Theory becoming reality

father-dougal Father Dougal McGuire from Father Ted

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.

Imposter Syndrome is common place when people become Ordinands, and no wonder.  When someone becomes one they have been through years of preparations, prayers and assessments.  They’ll have analysed themselves, and been analysed, to discern if God is calling on them to be ordained.  Yet that moment of ordination is still several years ahead.  Before being recommended for training ordination was a possibility, when they begin training ordination is a probability.  It is not an actuality. 

When I received a letter confirming that I could start training I found it difficult to take in.  If you’ve read my blog that chronicled my journey you’ll know that although I imagined being ordained I never let myself believe that I would be.  And because I had spent so long wondering if I’d be an Ordinand, I found it hard to accept I was an Ordinand.  So when I couldn’t shake the expectation that the college staff would realise their mistake and ask me to leave.  

When an Ordinand has been recommended for ordination training they have not been recommended for ordination.  Throughout the training ordination remains a theory.  It is something that probably will happen but it hasn’t happened.   And all that follows ordination remains in the imagination.  The concept of putting on a clerical collar, of being a curate, a deacon and then a priest, is closer and clearer than before they began training but it is still not on the horizon.  Ordination for an Ordinand is something in the future.

Now, having entered my final year of training, the future is almost upon me and it’s starting to freak me out!

It started when my diocese contacted me about my potential curacy.  The church and vicar they suggested were not theoretical, they were real.  The churches I visited weren’t virtual, they were real.  The congregations inside them were not case studies from the pages of my theology book, they were real.  My future was vague no more, it was right there in front of me. 

As delighted, encouraged and excited as I was by the people and churches I found that self-doubt began to creep in.  Sitting at a desk writing essays about theology, ministry and mission is one thing, putting it into practice is another thing entirely!  After four years of ‘discernment’ and two years of study my mind has become a jumbled mess of studies and experiences.  Somewhere within my memory banks is the knowledge to help me serve people through services, ministries and mission.  Some of that knowledge has come from books, some has come from witnessing and working with others.  Some of that knowledge has been put into action, some has yet to be.  But all of it has been done with comfort and security of being a student.  Soon though that comfort blanket will be removed and I will (hopefully) be released into the world to put what I have learnt, and what God is suggesting, into practice.  Will I remember what I need to?  Will I be able to respond and apply my studies to situations I have never thought about or encountered?  Will I?

Raising things up another level is not just my expectations but other peoples.  When I became an Ordinand I noticed people’s perception of me changed.  The stamp of recognition from the BAP made me, to some, more wise and skilled than they were, even before I had had my first lecture.  I thought that to be crazy until I quizzed them and had to accept that I was somehow ‘different’, even if I didn’t want to be and I found it uncomfortable.  

That expectation will be increased even more once the bishop (hopefully) lays their hands on me and pronounces me ordained.  Will I be able to live up to that expectation?  Will I be able to discern new dreams and visions, to discern new needs and new opportunities?  Will I be able overcome my fears and my introversion and reach out to people I don’t know and perhaps have never met?  Will I?

Just as I expected the staff at my theological college and the congregation at my Training Church to see through the fraud I felt I was, I find it hard not to think that the congregations I am so looking forward to serve will see through the veneer too.  Will they see that they can teach me more than I can teach them?

And then there is the aspects of a cleric’s life that I have no experience of doing, of officiating at baptisms, weddings, funerals. They are moments of immense importance for all involved, and immense privilege for the person who officiates, which is why the thought of stepping up to the front to actually do that terrifies me.  

I shared my thoughts and fears with my Training Supervisor, the vicar at the church I have been placed at for the majority of my training, and she smiled.  “You’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome”, she said, “but that’s a good sign”.  She had, has, confidence that I will be able put my training into practice – the evidence she has seen has proved that to her even if it hasn’t proved it to me.  That I don’t feel ready, and worry about being able to do the very thing I have been dreaming about for years, is not only normal but healthy.  Instead of knowing I can do it and finding out I can’t, far better to think I can’t and find out I can.  Instead of trying to implement the ministries I have dreamt up in isolation, far better to discern what ministries are needed.  

I thought I knew what God was going to call me to do bring a curacy, now I know I don’t.  What I do know is that although I will be discerning and applying,  I will also be learning.  I will be learning from priests excited to pass on their experience and help me form new ones. I will be learning from congregations hopefully excited by having another person eager to serve them and others.  I will be learning from God, b who is kind and patient enough to take me through things step by step.

As has happened before, people have more faith in me than I do.  The part of me that knows that those who say that I am ready are right might be currently overcome by panic, but that panic will dissipate.  Soon, I hope, the comfort of theory will be replaced by the delight of reality.

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

Testing the limits

2384200Geraint Thomas riding to victory in the 2018 Tour de France (Source: Eurosport)

Over the course of 3 long-read blog posts I am reviewing my first year as an Ordinand, each post focused on 1 of the 3 words that sum up my first year: tea, testing and transformation.  This, the second post in the series, is all about testing, and no, they haven’t brought in doping tests for prospective priests in the Church of England.  

One section of life where tests for performance enhancing drugs is common place is sport, and in particular cycling.  Each July athletes race in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France.  For 3 weeks cyclists mix sprinting for glory with climbs up some of the highest and toughest mountains that Europe have to offer.  It is a tremendous feat of endurance just for a person to make it to the end on the Champs Élysées in Paris.  This first year of training has similarly felt like a feat of endurance.

Continue reading

Mr Tea

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More tea, Ordinand?

Tea.  Testing.  Transformational.  Three words which capture the essence of my first year of Ordination Training.  This post, the first of 3 blog posts reviewing the year, is all about the power of a cup of tea.  Well, partly.  It’s also about self-awareness and mental health.

A travelling tea set I found in the French town of Périgueux seemed just the thing for a trainee vicar who would often be away from home at a theological college.  Contained within hinged cylindrical metal case, held closed by 2 leather straps, were a trinity of tea caddies and an infuser.  It played up to the stereotype of “More Tea Vicar”, but did so on my terms: the blends of tea inside were drinkable.  Just as I don’t like instant coffee but love coffee brewed from the bean, I love lots of varieties of tea but can’t stand the crowds’ favourite of English Breakfast Tea or ‘Builder’s Tea’.  This, I know, is potentially problematic for someone who may be doing pastoral visits in England, but there is always the simplicity of a glass of water!

What was brought as a piece of amusement proved to teach me an important lessons that carried me through the year: the need for solitude and reflection, and to care for my mental health.   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