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.

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

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

A Rescue Plan for Humanity

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Celebrating the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday, 16th April 2017

Did you hear about the sheep who got his head stuck in a traffic cone and had to be rescued? The RSPCA said he was fine afterwards, although he did look a little sheepish! And did you hear about the Swan that was stuck on the roof of a restaurant? Apparently the bill was too much! Thankfully some firefighters rescued it and returned it to a nearby river. And finally, did you hear about a man and his dog who stopped a cyclist from disaster with some bread? It was a Matter of Loaf and Death! Three ‘strange but true’ rescue stories, okay two of them: Wallace & Grommit used buns not bread to stop the bike.

There is another true but far more dramatic and important rescue, one that really is a ‘Matter of Life and Death’: Jesus’s resurrection. Within Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts Peter helps people to see God’s rescue plan for humanity that the resurrection unlocked.

Acts is a book full of eyewitness accounts and pioneering ministry, and where church as we know it began. It starts 40 days after Jesus’s resurrection with an account of Jesus ascending into Heaven having spent the time in between visiting and being seen by a whole host of people (Acts 1).  10 days later the Disciples spoke in languages they didn’t know but those who witnessed it did.  They had received the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised.  It was the first Pentecost.

Peter stood up to explain what had happened and help make the connections that gave birth to the church we know today (Acts 2). Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Lord’s Prayer at the School Gate

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Waiting at the school gate in Wellow, Somerset

Each school day morning I arrive in a village with my children before any other family. We park, we chat, we pass around the tic-tacs (another story), then walk down to the school gate where we watch the traffic pass by and the rest of the families arrive.  It is a time I cherish, a time to share and a time to pray, and so I do.

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Silent Thoughts

Warning: this post contains plot details and spoilers from the film Silence by Martin Scorsese.

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Martin Scorsese is not one afraid to ask challenging questions about the nature of man and faith, questions that some find simply the mention of a step too far, even heretical. Faith is something that has been a subject of exploration in his life and films. Having once sought to become a priest he famously adapted and filmed Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ, exploring the idea that Jesus may have struggled with his contrasting human and divine nature.

In his latest movie Silence he has taken more challenging areas to explore by taking Shusako Endo’s novel about 2 Jesuit priests who travel to 17th Century Japan in search of their former mentor who, according to rumours, had renounced his faith. At that time Christians in Japan were suffering under a brutal regime seeking to wipe out the faith. They were forced to renounce their faith, an act known as apostasy, by stepping on an image of Christ known as a fumie. Those that refused to apostatise were tortured, often to a slow and excruciating death.

The title alludes to Gods seeming silence or absence whilst people suffer for their belief in Him, and as the priests watch the persecution unforced around them their faith is severely tested. Whilst believers’ faith gives them strength, the priests struggle to maintain their own faith as the silence breeds doubts.

The film illustrates some of the challenges the persecuted church went through then, and still does today. One of those challenges is the decision whether to profess and practice a faith in public and risk the consequences or to hide their faith away, even publicly renounce or denounce it, and consciously act against the God they privately believe in.

Continue reading