Would have, will have

Wells Cathedral, where I ‘would have’ been today.

Today was supposed to be when a time away from my family came to an end; a time when I would have finished a Retreat (a focused quiet time contemplating, praying and listening to God) and I would be walking from the Bishops’ Palace in Wells towards Wells Cathedral. I would have been wearing a cassock and a surplice, and carrying a stole in my hands as I walked through the doors of the cathedral to see my family sitting there, along with hundreds of other people. I would have taken a seat in view of the altar, and the service that would have see me ordained would have begun.

Would have.

The ordinations cannot happen today.

Today, the cathedral lies empty.

The coronavirus pandemic that has claimed and devastated so many lives means that it is not yet safe to gather in the cathedral. With no ability to gather, Bishops cannot lay their hands on the ordination candidates, and without that the line of apostolic succession that links each deacon and priest to the first priests of the Church will be broken. That is a tradition worthy of keeping, worthy of waiting to keep. Knowing this, knowing that the cathedral would be empty today, I sat alone within it on Monday. I went there to trace the steps from the Bishops’ Palace I would have taken had the pandemic not arisen. I went there to remember that we have lost, and that we still have: people and possibilities. I went there to remember Steve and light a candle where he would have sat.

Would have.

A candle for Steve, lit close to where he would have sat.

Steve Rogers was a former Church Army Captain, a friend, a Father, a Husband but above all, Steve was a Man-of-God. Steve had led St Andrew’s Church in Foxhill, Bath for many years. It was the sister church to Holy Trinity, Combe Down in Bath and the congregations of both had sent us both. We had worshipped together, prayed together, laughed together. Together we had trained at Sarum College, and together we were going to be ordained on this day.

I last saw Steve outside my house. We had just returned in his car from a weekend at college. We were due to return to college but neither of us would. For me it was the coronavirus pandemic that prevented my return, for Steve it was cancer. Steve passed by my house one last time at the moment, in ‘normal’ circumstances, we would have begun our final journey to college. He was on route to his final act of worship, his final resting place, his funeral: Steve had died weeks before he would have been ordained.

Would have.

Steve’s time with us on Earth may have ended, but the fruits of his ministry have not. He served both God and community with such intoxicating fervour that the impact of his presence would be seen and rejoiced for years and years to come.

I sat alone at my desk after Steve had passed by, and I am sitting there once again today. Then it was to begin my final college weekend, today it is to begin my curacy — not ordained as a Deacon but licensed as a Lay Worker. My curacy is not going to begin with the laying on of hands, but with a digital proclamation. When the clock hits 10:00 the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Bishop of Taunton, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, myself and 17 other Ordinands, and several others will appear on my screen. And we will appear on the screens of our family and friends’ computers and TVs when, together over the internet, we walk not physically but digitally together into curacy.

My desk where I, and my study-buddy Ron, have sat as I studied for Ordination.

Starting my curacy sitting alone at my desk will certainly be a strange experience. But I have been sitting alone at my desk for much of the past 3 years. The experience has taught me much, including how easy it is to be detached from the world around us when viewing life through a screen. And Steve’s death has reminded me how easy it is to take life for granted. I knew that Steve and my other friends and family were around and ‘with me’ because we met often enough, both physically and digitally, to be reminded of and continue the relationship. Gaps in our meeting were usual. We would have met more often if we could, but life was busy.

Would have.

So whilst Steve is no longer with us, it is still difficult to accept he isn’t here because I’m used to not seeing him for chunks of time. It will, perhaps, only be when his face fails to appear on screen for the Licensing today that I will truly feel his absence. Or maybe it will be when I gather with others for a pre-ordination retreat in September. Or maybe it will be when we finally walk into Wells Cathedral to be ordained. Or maybe, and most likely, it will be at each of those pivotal liminal moments. Either way, the licensing today will, I anticipate, be as much a painfully raw experience as it will be a joyful one.

When the service ends online, my screen goes blank, my room will return to normal – everything will be as it was: the desk I have studied from for the past 3 years; the window beside me looking out to the community I haven’t yet moved from; the lack of people around me. Yet so much will have changed: I will be a Curate, a Lay Curate at that. I will be serving new churches, congregations and communities. Steve would have been serving too.

Would have.

Life is full of ‘would haves’, but life needs to be lived for what we do have. From my all too limited time with Steve I learnt that he lived for what he had and wanted others to have: the love he had received from God; the love he had received from and had for his family, his friends, his community, his church. I have all those things and the time has once again come to celebrate and live those things. I have had 3 blessed years of Ordination Training having been sent by the Church. I have a family, I have friends and I have a new community to love and be loved by in return. Tomorrow I will wake for the first time as a Curate because I will have been licensed. I plan to celebrate that and each moment that will follow, including ordination when I will have walked into the cathedral.

Will have.

Rest in peace Steve, rise in glory and save a drink for me at the eternal party.


Details of how to watch the Licensing service live and afterwards is available in Getting my Curacy License.


The walk I have, would have, and will have walked from the Bishops’ Palace to Wells Cathedral:

Getting my Curacy License

Feet in a paddling pool and a hand holding a book on the Priesthood.
Getting cold feet… in a paddling pool.

In normal circumstances I would have said goodbye to my family and gone away for a pre-ordination retreat this week. There 18 others waiting to be ordained as a Deacon, and others waiting to be ordained as a Priest, would have gathered away from the hustle and bustle of life to pray, contemplate and prepare for the change in identity about to come.

But these are not normal circumstances. The Coronavirus Pandemic that has claimed and devastated lives across the world has impacted ordinations as well. We cannot yet safely gather in large groups so the collective retreat isn’t possible. Nor are the ordination services which requires a bishop to lay their hands upon the ordination candidate — in part to maintain apostolic succession. I will start my curacy as a Licensed Lay Worker before, hopefully, being ordained as a Deacon on 27th September 2020 (should it be safe to do so).

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Ember Cards — what they are and how to send them. 

My Ember Card produced before Bishop Peter became ill (an updated one can be downloaded at the bottom of this page)

One tradition connected with ordination that was new to me, when I started discerning my call, is the Ember Card. These are visual reminders for people to pray for a person about to be ordained — they are the equivalent of a ‘save the date’ invitation, though the invitation is not to a party but to be praying up to and during the date of ordination.

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My Ordination Stoles

My Stoles

The stoles I designed for my ordination that were finessed with, and painted, by Yvonne Bell

My Ordination Training is coming to its end.  I was due to be ordained in Wells Cathedral at the end of June 2020, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic the ordination has been postponed.  It is currently scheduled for 27th September 2020.

One thing that goes with being ordained is wearing stoles – these are akin to scarfs that people wear during services as an indication that they are ordained.  It is customary to have different stoles for the different colours and times of the Church calendar: Ordinary Time stoles are green; Advent and Lent stoles are purple; Pentecost and Saints’ Day stoles are red; and stoles for Christmas, Easter, major feast days, weddings and funerals are white or gold. Continue reading

The art of seeing salvation

Each summer those beginning or continuing their ordination training at Sarum College gather for a week of fellowship, exploration and reflection.  This year’s ‘Summer School’ focused on the use of art to help us ‘see salvation’: in the stones that have been calved and placed to gather amongst; in the sculptures formed by hands and machines to walk around; and in the paint applied to paper, canvas and plaster to gaze upon.  Although much of the art looked at during the week was formed with a clear religious intentionality behind it, an expression of faith and worship by an artist, not all of it did.  Indeed it was one of these latter pieces that provoked the greatest reaction and insight into ‘seeing salvation’.  The piece was Zak Ové’s “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness”, seen during a visit to the New Art Centre at Roche Court, near Salisbury.  Continue reading

This time now

Nervous excitement woke me up early.  I put on my glad-rags and left for the cathedral before my neighbours had begun to emerge into the daylight.  I didn’t want to be late.

I descended the Mendip Hills into Wells over an hour before the service began.  The Cathedral greeted me as I emerged from my car, and the Bishop of Taunton waved as she walked past.  As long as I kept both in sight I was going to make it in time. Continue reading

Testing the limits

2384200Geraint Thomas riding to victory in the 2018 Tour de France (Source: Eurosport)

Over the course of 3 long-read blog posts I am reviewing my first year as an Ordinand, each post focused on 1 of the 3 words that sum up my first year: tea, testing and transformation.  This, the second post in the series, is all about testing, and no, they haven’t brought in doping tests for prospective priests in the Church of England.  

One section of life where tests for performance enhancing drugs is common place is sport, and in particular cycling.  Each July athletes race in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France.  For 3 weeks cyclists mix sprinting for glory with climbs up some of the highest and toughest mountains that Europe have to offer.  It is a tremendous feat of endurance just for a person to make it to the end on the Champs Élysées in Paris.  This first year of training has similarly felt like a feat of endurance.

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Mr Tea

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More tea, Ordinand?

Tea.  Testing.  Transformational.  Three words which capture the essence of my first year of Ordination Training.  This post, the first of 3 blog posts reviewing the year, is all about the power of a cup of tea.  Well, partly.  It’s also about self-awareness and mental health.

A travelling tea set I found in the French town of Périgueux seemed just the thing for a trainee vicar who would often be away from home at a theological college.  Contained within hinged cylindrical metal case, held closed by 2 leather straps, were a trinity of tea caddies and an infuser.  It played up to the stereotype of “More Tea Vicar”, but did so on my terms: the blends of tea inside were drinkable.  Just as I don’t like instant coffee but love coffee brewed from the bean, I love lots of varieties of tea but can’t stand the crowds’ favourite of English Breakfast Tea or ‘Builder’s Tea’.  This, I know, is potentially problematic for someone who may be doing pastoral visits in England, but there is always the simplicity of a glass of water!

What was brought as a piece of amusement proved to teach me an important lessons that carried me through the year: the need for solitude and reflection, and to care for my mental health.   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