Seeking life inside the bubble

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.

‘Being in a bubble’ is something labeled against residential theological colleges, often in a negative sense.  There, people with and without spouses, partners and children live, study and worship together on and off-site.  The negative associations come from the view that the bubble isolates them from the ‘real world’, from the people working jobs to pay the bills, from the people the bubble-dwellers are training to serve.  This is, of course, a sweeping generalisation and takes no account of whether those inside the bubble engage with live outside of it or not.  

I recently got to spend 4 days inside the bubble, and it was glorious – I was at an Ordinands’ Retreat run by Lee Abbey in North Devon.  What made this special was not the presence of so many ordinands but the presence of their families, and it made me realise just what was missing from my training.

Throughout my ‘Discernment Process’ the heaviest weight I carried was the impact the pursuit of my calling would have on my family – it is a constant theme running through my blog posts during that time (see Exploring Ordination).  As it turned out, when I came to train the impact on my family was minimal.  The Church of England’s age-focused training and funding meant that I went to a non-residential training; each member of the family stayed put in their jobs, schools, friendships and community and it was only me who was introduced to the occasional visits to theological college.

But whilst both my training college and church is preparing me for life as a curate, neither are preparing my children and wife.  Non-residential colleges may attempt to involve families but the very nature of their training and funding makes such involvement difficult.  By necessity, the weekends I do stay at college are packed full of lectures designed to meet the needs of the curates-to-be, not their families. 

The Ordinands’ Retreat with families at Lee Abbey proved how valuable fellowship is with similar people living and preparing for similar things.  There were ordinands across the age spectrum from multiple colleges.  There ordinands on their own, ordinands with spouses or partners, ordinands with children.  Each person unique and different, yet having something in common: they were all preparing for a life of ordained ministry.

Lee Abbey’s programme was perfect too.  My wife and I were inspired by the talks Bishop Nick Baines gave, and my children had fun in their activities; but it was in the space between the talks and activities that proved to be most powerful.  In the space families and generations stayed together, separated and mixed.  Each person got to spend time with someone of their own type, children with children, spouses with spouses, ordinands with ordinands, but they also got to spend time with people like members of their family.  Parallels and commonalities could be seen. Questions could be asked and answered.  Experiences could be shared.  We were in the bubble, and we thanked God for it.

There are pros and cons to both residential and non-residential training for ordination, and this post is not one extolling the virtues of one over another because frankly neither is terrible and neither is perfect, and also because I’ve already written about it before (see A Tribal Sales Pitch).  Non-residential training has proved to be good: working kept me connected to the world I would be leaving to serve, and being placed in a church for the majority of my training is giving me experience of building and living in a church community for over 3 years.  And it has been good for my family too: they have appreciated not being uprooted.  But being inside the short-term bubble at Lee Abbey highlighted the importance of what we were missing: fellowship with other families going through, and preparing for, the same experience.

The nature of Ordination Training means the focus has to be on the person who will hopefully be ordained.  But training should also seek to meet the needs of any family members accompanying the ordinands.  If there was a will, and if time, accommodation and finances allowed, then partners, spouses and children could be invited and included in a whole weekend of talks, activities and fellowship. Finances for dioceses, colleges and ordinands make this much more difficult to achieve than to dream up and write, but preparing the whole family is essential.  Doing so not only acknowledges the sacrifice spouses, partners and children make as a result of ordination, but also helps them to live the life that they have not necessarily chosen or been called to.

My family and I left Lee Abbey encouraged and enthused, and wanting to go back again, and again, and again.  A big reason for our desire to return was the amazing landscape and hospitality, but it was also because we were in a bubble with others ‘like us’.  And by being inside the bubble we knew were were going to be better outside it.

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

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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

Now, what was I here for?

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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

An Experiment with Daily Prayer: Part Two 

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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.

I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.

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

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

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.

Continue reading