Now, what was I here for?

A4745AD1-40A8-4FA0-96DB-A9AC3FD9F529

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.

The regularity of life meant that although time for study was limited it was at least fairly predictable. The hours after my children had gone to bed provided several hours with which to delve deeply into my studies but even short moments proved to be useful. The key was being focused and not letting time slip away. Instead I needed to seize every opportunity that presented itself: lunch breaks were chances to study rather than browse Twitter or the shops; my children’s swimming lessons were no longer times to catch up with friends or read a magazine but opportunities to reflect on a text from college.

It would be wrong to suggest that every spare waking moment was spent wrestling with a new theological theory – as well as being focused I also needed to be honest with myself. I realised the need to plan to do or achieve little or nothing. I needed to build in time for distraction and procrastination. There is no point fooling ourselves that we will not be distracted or take time to get going: pretending that we will not is a recipe for stress once it becomes apparent that not enough has been done in the time that had been available.

Adding study to my life had an interesting side-effect. With my mind constantly on study topics it became difficult to think of much else. So, although I was being encouraged to constantly reflect on my experiences and studies, I found I didn’t have the mental capacity to think much beyond them. If something wasn’t part of the regular routine and not put in my diary or ‘to-do’ list it was easily forgotten, making me even more dependent on others to ensure certain things were done. Whilst there is enough life for me away from my studies to keep me outside of a theological bubble it is clear that I will need to stop occasionally to take notice of the world outside and my connection with it (something I suspect writing blog posts may help me with).

The importance of stopping to relax and to spend time with family and friends is very much apparent. It would have been all too easy thee past few months to fill every waking moment with study but work without relaxation or time with the people we love is detrimental in the long-term – it was being in college that showed this most starkly.

Between this blog post and my last I have had 2 weekends and a day in college, the rest being done online via video-conferencing, downloadable study material, leading a study group and various church-linked meetings and activities. Whilst being in college was welcomed, and is an essential part of my way of studying, being there meant that I not only missed time with my family but was unable to study the material for that week. Keeping from falling behind schedule with the work in such circumstances is challenging and increases the intensity of study on the days either side of them.

It is perhaps not surprising that somethings just haven’t happened. I haven’t been able to meet with my Spiritual Director of the past 4 years since I began training; our mutual schedules have never been in alignment, so much so that I am in the process of finding another who can meet in the evenings or weekends.

The tutors at college encourage us to keep a journal in which to write our reflections on what we do, learn and experience, and not just from our studies. But much as I constantly reflect in my head I have been poor at getting those thoughts down on paper, perhaps I need to challenge myself to write more blog posts! One reason I haven’t, other than time and capacity, is that it is difficult to write about what I am studying because I am still trying to understand it. There are posts about the emotional, spiritual and community aspect of training waiting to be written but until I do find the time and capacity to write them my Twitter account (@pilgrimexplorer) will continue to fill the gap – Twitter’s limited character count encourages short and regular postings, although I don’t think it’s quite what my tutors had in mind.

The necessity to plan ahead and to make good and focused use of each day became clear fairly quickly, as was working at a sustainable pace and having something to look forward to. Having 1 evening each week to relax with the family at the end of our respective weeks has become sacrosanct and the motivation to knuckle down and study at other times. Plan as I must, flexibility is the key to studying whilst working and being a parent, not least to prevent becoming isolated from the world outside of the daily routines. Spending time with friends has also proved its worth in keeping sane but for each moment taken out of study to be with friends another needs to be found to take its place, it is a constant trade-off of study and relaxation.

At Christmas my college is shut for 2 weeks and whilst that doesn’t mean I can’t afford to have 2 weeks off studying (my next tutorial is on 2nd of January 2018!), it does mean I can afford to stop and take in the reason I am doing all this training in the first place. And so as I prepare to go with my family to church to celebrate the birth of our saviour I wish you a happy Christmas, may God bless and guide you in the year ahead.

1259B467-9C0D-45A0-9BF1-72D8A91D727F

Nothing to lose

 

IMG_1570

Preparing to worship at New Wine

 

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. Continue reading

Time Turning

 

61LWBnXr6NL._SL1002_

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

im-not-there-photography-pol-ubeda-hervas-1-600x600

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

walks-and-walking-morwenstow-walk-in-cornwall-this-way-not-that-way

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

Silent Running

img_0579

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.

Continue reading

Guilty as not charged

A picture showing the police id parade and line up from the film The Usual Suspects

I am used to be one of the usual suspects

I know I’m guilty of something, I just don’t know what it is.

When a car horn is blown or its lights flashed in my direction I look to see what I have done wrong and, usually, find nothing. When my name is called out in the street I look round expecting to be admonished but see a child being called back into the safety of his parents instead. When my boss asks to meet with me in private I walk into the room expecting to told off but leave having been encouraged. Perhaps it is down to the suspicion that my time of reckoning for all the times I have done something wrong and got away with it has arrived. Continue reading

Comfort Blankets

There is a part of England where I will forever be trying to save a drowning lady, our hands stretching out towards each other within a storm that Jesus has come to calm.

A few years ago I had been ask to model for an artist leading a team of others designing and making a tapestry for their church. I was, apparently, a perfect match for the image of St James that they wanted to portray in a scene depicting Jesus calming a storm with His power and truth as He instructed the disciples to become fishers of men. As I set off for my third and final Examining Chaplain I diverted to the church to accept an invitation to see the completed work.

Standing some distance away from the tapestry my likeness shone out like a reflection, but as I drew closer I became fixated on my fabricated eyes which were locked onto the unseen face of the lady fighting for survival in the storm. The tension in the tapestry was palpable, yet despite the turbulence threatening to envelop the situation my expression was calm, emanating from a security found in Christ that was being extended to the lady in the water. I wanted save the lady in the physical world but Jesus’s presence hinted at a saving in which I would be simply serve as a link between the lady and Christ.

Continue reading

Do Worry, Be Happy

11_98b9161f

Your thoughts will be discerned

I am an advocate for worriers. I know that Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow but to concentrate on seeking His Kingdom (Matthew 6:25-34), so worrying about the latter must be okay!

Worrying is a matter of perspective. One person’s worry is another person’s preparation, and so it has been with me prior to each Examining Chaplain meeting I have had. Last week I had my second of three, and it was the one had most reason to worry about and prepare for: the Examining Chaplain I went to see had seen and interrogated me before (see A Tale of Two Storms). She reminded me of Miss Marple as her likeness in age, look and character could hardly be separated from the infamous character. Continue reading