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.

Many from the church I joined as a single man in his twenties go to New Wine, providing a microcosm of the church community within the wider corporate worship and fellowship such a large gathering of people provides. So for several years I followed my church family down to the Royal Bath & West Showground to be inspired, equipped and reenergised by the talks, the teaching and the fellowship.

Going as an introverted person content, but not that content, with being on the fringes of life and groups New Wine was as challenging as it was comfortable. It was a place where I could be myself, lost and anonymous in the crowds. I was able to soak up the worship and presence of God, and to think over all that I was hearing. But merging as a single person from my two-man tent into the group of married couples and families became increasingly difficult, and so it was that I gradually found myself reluctant to go.

That reluctance was broken when, two years ago, I was gifted a week at New Wine. In the intervening time I had married and had children, becoming a family like those I had found difficult to be amongst before. I was also lost and hurting: I had been turned down for ordination training and was in a state of confusion and depression. The depression had reached similar dark depths that I had found myself in once before, a similar time of searching when Jesus had rescued me before I could try and fast-track my way into heaven. The combined memories and emotions produced a heart for those on the edges that found it difficult to be amongst so many in apparent joyful fellowship with friends and family.

But I was okay, I didn’t need healing, I just needed some answers. At least that was what I told myself.

The talks were inspiring and thought provoking as before. The worship was still the warm bath of God’s presence to rest within. But it was seeing the delight on my children’s faces that began to break down the barriers I had erected. Whilst the communication lines between myself and God were not working I could them working fine between God and my children. They were not just having fun but consciously asking deep questions of life and faith without any pre-formed agenda. They wanted to go back to New Wine even before they left.

A moment that provided more confusion rather than clarity turned out to be a turning point in my journey of discernment. Just as I was ready to give in and give up on exploring whether I was being called by God to be ordained the Mid-day prayer within The Sanctuary space fired me up: I felt like I should be walking towards the church not away from it. But this ‘feeling’ couldn’t be reconciled with the facts before me: I had been examined and found not suitable for ordination a year before. Confusion reigned and fuelled my depression.

Even though I have been touched by God’s healing power on a few occasions, I struggle with apparent miraculous healing, especially in front of large crowds. It comes from a cynicism borne out of my own longing to be healed: was God healing or were the people I witness creating a sense of God healing them out of hope that He was? I had been there and done that.

It was an attitude of having nothing to lose that had led to me a faith in Jesus, and it was a similar attitude that took me forward to the front of the main arena when Christy Wimber sensed God wanted to heal people within the crowd from depression. Was it God speaking through Christy or Christy hoping God was speaking? Staying in my seat would have proved nothing and I had nothing to lose by leaving it to find out.

The resistant and reserved cynic was still present within me as a member of the Prayer Ministry Team laid hands on me and began to pray. My self-consciousness was raised and rather than relaxing to let God in I was focused on those praying and watching around me. Although I tried to keep them at bay I found some groans of pain come out of me. I started to shake too and when I sensed, or feared, that it was encouraging those praying for and watching me I tried to resit shaking any more – I was, and am, the archetypal reserved and embarrassed Brit. But then something snapped inside me and I gave in. I had decided that the cynics could remain cynical, the skeptics could remain skeptical; people could think what they want, I didn’t care any more. Whatever was happening could have free reign, I was just going to ride it out.

Something had happened.

There was no elation or jumping about for joy, I was too drained and exhausted for that, but something had happened. There were no words, just a sense of bewildered peace. Something had happened. I returned to my seat in silence, I didn’t have the words to explain what had happened, not that really understood what had. That evening I sat quietly, listening to my friends conversations and letting the something that had happened settle and take root.

The prayer had been led to an awakening and a rebirth. I had emerged out of the pit I had fallen into when the church had rejected me for ordination. The pain was no longer imprisoning me and I could breath the fresh air. The confusion and search for answers had been replaced by a refreshing peace. I was ready to start living again.

I went back to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) who had been keeping in touch with me to test and discern what had happened and what should happen next. I offered up the sense I had had in The Sanctuary that I should stop exploring a calling to be ordained. I offered up the confusion that came when the Midday Prayer fired me up. I offered up the chance for the church to call time on my journey of discernment. I was ready to move on.

I wasn’t asked to move on, I was asked to simply be: instead of taking up the chance to end my ordination journey with the church I was encouraged to keep traveling. Clarity and answers about my future would come, and the church wanted to wait for them with me. I began to simply live and be with God, to worship and to serve as and when I was prompted to. In time that clarity did come, and it came with the nothing-to-lose attitude that had carried me forward for prayer at New Wine.

I returned to another panel to be assessed for ordination training 18 months later. I didn’t mind what the answer was this time, I had found peace and had nothing to lose by being tested once again. This time I was recommended for training and in August 2017, 2 years after that prayer in the arena, I will begin studying to enter the priesthood.

I will be forever grateful that Christ Wimber sensed God’s will that night, and for James Bailey who prayed for me. I will also remain remain grateful that I fought through my cynicism, my fears and my self-control; and I will remember that sometimes we have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Climbing up to Cloud 9


I keep being asked “have you come off Cloud 9 yet?” and it’s made me question myself why I’ve not been on it.

It isn’t surprising that people expect someone to be ecstatic when they have been recommended to train for ordination (see Going to a BAP, again!), and it has been humbling to see the reaction to my recommendation.  When we see someone work hard for something and then achieve their aim we are generally excited and pleased for them (that doesn’t mean it cannot also be painful for us, especially if we hoped for the very same thing). But being recommended for ordination is not an achievement to be gained, it is a decision to be discerned.

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Going to a BAP, again!

My retreat from social media is over. My return to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) has been completed. The results are in and a chapter of my life that begun back in January 2013 is over. It has involved 1 Vocations Chaplain, 5 Examining Chaplains, 3 Diocesan Directors of Ordinands (DDOs), 2 Bishops’ Advisory Panels, 2 Panel Secretaries, 6 Bishops’ Advisors and 2 Bishops; with far greater numbers of people that have accompanied on my journey with encouragement, wisdom and prayers.

But what happened? As often is the case there is a before, during and after to this extended blog post of going to my second BAP. Whilst my blog post Strange Days (aka Going to a BAP) covered what goes on at a BAP in detail this post will aims to illustrate the value of finding peace and living in the moment with God through challenging times, because returning to a second BAP was truly a challenge. As for the result? Well, it wouldn’t be right to write the ending before the beginning! Continue reading

Silent Running

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This blog has brought amazing companions on my journey of discernment.

The time has come. No it is not time to leave for my second Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) but it is time to take a step back from social media and concentrate on what this whole journey has been about. It is time to focus on God and His calling for me, and it is time to do that in private. It is, perhaps, a more difficult decision to have made than it might appear.

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Depressingly (dis)honest

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 2012, Photo by Frank Gunn

Walking the tightrope

Over recent years we have seen an increased awareness about mental health issues but how honest can we be when talking about them? How certain can we be that as well as more people talking about mental health issues more people understand them?

In a blog committed to being open and honest about what it can be like to discern whether I should be ordained it is perhaps strange to question the degree of honesty, but every disclosure brings with it a consequence. People disclosing their struggles with mental health can get sidelined and loose jobs.  I fear they might find routes towards ordination blocked too because of misunderstanding speaking louder than God’s will.

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Guilty as not charged

A picture showing the police id parade and line up from the film The Usual Suspects

I am used to be one of the usual suspects

I know I’m guilty of something, I just don’t know what it is.

When a car horn is blown or its lights flashed in my direction I look to see what I have done wrong and, usually, find nothing. When my name is called out in the street I look round expecting to be admonished but see a child being called back into the safety of his parents instead. When my boss asks to meet with me in private I walk into the room expecting to told off but leave having been encouraged. Perhaps it is down to the suspicion that my time of reckoning for all the times I have done something wrong and got away with it has arrived. Continue reading

One Foot in the Graveyard

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Moving age-groups not houses

Shortly after finally making contact with the DDO (see Communication Breakdown) I attended a workshop for those on the discernment path. I had been to several before, including one a year ago which covered the topic this was to cover: the dreaded and artificial BAP Pastoral Letter Exercise. Back then I had spoken to the other candidates not just about what it was like to go to a BAP but what it was like to be rejected, or not recommended as the Church of England like us to call it. Giving the talk had left me unable to focus on the Pastoral Letter Exercise so a second opportunity to do so in the company of others, and with the insight of the DDO and a particularly caring and constructive BAP Advisor, was to be welcomed.

The time I had spent over the past year picking the brains of those with good pastoral experience and skills, coupled with the thoughts of others present on the day, meant that I finally felt I understood what BAP Advisors expected to see in a candidates response. Even more encouragingly I felt like I might be able to write one that would at the very least be acceptable and not spat out like a rancid piece of food. That was just as well for the DDO dropped a bombshell into the conversations that shook several of us to the core.  There was no sugar-coating of the pill, there was just the bare facts: the funding and training pathways for ordination had changed. 

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Communication Breakdown

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Communication breakdown
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
Led Zeppelin

I started the summer waiting to move into the next stage of the discernment process: meetings with Examining Chaplains and a Bishop to decide if I should go to a ordination selection conference (the BAP). I was still waiting by the end of the summer.

I had suspected my Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) had been a little optimistic in his planning for the next stage of my discernment journey but I had no reason to question his judgment on how the next stage would progress. Prior to heading off into retirement my DDO was handing those he was guiding to the remaining DDO , for her to arrange the meetings.

Whereas when I reached this stage before I had been asked to write 3 essays to give the Examining Chaplains an insight into my mind, personality and faith (see Rescued from the darkness; Defining Ordination is harder than you think!; and Challenging and Exiting Times). This time though things had changed, and sensibly so.

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It’s not you, it’s me

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It’s complicated. It’s not you, it’s me.

Discerning whether God is wanting you to be ordained is not a simple process. At times it feels like a tightrope, a roller-coaster or a double-edged sword. On one side it is very much about you as you try to work out what God is wanting you to do and whether you want to do it too. On the other side it is about who God is wanting you to work with and whether others want you to do that too.

It is about you and it isn’t.

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Doing nothing takes time

Doing Nothing

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.
Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Rilke

I had found as much peace with being rejected for ordination training as was possible. Questions remained over what had happened before, during and after my rejection but the answers remained stubbornly on the horizon. They hung in front of me like an elusive carrot on a stick and for all my efforts to reach them they remained out of reach.

Was the Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) and the preceding period a stand alone lesson to teach and transform me into the person God wanted me to be for the next stage of our journey together? Or was it part a series of lessons, and if it was what was the next one? Was it to attend a second BAP ? Did I even want to go to another? Was it to be ordained? Do I even want to go to a second BAP ? Linked yet separate questions with fathomable way of being answered.

Knock-backs and rejections had robbed me of confidence in myself and my abilities. My doubts and confusion clouded my judgement so it was no wonder that trying to discern what God was trying to teach me in this period did not bring the clarity I needed.

Pursuing answers had become fruitless. To find the answers I had to stop searching for them. Continue reading