My family have discovered Harry Potter this year, and not just the films. The books have grabbed my son’s interest like no other book has done before; a previously reluctant reader he now can’t stop reading and has encouraged me to read the books too. So as a family we came across the character Hermoine Granger using a Time Turner in Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban in order to turn back time so that she could study more subjects. Going to services ordaining priests and deacons has been like having a time turner myself, only turning time forwards not backwards.
Although there is a difference between the ordination of priests and deacons they are similar services, both are ordained to serve in roles that they have previously observed others doing. Deacons carry with them a nervous excitement from the anticipation of the new role they are about to take on. Priests have had a year in that new role and are ordained to raise it to new heights by presiding over offering the Eucharist to people amongst other things.
The pain of previously not being recommended for ordination, and the decision to not contemplate any alternative result from a second assessment, meant that I had studiously avoided ordination services; I simply couldn’t stomach the idea of going to one. It had been hard enough smiling and appearing happy for those I knew who were going for training or being ordained, but actually going to their ordination? No chance! I knew going to one would be a farce with it being hard to project a veneer of joy to disguise the discomfort the occasion would cause.
Subsequently being recommended to train for ordination (see Going to a BAP, again!) changed my feelings, but not completely: for each person I saw celebrating a similar result or being excited about their forthcoming ordination I thought of those whose had had their dreams dashed and felt rejected. My past and others’ present partly explains why I have not felt like dancing for joy since being recommended.
But with my future being an ordained life attending an ordination service not only became easier but also helpful: I could celebrate other people’s joy and get a glimpse on what I would be likely to experience (assuming I passed my course and was recommended to actually be ordained, I’m not counting any chickens!). So I pulled out my suit, grabbed my hat and set off for the priesting of a friend I had hitherto only met virtually via Twitter. It proved to be an odd and overwhelming experience, a mixture of joy for my friend, excitement, nervousness and a curious detachment.
As I watched the priesting service unfold I had a somewhat out-of-body experience: observing an event I had kept at bay for so long meant that although I was there physically it felt like I was watching it from behind a screen somewhere far away. I couldn’t reconcile what I saw and knew in my head with what I was feeling. Whilst my mind told me that in 3 years time I would be like my friend before me, kneeling as a bishop laid their hands on them, my body was telling me such a thing did not compute. It was then that I realised that I had not been contemplating being ordained, I had been contemplating the possibility and the idea of being ordained. I simply hadn’t allowed myself to consider it a reality and I hadn’t yet adjusted to the fact that it now was.
Friends who had observed me crash and burn after my first BAP prior to facing their own panel of advisors were being ordained as deacons the same weekend. Good as our friendship was and continues to be, it had been difficult to watch them go to and complete their studying – it pointed to what could have been, to what I had missed. Had I not come to see that not being recommended was as much of God’s plan for me as being recommended bitterness may well have overcome our friendship, thankfully it hasn’t but watching them being ordained was not a single or simple emotion.
An understandable pang of ‘what if’ that lingered in the background for a while has receded but was still added to the mix of emotions; an abundance of joy at seeing the culmination of their journey to being ordained was therefore itself something to celebrate. That one of my friends and I were able to exchange the sign of peace after his ordination took the joy to almost overwhelming levels. Had it not been for the presence of students and a tutor from the theological college I will be attending, my supervising vicar and my DDO, the tears of joy many have overwhelmed me, instead they served to stop me freaking out as the realisation of what my imminent training would lead to finally hit me: as my DDO declared as we too exchanged the sign of peace ‘this’ would be me in 3 years time.
Watching those who had welcomed me on my visit to Sarum College be ordained increased the joy I felt but also added excitement to the gamut of emotions I was experiencing. Their presence, along with the tutor who had interviewed me on my visit, made the next 3 years of my life feel more concrete, and served to act as a bridge between celebrating the end of a chapter that I am about to begin. The detached and bewildered emotions I had felt during the priesting service the day before had been replaced with an excited eagerness to get my training started. From being like a horse nervous at the sounds and sights around them I was now feeling like one being held back before the starting gate is released.
I have often referred to the discernment process as a rollercoaster journey full of ups and downs, and those who have gone before me say that training is no different. Having been at Legoland with my family last week I know just where I am on the rollercoaster: I am past the fear that rises as you climb towards the unseen big drop, the train is instead filling me with excitement as it picks up speed to head up and around the bends ahead. My (hopeful) ordination is 3 years away but like a rollercoaster it is sure to be over quicker than I anticipate or want it to be!