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 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 (see The Big D). 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 (see Rescued from the darkness). 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.