I have recently been diagnosed with Imposter Syndrome, with two years of my Ordination Training completed and one more year to go. I hadn’t expected it but, now that I think about it, I should have seen it coming.
Imposter Syndrome is common place when people become Ordinands, and no wonder. When someone becomes one they have been through years of preparations, prayers and assessments. They’ll have analysed themselves, and been analysed, to discern if God is calling on them to be ordained. Yet that moment of ordination is still several years ahead. Before being recommended for training ordination was a possibility, when they begin training ordination is a probability. It is not an actuality.
When I received a letter confirming that I could start training I found it difficult to take in. If you’ve read my blog that chronicled my journey you’ll know that although I imagined being ordained I never let myself believe that I would be. And because I had spent so long wondering if I’d be an Ordinand, I found it hard to accept I was an Ordinand. So when I couldn’t shake the expectation that the college staff would realise their mistake and ask me to leave.
When an Ordinand has been recommended for ordination training they have not been recommended for ordination. Throughout the training ordination remains a theory. It is something that probably will happen but it hasn’t happened. And all that follows ordination remains in the imagination. The concept of putting on a clerical collar, of being a curate, a deacon and then a priest, is closer and clearer than before they began training but it is still not on the horizon. Ordination for an Ordinand is something in the future.
Now, having entered my final year of training, the future is almost upon me and it’s starting to freak me out!
It started when my diocese contacted me about my potential curacy. The church and vicar they suggested were not theoretical, they were real. The churches I visited weren’t virtual, they were real. The congregations inside them were not case studies from the pages of my theology book, they were real. My future was vague no more, it was right there in front of me.
As delighted, encouraged and excited as I was by the people and churches I found that self-doubt began to creep in. Sitting at a desk writing essays about theology, ministry and mission is one thing, putting it into practice is another thing entirely! After four years of ‘discernment’ and two years of study my mind has become a jumbled mess of studies and experiences. Somewhere within my memory banks is the knowledge to help me serve people through services, ministries and mission. Some of that knowledge has come from books, some has come from witnessing and working with others. Some of that knowledge has been put into action, some has yet to be. But all of it has been done with comfort and security of being a student. Soon though that comfort blanket will be removed and I will (hopefully) be released into the world to put what I have learnt, and what God is suggesting, into practice. Will I remember what I need to? Will I be able to respond and apply my studies to situations I have never thought about or encountered? Will I?
Raising things up another level is not just my expectations but other peoples. When I became an Ordinand I noticed people’s perception of me changed. The stamp of recognition from the BAP made me, to some, more wise and skilled than they were, even before I had had my first lecture. I thought that to be crazy until I quizzed them and had to accept that I was somehow ‘different’, even if I didn’t want to be and I found it uncomfortable.
That expectation will be increased even more once the bishop (hopefully) lays their hands on me and pronounces me ordained. Will I be able to live up to that expectation? Will I be able to discern new dreams and visions, to discern new needs and new opportunities? Will I be able overcome my fears and my introversion and reach out to people I don’t know and perhaps have never met? Will I?
Just as I expected the staff at my theological college and the congregation at my Training Church to see through the veneer to fraud I felt I was, I find it hard not to think that the congregations I am so looking forward to serve will see through the veneer too. Will they see that they can teach me more than I can teach them? Will they, will they, will they?
And then there is the aspects of a cleric’s life that I have no experience of doing, of officiating at baptisms, weddings, funerals. They are moments of immense importance for all involved, and immense privilege for the person who officiates, which is why the thought of stepping up to the front to actually do that terrifies me.
I shared my thoughts and fears with my Training Supervisor, the vicar at the church I have been placed at for the majority of my training, and she smiled. “You’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome”, she said, “but that’s a good sign”. She had, has, confidence that I will be able put my training into practice – the evidence she has seen has proved that to her even if it hasn’t proved it to me. That I don’t feel ready, and worry about being able to do the very thing I have been dreaming about for years, is not only normal but healthy. Instead of knowing I can do it and finding out I can’t, far better to think I can’t and find out I can. Instead of trying to implement the ministries I have dreamt up in isolation, far better to discern what ministries are needed.
I thought I knew what God was going to call me to do bring a curacy, now I know I don’t. What I do know is that although I will be discerning and applying, I will also be learning. I will be learning from priests excited to pass on their experience and help me form new ones. I will be learning from congregations hopefully excited by having another person eager to serve them and others. I will be learning from God, kind and patient enough to take me through things step by step.
As has happened before people have more faith in me than I do. The part of me that knows that those who say that I am ready are right might be currently overcome by panic, but that panic will dissipate. Soon, I hope, the comfort of theory will be replaced by the delight of reality.