Leaving the Shadows

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There is a time for everything, a time to be anonymous and a time to be named.

Writing anonymously or under a pseudonym is nothing new and the reasons for doing so are numerous. Anonymity is a mask that enables both good and bad. It can be hidden behind by those seeking to abuse or to avoid abuse. It can remove perceptions of a person or reinforce them. It can be liberating or confining.

Like many, when I began exploring my sense of calling I searched for other people’s experiences; I didn’t find much and as I began my journey I soon discovered why. Exposing the deepest confines of our soul to ourselves is difficult enough, exposing that to others is on another level entirely! Exposing developing yet incomplete experiences and thoughts adds to the vulnerability: views and understanding change over time so to talk about something can create unhelpful misperceptions, especially when a blog post is read in isolation. It also risks ridicule and embarrassment when naivety or errors are exposed.

When I started this blog I had one thing in mind, to be as open and honest as possible as I explored whether I should be trained for ordination. I had seen people begin exploring ordination with rose-tinted glasses and be hurt when the challenges came. Some of those I spoke to as I took my first tentative steps wanted to make sure I went into it with my eyes wide open; the discernment process, the training for ordination and the life of a priest would not be a fairy-tale bed of roses, at times the thorns would be undeniably present.

As someone who likes to be grounded in realism I prefer to consider all aspects, good and bad. Think of it this way: would you dive into the water before you checked if it was safe to do so? I was glad I had people to helped me work out if it was safe for me to jump, I wished others had been encouraged to check as well.

I decided to start the blog when I agreed to write a piece for my diocese. They were encouraging people to explore what God was calling them to do by publishing people’s stories on their website. Those I read before sending my piece encouraged and challenged me in a helpful and constructive way. Although at the time I had no expectations whether my exploration would see me train for ordination I thought that perhaps it would be interesting and helpful for others to find out with me. At the very least it was an intriguing social media experiment!

I’ll admit, as someone who naturally prefers to avoid the limelight, blogging anonymously was attractive. I wanted to draw attention to the process, and all that it involved, not onto me. I also wasn’t ready for those that knew me to know that I was considering ordination, I needed some space to do that and the anonymity provided it. It also gave my family some protection: although I was exploring my calling and blogging with their blessing, the blog was about my journey, not theirs. Anonymity freed me up from my named identity which I would naturally have hidden my true feelings behind for fear of the consequences.

Although there was a degree of anonymity, the blog was never done in secret. I was accountable to my vicar and mentor who knew about and subscribed to it. My first DDO knew about it but decided not to read it because she wanted me to be free to be open and honest through it without fear of her looking on. Subsequent DDOs also knew about it (it was down to circumstances and not personal reasons that I have had 3!) and it’s presence was liberally mentioned within the forms and reports that were sent to the 2 Bishops’ Advisory Panels I went to.

The anonymity meant that the various people assessing me on behalf of the church would be less likely to read the blog and connect it with me. It helped stop the issues I discussed in the blog from distracting them from finding out what they wanted to know about me and my calling. Not that I could vent my opinions without consequence: the accountability I had knowing that my vicar and others close to me would be reading it meant that I had to be careful with what I did write. I could not use the anonymity to unjustifiably criticise individuals or the church, or to push my own prejudices and agenda. If blogging about my journey was going to be of any help to others I knew I needed to be fair and balanced, to cover the highs and lows, the positives and negatives. Whether I have managed to be balanced and fair though is not for me to judge.

Perhaps it helps that having been to 2 BAPs I have 2 contrasting experiences and stories to tell (see the Exploring Ordination page). The raw pain shown in my posts after my first BAP serve as a warning to those who might go to one with their blinkers on, unwilling to admit the downsides that could occur and unprepared for them if they do – hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. It also, I hope, serves as a plea to the church and those involved in assessing people’s calling to exercise a pastorally sensitive duty of care, to be constructive not destructive in what they say and do.

My posts on my second BAP provide a somewhat Hollywood ending: everything is okay in the end. Not that I knew the ending would mean me heading to theological college, nor would a different ending have negated the story beforehand. Had I not been recommended to train for ordination I would certainly have been disappointed but I also would have been glad: I had found peace with the process and my preparations to the point that I had confidence in those assessing my calling and the decision that they would make.

The decision of both the BAP and my Bishop to send me to train for ordination ends one chapter of my life and begins a new and public one. I have been set on a path out of the shadows to help those still within it, and in this anonymity becomes not an aid but an impediment.

If the blog continued with the degree of anonymity it had I would not have been able to share much of the journey I am about to embark on. The confines of stripping away any geographical or personal links and references to retain anonymity would have been too restrictive. Ongoing secrecy would have become increasingly suspicious which would become distracting in the same way not being anonymous earlier would have done. Nor would I be able to fully participate or share joyful occasions such as friends’ ordinations as Deacons and Priests for fear of giving my identity away. Anonymity liberated me to be honest before ordination training, being named liberates me to be honest as I train and am hopefully ordained.

An ordained person has a very public ministry and if I am to honour that role I need to be known and not anonymous. Being named and known will be a helpful challenge and transformative experience in itself: whilst I have tried to write and tweet wisely the consequences of being fast and loose with my fingers on social media will have damaging consequences, we only need to look at Donald Trump’s twitter feed to see that!

I do hope that at the very least you have found this blog interesting, perhaps even helpful. I also hope that it encourages rather than dissuades you from exploring God’s calling on your life, it won’t always be glories and hallelujahs but it certainly will be worth it.

This is not the end of the blog. Whilst the chapter of my life Exploring Ordination has come to an end a new chapter of Being an Ordinand at Sarum College in Salisbury begins.  I would be honoured if you would accompany me in discovering what life will be like.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

4 thoughts on “Leaving the Shadows

  1. Have been challenged and encouraged reading your blog.

    I am emerging from the shadows bit by bit. I have been exploring ordination for ten years (well, avoiding exploring for eight and a half, actively exploring for one and a half when God wouldn’t stop going on at me!). Having got as far as seeing the Bishop last August and being told – nicely but firmly – that I wasn’t BAP ready yet and to come back when I’d spent some time honing my thoughts – I’ve got another DDO meeting this week when I’m hoping to push for a return visit to the Bishop. And I’m starting on a course of study in September which will be of use should I get as far as ordination training, and of interest should I not. And because of all this and needing to drop other church commitments as I go on this journey, I’m making it more widely known that I’m exploring.
    It’s scary because it makes me feel hugely vulnerable. It feels a bit like announcing a pregnancy before the 12th week. But I’ve decided that for me and how my personality works, whatever path this journey takes, it’s ‘better out than in’.
    Doesn’t make it any less daunting though!

    I am looking forward to reading more of your adventures in ordination training and following the highs, the lows, and the ‘normals’ of your journey too.

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