Ordination in a Pandemic

The 2020 Deacons of Diocese of Bath and Wells with Bishop Trevor outside Wells Cathedral

Amidst the many things to grieve and lament during the pandemic there have been some blessings to celebrate. One of these blessings has been seeing many churches embracing technology to broadcast services. These have enabled those who could not be in a church to be there. Some have been interactive and allowed people to participate fully within the service, some have enabled people to add comments to the service as it happens and afterwards, and some have been presented to be watched and used for worship at a time that suits the watcher. I reflect on this often on my Twitter account, and intend to write a blog post on it in the future.

The pandemic caused the ordinations of Priests and Deacons at Petertide (June/July) to be cancelled. There were rescheduled for Michaelmas (September/October) once ways of conducting them safely had been found. In the meantime those who had been due to start their curacies as Deacons were licensed to start them as Lay Workers until the ordinations could take place.

Both the licensing and ordination services were broadcasted online. It is fitting that they be included on this blog, a blog that has shared the journey from initial wonderings about a calling to ordination to being ordained with the online community.

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New Kid on the Block

On the sidelines

Standing on the wide open playing fields, amidst the markings of a football pitch, I realise something is amiss. For many such places are a source of joy: the source of cheers and whoops as the ball gets kicked from one goal to another. Yet as I stood there I felt the desolation beyond that which was brought on by the looming thick grey clouds above me. For me the football field is a place of sorrow, a place of hurt, a place of loneliness. 

Football was one of the main sports at school. It was also a sport I sort to find my way into a community as I moved from place to place. There were moments of joy: finding myself playing in my favourite position at right midfield, just like my football hero Kenny Daglish, collecting the ball from the defence and then delivering it to the striker near the goalmouth. But overwhelming the joy of football is the sadness associated with it: the memory of being left out in the cold of the sidelines.

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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.

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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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A Sixty Second Sermon: Pentecost

Part of the reasoning behind my stole designs* is to create a theological dialogue without me saying a word. Here, on Pentecost Sunday of 2020, then is a Sixty Second Sermon speaking without words.

The music is an excerpt from “It is accomplished” by Peter Gabriel – part of his soundtrack album for the film “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

* see “My Ordination Stoles” for the reasoning behind this stole design.

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

My Ember Cards asking for prayer for my ordination as a Deacon (in 2020) and as a Priest (in 2021)

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.

In essence, Ember Cards have a few basic features but can be personalised to reflect the person soon to be ordained.

Usually the cards are double sided, with the details of the person about to be ordained a deacon or a priest, the location where a named bishop will ordain them, and the place in which they will or are serving their curacy.  To this some add requests for prayers and thanks to be given for particular people, such as their family, who have accompanied them on their journey to this point.  Ember Cards for Ordinands due to be ordained Deacons may include requests for prayers of thanks for their sending and training churches.  These latter two, prayers for accompanists and pre-ordination church memberships, are not ‘the essential’ elements — the focus tends to me more on the future than the past.

On the other side of the Ember Card there is usually a picture or design of relevance to the person, often with a Bible verse or two which is special to them or their sense of calling.  Bible verses often also get included on the text-heavy side too.

An important thing to consider is the readability of your text.  You might design something that looks good but is difficult for some people to read.  Please use fonts and designs that are clear and easy to read – it is an important act of inclusivity.

I recommend using a search engine (such as Ecosia, Duck Duck Go, Google, Bing, etc) to look for how other people have designed their Ember Cards – they can be very helpful in working out how you would like yours.

There is no set time when Ember Cards should be sent out, but in practice they tend not to be sent out until about three months before a person is due to be ordained. The two main times when people are ordained is Petertide (end of June and beginning of July) and Michaelmas (end of September and beginning of October).  Those to be ordained in Petertide tend to be ordained between finishing their training and starting their curacy, whilst those to be ordained in Michaelmas tend to have started their curacy before they are ordained.  

Choosing when to send them out is not as simple as counting back from the date for the ordination, other factors may come into play.  Depending on a person’s confidence and other factors, some may not feel able to send out Ember Cards until they know that their theological college are recommending the bishops ordain them — that was the case for me! 

I do not like to assume something will happen or take things for granted (which is not to say that always achieve that).  Like with most things, there are points which increase the certainty of ordination becoming a reality but until the Bishop ordains someone there are opportunities for it not to happen — these are the details that can worry can feed upon.  In reality these dilemmas are mostly psychological, college tutors would have alerted any Ordinands at risk of not being recommended for ordination a long time before the end of their training.

Those sending out Ember Cards need to balance their struggles with uncertainty with the need to alert people to a date they might like to mark in their diaries and, of course, the request for prayers.

One final thing to consider about Ember Cards is whether you need have them printed at all.  Whilst some appreciate the tactile nature of a physical Ember Card it is worth considering sending Ember Cards digitally — the latter is cheaper and has significantly less environmental impact.  Digital cards can also be read out loud by computer software so that those who cannot read text can still be included in the act of praying.  Physical cards can be displayed around the house or used as a bookmark, thereby reminding people afresh as they come across the card.

Even if you plan to have cards printed, you may wish to design the cards yourself on your computer.  If this is the case you will end up with a file that can be used to send cards digitally and physically — PDFs (Portable Document Format) files are ideal for this as they can’t be edited and work with all types of computers.  

If sending digital cards consider how you will send them.  The size of the file for the card may well be large, especially if you have included images.  This may cause problems with sending and receiving by email, but there are free alternative ways of sending them:

  • WeTransfer.com — this looks and acts like a web-based email.  You can attach multiple files up to a 2 GB limit for free, and without having to sign up for membership, which are then uploaded to a server for 7 days.  Those you send the ‘email’ to receive a link which enables them to download the files straight to their computer.  After the 7 days are up the files are deleted from the server so you may need to repeat this process several times.
  • Dropbox.com — this is a file storage website that you need to sign-up to.  As well as storing files you can send files using its ‘transfer’ option which acts in the same way as WeTransfer.com, this includes the temporary availability of the link.  You can also share a link directly to the file but you will need to make sure that any link is only to the file and does not give people access to any other files and folders you might store in  Dropbox.
  • GoogleDrive and iCloud — these are Google’s and Apple’s equivalent to Dropbox.  You can share files with other people, but again you must take care not to accidentally give access to other files and folders.

If printing cards you can ask a professional printing company to do them for you.  The advantage of a professional printer will be the quality of the cards you have to send out, the disadvantage will be the cost — the cost is higher in part because there may be a set minimal number of cards you will need to order.  You will find lots of options for professionally printed cards online, but it is worth looking to see if there are any local printers you can use — this can be a more personal experience and a way of supporting a local business.  Alternatively, you could purchase some A6 or A5 cards and envelopes, and print them at home.

Like many, I was due to be ordained at the end of June in 2020 but 2020 is not a normal year.  The Coronavirus pandemic has had a massive and devastating impact on the world, with far too many lives lost.  One of the consequences of the pandemic is that we cannot gather together in unrelated and large groups, which means that ordinations planned for Petertide in 2020 cannot happen.  Dioceses in the Church of England are each working out when and, equally importantly, how ordinations can happen – the current likelihood is that they will happen in Michaelmas 2020.  Of course the ‘when’ is not certain, and that may change.  As for the ‘how’, only time will tell.

I have chosen to make my Ember Cards available in digital and physical formats.  I have designed them myself and am printing them onto A6 cards for those that would like a card posted to them.  For those wanting a digital card I have made both an A5 and an A6 version available so that, should they choose to print them, they can choose the easiest size for to print and read.  I’m also making them available digitally as a matter of principle – if we are to be truly inclusive we need to make things available to people in formats that they can access and, as mentioned above, a digital card can be read out loud by computers to those who cannot read the text themselves.


My Ember Card for my ordination as a Deacon (2020)

The card features a photo I took in 2019 of a refuge from the sea on the Pilgrim Path from the mainland to Lindisfarne / Holy Island in the North East of England.  Not included on the card, in part due to space and the future focus, is mention of my Sending and Training Churches.  Please give thanks and pray for the people of my Sending Church of Holy Trinity Combe Down and for my Training Church of St Barnabas Southdown, both in Bath — so many people within those churches have supported me on my journey to ordination, and I am tremendously grateful for them.  Particular mention of thanks are due for Revd Paul Kenchington, my mentor at Holy Trinity (he has since retired) and my Training Supervisor at St Barnabas, Revd Dr Catherine Sourbut Groves.

If you would like a copy of my Ember Card you can download A6 and A5 versions below:


My Ember Card for my (hopeful) ordination as a Priest (2021)

It has been an ‘interesting’ start to my ordained life – the pandemic has posed many challenges and brought much sadness, but it has also brought blessings. My first year of curacy is almost over and, God and Bishop’s willing, I will be ordained a Priest in Wells Cathedral on 26th September 2021.

The ultimate decision to ordain me a priest has, at the time of publishing this updated post, not been made but I’m assured it will happen. So, trusting in God and people who, I have created an Ember Card for my (hopeful) ordination as a Priest.

I had thought of using one of my photos for the main image, as I did in my Ember Card for my ordination as a Deacon, but couldn’t find one that fitted. Then I remembered a painting by Yvonne Bell, the artist who painted my stoles. Her painting “For just such a time as this” captures the moment and my ordination perfectly: I have not been ordained for the life I imagined but the life we are living now. I have been ordained “for just such a time as this”, for life in and after a global pandemic, in a time of great need for peace and God’s love , and it is in ‘this’ time that I am to represent, reflect and offer Jesus to others. The verse reflects my calling in this moment too: to stand among people in grief, conflict and need, and offer them the peace of Christ.

If you would like a copy of my Ember Card you can download the A6 and A5 versions below. Whether you download the Ember Card or not please do pray for me, that I would be guided, strengthened and encouraged by God, and that I will be true to who He calls me to be and how He calls me to serve.

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

I belong because I don’t

Sunrising behind 3 crosses on a hill

Sunrise in Easter Day 2019 from an ecumenical service on The Roundhill, Bath

I am over half-way through my Ordination Training and thoughts are starting to turn to curacy.  When my diocese asked me to indicate which type of church I would and wouldn’t work with my reaction surprised me.  The question saddened me.  It was asking me where I belonged.  At once I realised that I belonged everywhere and nowhere. Continue reading