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.
The Licensing Service for Lay Workers in the Diocese of Bath and Wells
This service took place at 10:00 on Sunday, 28th June 2020, the date on which the ordinations had been planned to take place. The service took the form of a video-conference using the Zoom platform and was broadcasted live to Facebook and the Diocesan website, before being added to YouTube later. My thoughts leading into this service can be read in the blog post Would Have, Will Have.
The Ordination of Deacons in the Diocese of Bath and Wells
Originally 1 service had been planned for the 19 Ordinands due to be ordained. The measures to keep everyone safe from catching the Coronavirus meant that 4 services were needed to ordain each person. My service took place at 2pm on Sunday 28th September 2020 and included my friend Steve Rogers who I wrote about in Would Have, Will Have.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rest in peace Steve, rise in glory and save a drink for me at the eternal party.
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).
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 my previous blog post (A man who doesn’t have it all) I wrote about how certain questions and conversations can be unique to certain groups – in that post I wrote about how asking what it’s like to be a male priest is not itself sexist and can indeed be a helpful question to ask.Recently I returned from a Retreat for Ordinands and their families, and it presented a parallel: sometimes it is good to live inside a bubble with people like you. Continue reading →
I have recently been diagnosed with Imposter Syndrome, with two years of my Ordination Training completed and one more year to go.I hadn’t expected it but, now that I think about it, I should have seen it coming. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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. Continue reading →
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.
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 →