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.

Rooted and rootless

I have always felt rootless, and it’s no secret or surprise why.  As a child I moved every few years.  A new place, a new school, a new set of friends to find, a new set of bullies to avoid.  And when I did return to my birthplace I never felt at ‘home’.  Such experiences shaped my adulthood too.  I abandoned a childhood dream because the career meant multiple moves, but then moved multiple times in search of something to fill the void I had created.  

I have always felt rooted too, to a place on a map but not in my memory.  I have never been to my father’s homeland but it feels part of who I am – circumstances have always conspired to keep it in my imagination.  When I travelled through neighbouring countries and similar cultures I felt at home.   The birthplace that I hadn’t visited felt more like home than the one I had.  Home was an alien place.

This has all proved to be an excellent foundation for being ordained in the Church of England, because in it I simultaneously feel both rooted and rootless. 

My baptismal birthplace ostensibly rooted me in the Church of England soon after my physical birth.  I didn’t stay in either place for long. When I did return to both in my twenties my birthplace felt alien to me, but childhood experiences peppered my memory to make the church feel like a home.  The experiences were fewer and more oblique than any physical connection to my birthplace so, if anything, I should have felt even more rootless within the church.  In reality the church and the Christian faith felt as familiar as my father’s homeland.  

Having been to churches of different denominations, theologies, styles, sounds, smells and sizes I had simply considered myself a Christian.  When I finally gave in and began exploring my calling I didn’t choose the church I did it within, but I did examine the church I was within.  Whether ordained by God or circumstance, I found that I had rooted myself within the Church of England, but where?  Labels of churchmanship, styles and theologies were being banded about that I hadn’t stopped to consider or considered important when I went to church – I’d simply gone to church.  

I examined my Anglican roots more and more as my time of discernment transformed into a time of training.  I discovered that the Church of England is in one sense the perfect place for the rootless Christian.  Being such a broad church it isn’t hard to find a place to belong, even if it isn’t where your journey with God began.  But it is also a church, whether you are rooted within it or not, where it can feel like an alien place.

Belonging but not belonging

My training has exposed me to church styles, theologies and traditions that I hadn’t fully comprehended beforehand.  As I experience more of the richness of the Church of England I feel more excited and feel my roots get deeper, wider and stronger.  Yet as I continually examine who I am, where I have come from and where I belong in the church I find  churchmanship, traditions and tribes within it that increasingly make me feel rootless.  I feel like I’m a tethered balloon, floating above the diversity of the Anglican Communion.  I can see much more than when I first took off but now I’m unable to see where I am anchored.  And I’m unable to see the boundaries of my belonging.

From above I sometimes see people in a superiority contest, seemingly competing to be the dominant branch. I see tribes insisting on people being either in or out.  I see labels and stereotypes applied that deny complexities.  Some show little respect for the broad nature of the Church of England.  Some show little inclination to understand or learn from difference.  Some show little appreciation of the struggles that those of other traditions have with their own, let alone others.  Instead of dialogue and understanding I see such groups casting difference out.  Instead of people welcomed I see people being shunned.  Instead of bridges I see barriers.

There is much to love, respect and learn from in aspects of the Christian faith and church that we do not wholly subscribe to.  I have been to churches with whom I disagree fundamentally about a key aspect but have still been blessed by.  I have been to churches that fit my comfort zones but have left aggrieved by something I have seen or heard.  In other words, I have found love where I expected to find despair and found despair where I expected to find love.  

Settling for unsettling

When I consider my future I consider my past.  I thank God for all the people and prayers that brought me to where I am.  I thank God for the things which I now disagree with and the things which have stayed the same.  

When I consider my past I consider my future.  I see disagreement but I don’t feel the need to agree, instead I seek to understand.  When I see arrogance and superiority, I seek to consider the other.  When I see the cliques that keep the outsiders outside, I seek to welcome all.  When I see the condescension that leads to division, I seek to encourage people together.  

There is one thing which is certain to be part of my future ministry: to welcome people into the church and to protect them from its tribal nature for as long as possible.  If I can do that they can find their own way, they can cross the boundaries between traditions, they can find where they belong.  Maybe that will be within the anglo-catholic, evangelical, liberal or other wings of the Church of England, maybe it wont.  Maybe they won’t just transcend labelled styles but labelled denominations.

I know that I belong in the Church of England and I hope others will feel that too – I love it for the way it reflects life in all its complexity.  But what matters most to me is not whether people accept a particular denomination, or a tradition within it, but that they accept Christ.  

Sometimes I envy those who can narrowly define and label their faith – there is comfort in knowing precisely which community is yours.  But I have settled for being unsettled.  I cannot confine my faith to a box.  I need an eclectic space with space for wide, not narrow, roots.  That is why I love the Church of England: I belong to it as a whole, not a branch of it.

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

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.

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Depressingly (dis)honest

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 2012, Photo by Frank Gunn

Walking the tightrope

Over recent years we have seen an increased awareness about mental health issues but how honest can we be when talking about them? How certain can we be that as well as more people talking about mental health issues more people understand them?

In a blog committed to being open and honest about what it can be like to discern whether I should be ordained it is perhaps strange to question the degree of honesty, but every disclosure brings with it a consequence. People disclosing their struggles with mental health can get sidelined and loose jobs.  I fear they might find routes towards ordination blocked too because of misunderstanding speaking louder than God’s will.

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Shown the door

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Doors closing or opening?

I’m not paranoid, I know people are watching my every move.

As you try to discern if God is calling you to be ordained it can feel as the Church is watching and analysing your every move: CCTV cameras trained on you, hidden cameras in place to catch you unaware, spies and informers reporting back to headquarters. Of course that is nonsense, there is no need for the church to watch or inform you because you will be informing on yourself, and willingly so.

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One Foot in the Graveyard

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Moving age-groups not houses

Shortly after finally making contact with the DDO (see Communication Breakdown) I attended a workshop for those on the discernment path. I had been to several before, including one a year ago which covered the topic this was to cover: the dreaded and artificial BAP Pastoral Letter Exercise. Back then I had spoken to the other candidates not just about what it was like to go to a BAP but what it was like to be rejected, or not recommended as the Church of England like us to call it. Giving the talk had left me unable to focus on the Pastoral Letter Exercise so a second opportunity to do so in the company of others, and with the insight of the DDO and a particularly caring and constructive BAP Advisor, was to be welcomed.

The time I had spent over the past year picking the brains of those with good pastoral experience and skills, coupled with the thoughts of others present on the day, meant that I finally felt I understood what BAP Advisors expected to see in a candidates response. Even more encouragingly I felt like I might be able to write one that would at the very least be acceptable and not spat out like a rancid piece of food. That was just as well for the DDO dropped a bombshell into the conversations that shook several of us to the core.  There was no sugar-coating of the pill, there was just the bare facts: the funding and training pathways for ordination had changed. 

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Ground Control to Major Tom

 

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It is time to prepare for re-entry

There was a time when exploring ordination felt like being on an express train: things happened regularly and quickly. Each week there was something new, some new issue to wrestle with, some new emotional struggle to document. More recently it has felt like being on a canal boat or the International Space Station: slowly drifting along, detached from the goings on of life. The detachment has been somewhat comforting. Like astronauts left alone on the International Space Station I have been able to observe the fragility from afar, whilst similarly connected to it by the sporadic communication from the Ground Control that is the church. But the time has come to re-enter the world of ordination and face the fire that comes with it. Continue reading

The Joy of the Lord is our strength: choosing joy to rise above our troubles

In the film Inside Out 5 characters, representing different emotions, live inside the mind of a young girl who they help to cope with life. Joy is one of those characters and her incessant joyfulness becomes problematic as the child experiences a number of challenging and upsetting experiences. The character of Joy has to learn what it means to be joyful in the face of these challenges.

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It’s not you, it’s me

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It’s complicated. It’s not you, it’s me.

Discerning whether God is wanting you to be ordained is not a simple process. At times it feels like a tightrope, a roller-coaster or a double-edged sword. On one side it is very much about you as you try to work out what God is wanting you to do and whether you want to do it too. On the other side it is about who God is wanting you to work with and whether others want you to do that too.

It is about you and it isn’t.

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History Repeating

My excitement worries me

If there is doubt, a maybe or simply a curiosity about something it is always worth at least a precursory exploration of the issue rattling around within your thoughts. That exploration may quickly dispel the ‘what if’ and enable it to be forgotten, but it may expand and take you to new places and opportunities that you would have missed had the thought been left unexplored.

That is how the exploration of ordination began for me, and it has both transformed me and served up opportunities I may otherwise have missed. Continue reading