I keep being asked “have you come off Cloud 9 yet?” and it’s made me question myself why I’ve not been on it.
It isn’t surprising that people expect someone to be ecstatic when they have been recommended to train for ordination (see Going to a BAP, again!), and it has been humbling to see the reaction to my recommendation. When we see someone work hard for something and then achieve their aim we are generally excited and pleased for them (that doesn’t mean it cannot also be painful for us, especially if we hoped for the very same thing). But being recommended for ordination is not an achievement to be gained, it is a decision to be discerned.
I wouldn’t mind feeling ecstatic but I am not. Instead I am relieved. I am relieved that this time the decision discerned was different from the first time, and unequivocally so. Exploring ordination is full of exciting moments but also comes with challenges. And the longer the journey the more tiring it can become, which explains why I am too tired to be jumping for joy.
Going to multiple Bishops’ Advisory Panels has a greater impact than going to just one, not least because of the impact of recovering from BAPs which ended with a ‘rejection’ (or ‘not recommended’ as the Church of England prefers to call it). One of the impacts of my first BAP experience was that as I approached my second I found myself unwilling to entertain any thought that I would be recommended. Expecting for the worse meant that to a degree I was already prepared for the impact of receiving bad news once again; entertaining the possibility of being recommended for ordination would have made not being recommended harder to take.
In going forward to a second BAP I had decided to simply present myself to the Advisors and wait for the result without expectation, or at least no expectation of being recommended. The sickness I felt as the decision came close to being announced shows that I was only partially successful, I wasn’t kidding my self-conscious. Had I truly been at peace and happy that people had decided my future was in a non-ordained/lay route I wouldn’t have dreaded the result so much. Not feeling able to contemplate being recommended meant that I found myself unprepared for dealing with the good news it has brought, not least in the affirmation contained within my full BAP Report.
Whereas the report on me following my first BAP had been a destructive piece of writing showing an absence of any pastoral sensibilities (see Unpastoralised), my second report was positive and largely constructive. Just as it took several readings to take in what the first had said about me so it will be with the second, although with the second there is no pain that comes with the thought of reading it: the report contains positive affirmation and praise throughout and, as my DDO recommended when she presented me with the full BAP report, is something to read when I feeling down.
As is normal, the report is largely written with paragraphs focusing on the Selection Criteria, with comments on my response to the Pastoral Exercise popping up in numerous sections. It was these responses that grabbed by attention because they contained the sole comment that suggested something more was expected without suggesting what. Once again, it was the negative comment that claimed my attention and held me back from enjoying the positive comments, in part because I have always found receiving compliments to be difficult and in part because it left me wanting to know more. Negative comments hit hard and quickly, positive comments take their time to be absorbed so need to be dwelled on much more.
Most of the comments about the letter were good, it being considered pastorally appropriate and sensitive. A suggestion of more theological reflection being possible was made, something I had decided to play safe with and hold back on: given the sensitivity of the situation I had been asked to address I knew my lack of knowledge could easily cause damage. Although it could have been better that the Advisors felt it was adequate showed I had taken on board the wisdom of those I had sought for advice on responding to difficult pastoral situations (in my response to the equivalent exercised at my first BAP, for which I had not prepared, I had ticked almost every box of things not to do).
I am happy with being content, with having a deep sense of joy that both my sense of calling and my sense of myself have been affirmed. I know who I am, and others do too. I know who God is and what He is calling me towards, and others do too.
Joy and contentment transcends the tired state I find myself with the end of a chapter in my life that has taken 4 years. It isn’t all down to the discernment process, the everyday life of being a husband and father supporting a family can be tiring in itself, but to deny that it has been a struggle wouldn’t be to belittle the importance of being ordained: serving and representing God in an ordained role is no trivial thing. It is important to regroup after the end of something significant before starting something new.
My tiredness is also a gift. I know that without it I would be taking on new things, things that would be well meant and potentially fruitful, but things which would distract me from has been and what is to come. In this period of transition I cannot afford to loose the sense of close connection with God, so until it is clear that something is part of God’s plan for my next chapter I am minimising existing commitments not taking on new ones.
Where and how I will train for ordination is my main focus for now. My diocese have an expectation of where I will train (the change in age ranges for training routes means my options are significantly restricted) but I can train elsewhere if I feel and can persuade my Bishops it is right to do so. Wherever I do train I know that I need it to be my decision; if I train for ordination where I am told to train simply because it is expected I go there I know that to some degree I will resent it and my training will be affected. I need to think for myself, I am human after all.
I have 3 theological colleges that are reasonable possibilities for studying part-time whilst working full-time, each with their pros and cons. Some suggest a style of teaching that fits with how I like to learn, some suggest a way of teaching that fits in that fits in with the logistics of family life more simply. All have things I like and things I have to explore and in May my visits to each one of them will enable me to do just that. Until then I can think of the questions I need to answers to so that I can make an informed decision and not an enforced one.
Above all, now is a time to dwell on my BAP recommendation and report, and the affirmation of myself and my sense of calling they contain. I can spend time with God giving thanks for those who have travelled with me on this journey and for the delight they have in the recommendation. And for the first time I can give myself a little slack and allow myself to be excited about the people and places that He will be taking me to: it is no daydream, it is really going to happen.
I may not be on Cloud 9 but perhaps I am climbing up to it?