Now, what was I here for?

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The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat)

Transforming something unknown into something known lies in the future. We can use our imagination and other people’s knowledge to paint a picture of what it might look like but it is only when we catch up with it, when the future becomes the present, that we begin to know the unknown. And so it has turned out with my Ordination Training.

As the training reached full-speed in early October (my studies in September were fairly light) the impact on my daily life quickly became clear: each day would be filled from rising to sleeping. My wife and I both needed to continue with our full-time jobs, my children still needed to be taken to school and clubs, household chores still needed to be done, and occasionally we even needed to eat. The only space for study was my ‘spare-time’, something I enjoyed using to spend time simply being with my family and friends. The study mean that this time would be limited, I would not be able to socialise quite as much as I did and this blog would not be added to quite as often as before. As such this post is as much an account of what it is like to train for ordination whilst working full-time as it is a reflection upon it.

The regularity of life meant that although time for study was limited it was at least fairly predictable. The hours after my children had gone to bed provided several hours with which to delve deeply into my studies but even short moments proved to be useful. The key was being focused and not letting time slip away. Instead I needed to seize every opportunity that presented itself: lunch breaks were chances to study rather than browse Twitter or the shops; my children’s swimming lessons were no longer times to catch up with friends or read a magazine but opportunities to reflect on a text from college.

It would be wrong to suggest that every spare waking moment was spent wrestling with a new theological theory – as well as being focused I also needed to be honest with myself. I realised the need to plan to do or achieve little or nothing. I needed to build in time for distraction and procrastination. There is no point fooling ourselves that we will not be distracted or take time to get going: pretending that we will not is a recipe for stress once it becomes apparent that not enough has been done in the time that had been available.

Adding study to my life had an interesting side-effect. With my mind constantly on study topics it became difficult to think of much else. So, although I was being encouraged to constantly reflect on my experiences and studies, I found I didn’t have the mental capacity to think much beyond them. If something wasn’t part of the regular routine and not put in my diary or ‘to-do’ list it was easily forgotten, making me even more dependent on others to ensure certain things were done. Whilst there is enough life for me away from my studies to keep me outside of a theological bubble it is clear that I will need to stop occasionally to take notice of the world outside and my connection with it (something I suspect writing blog posts may help me with).

The importance of stopping to relax and to spend time with family and friends is very much apparent. It would have been all too easy thee past few months to fill every waking moment with study but work without relaxation or time with the people we love is detrimental in the long-term – it was being in college that showed this most starkly.

Between this blog post and my last I have had 2 weekends and a day in college, the rest being done online via video-conferencing, downloadable study material, leading a study group and various church-linked meetings and activities. Whilst being in college was welcomed, and is an essential part of my way of studying, being there meant that I not only missed time with my family but was unable to study the material for that week. Keeping from falling behind schedule with the work in such circumstances is challenging and increases the intensity of study on the days either side of them.

It is perhaps not surprising that somethings just haven’t happened. I haven’t been able to meet with my Spiritual Director of the past 4 years since I began training; our mutual schedules have never been in alignment, so much so that I am in the process of finding another who can meet in the evenings or weekends.

The tutors at college encourage us to keep a journal in which to write our reflections on what we do, learn and experience, and not just from our studies. But much as I constantly reflect in my head I have been poor at getting those thoughts down on paper, perhaps I need to challenge myself to write more blog posts! One reason I haven’t, other than time and capacity, is that it is difficult to write about what I am studying because I am still trying to understand it. There are posts about the emotional, spiritual and community aspect of training waiting to be written but until I do find the time and capacity to write them my Twitter account (@pilgrimexplorer) will continue to fill the gap – Twitter’s limited character count encourages short and regular postings, although I don’t think it’s quite what my tutors had in mind.

The necessity to plan ahead and to make good and focused use of each day became clear fairly quickly, as was working at a sustainable pace and having something to look forward to. Having 1 evening each week to relax with the family at the end of our respective weeks has become sacrosanct and the motivation to knuckle down and study at other times. Plan as I must, flexibility is the key to studying whilst working and being a parent, not least to prevent becoming isolated from the world outside of the daily routines. Spending time with friends has also proved its worth in keeping sane but for each moment taken out of study to be with friends another needs to be found to take its place, it is a constant trade-off of study and relaxation.

At Christmas my college is shut for 2 weeks and whilst that doesn’t mean I can’t afford to have 2 weeks off studying (my next tutorial is on 2nd of January 2018!), it does mean I can afford to stop and take in the reason I am doing all this training in the first place. And so as I prepare to go with my family to church to celebrate the birth of our saviour I wish you a happy Christmas, may God bless and guide you in the year ahead.

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An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part Two 

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In my previous post I wrote about my determination to find a pattern of daily prayer that suited being a working parent.  The combination of the school run, a days work, family life and church had made if difficult to find enough space and time to connect with God through dwelling on liturgy and scripture.

I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.

This post is part reflection and part review of these and the impact focusing on applying them to an inconsistent and complicated schedule had on me.  As I found out when trying to do Morning, Midday and Night Prayer, not each format is necessarily suited to each part of the day. Continue reading

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part One

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Starting my Ordination Training has once again made me examine my pattern of prayer.  Over the years I have used lots of different patterns and sources in my attempt to take my focus off myself and onto God and others.  I have had times when it has worked, when I have tapped into a rich seem of inspirational liturgy but such times have ebbed and flowed with an unhelpful inconsistency.  This inconsistency has meant that the focusing and calming effect of prayer became vulnerable to be lost, drowned out or shut out by the distractions and pace of everyday life. Continue reading

Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training

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Sarum College in Salisbury

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training. Continue reading

Tears for Fears

The Font in Salisbury Cathedral

The Font in Salisbury Cathedral

I am now, officially and undeniably (even to myself) an Ordinand.  This week I have begin my training at Sarum College in Salisbury, a place which echoes from my past and which will be embedded in my future, for the next 3 years at least.  Although it is largely a non-residential course it has started with a weeklong Summer School: a chance to build community and get used to the fact that I really am an Ordinand.

Part of the week’s programme has included a mini-silent retreat: from Midday Prayer to Evening Prayer we have been silent.  Having been on a silent retreat before my BAP I was looking forward to this part of the week with eager anticipation.  And as I did during my pre-BAP retreat I gave control of my fingers to God and let Him reveal to me what might be on His heart and to help me articulate what was on mine.

What you will read is the result of the writing.  Normally I type away on an computer with a large screen but this time I used a phone, with interesting results: I could only see a limited amount of what I had typed and only saw the full picture when I read it on my iPad later.  It isn’t polished but it is, with a few spelling corrections, what was the silence revealed to me as I sat in Salisbury Cathedral on the afternoon of 23rd August 2017. Continue reading

Nothing to lose

 

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Preparing to worship at New Wine

 

The New Wine festival is taking place in Somerset this week and next. I can’t be there but reading tweets from those who are, and listening into some of the sessions being streamed live on the internet, has reminded me what a key moment my last trip to the festival turned out to be on my journey towards ordination training. Continue reading

Time Turning

 

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Hermione Granger’s Time Turner (TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.)

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Gap Between

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Respect and tolerance is a two way road.

Recent events suggest that we are good at loving our neighbour in times of need but less so when we find out what they might think.

In typical British fashion the country reacted to the terrorist attacks London and Manchester by sticking two fingers up at terrorists, supported those affected and carried on as normal. When tragedy struck those living in Grenfell Tower the community came together just as they had after the terrorist attacks; churches, mosques and others opened up their doors, hearts and wallets to rally around to support those in need.

But when it comes to expressing views or engaging in debates we seemingly find it easier to hate our neighbour than love them. Those who agree with us and live within our neighbourhood of opinions are wise people of distinction, those who don’t are our enemy to be cast out or defeated. Continue reading

A Tribal Sales Pitch

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Discerning which opinion and direction is the right one to follow.

Everyone has an opinion, even if that is to sit on the fence or have ‘no opinion’, and most are quite happy to share it, but often how we share it says as much about us as it does about the thing we are talking about.

When my wife was pregnant this was all too obvious, almost everyone we met had a tale to tell and advice to share: “don’t eat peanuts”, “eat peanuts”; “don’t give the child a dummy, you’ll end up regretting it if you do”, “give the child a dummy, you’ll wish you did if you don’t”; “breast is best”, “bottle milk is fine”; “I did this, you should too”; the list goes on. They wanted to help us bring up our child as well as possible but their opinion would often conflict with another well intended piece of advice.

Opinions and advice can help people to make a decision, but they can also be a way of justifying a decision we have made. Promoting the pathway we took helps us feel good about our decision, if we admit to it’s flaws that exist we can wonder if we decided correctly. One strengthens our position, the other opens up to nuances that can be perceived as a weakness by ourselves or others. Continue reading