be ordained with little enough time given for working out why. God had given me the gift of time and grace in which to find my way to the reason I was on the discernment trail: the first journey had been about me, the second journey had been about the lady in the water. And the journey to and from my third Examining Chaplain meeting would give me 4 hours to contemplate the link in the chain I feel called to be.
My first Examining Chaplain meeting had been mentally uncomfortable, this meeting was uncomfortable in another way: the chaplain had placed our chairs close enough to each other that once sat we were not only in touching distance but I could see her prepared questions and highlighted sections of my paperwork. Having my private space invaded was unnerving and disrupted the peace I had built up as I meandered across the countryside on route to the meeting, but only momentarily.
As before I had my notes before me and as before I did not look at them; instead they acted as a comfort blanket whilst I maintained eye contact and put my preparation contemplating the Selection Criteria to the test. It was therefore rather ironic that most of her questions were focused my BAP Registration Form, seeking clarity about what I had meant in my protestations of faith and mission.
I hadn’t looked at the form for some time and could not remember what I had written. I had no thoughts waiting to emerge from my subconsciousness, I had to start from scratch and think afresh about the issues that came up. Maybe my mental warm up with the criteria had helped for I provided seemingly coherent responses that I seemed to satisfy the Examining Chaplain. It was comforting and helpful: I knew that upon my return home I needed to look carefully at the form and ensure that if I was to be sent to a BAP each thought conveyed was clear.
When the selection criteria were discussed more explicitly much of our conversations focused on relationships: those between us and God, between humans and between the different parts of the Anglican Communion; and it was here that my preparatory contemplations bore fruit and provided comfort. When asked what I thought was special about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion I had an answer: no other organisation manages to do what the Anglican Communion has done and keep such a diverse group of people together. The Church of England itself contains a tremendous array of churchmanship styles and interpretations of how we should interpret and follow God’s word and actions, the Anglican Communion takes that and adds an international dimension.
The church is a family and like a family the relationships between members is often under tension and arguments occur. And though in the present it is under the particular strain of different views on sexuality and relationships, and the future cohesion is unclear, it is nevertheless something to celebrate rather than bicker about; the world is watching and how we disagree whilst still loving each other matters if those who do not yet know Christ are likely to want to get to know Him. At a time nations are fearing differences and looking inwards, the Anglican Communion offers a way of showing how much we have in common with each other, how differences can be celebrated, and how by looking outwards and helping those in need we can find hope for our individual and collective future.
The questions she had asked had been purposeful, and whilst it had not felt like an interrogation it had been an interview rather than a conversation: she had a job to do, not a friend to make but she did so in a warm and friendly manner. There had been smiles and she had helped me to feel enough at ease to pause and ask for clarification from her before answering. I left feeling happy and at peace, yet I knew from experience that it would be dangerous to read too much into my interpretation of her spoken words or body language, I know of my fallibility in such things.
Our time ended where I had begun the day, with the tapestry and in the conversation that followed she let slip that she had looked up my profile on Facebook. Although I had nothing to hide it made me nervous and question whether I had set the security settings correctly so that all she would have seen was my profile photo – she would have gleaned nothing much had she seen all my postings beyond a penchant for heart-warming stories and appreciations for my children’s surreal take on life. That said, I was relieved to find my security settings were all in order when I checked upon returning home; it was a re-enforcing reminder of the need to write this blog anonymously to enable an open and honest account of exploring ordination, something I hope is helpful.
Is now a good time to mention I don’t really look like the man reaching out from the boat?