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.

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

Silently Speaking

Sunset over the island of Coll

Listening to the silence

Growing up as the youngest of three, opportunities to talk were few and far between.  Each one had to be seized upon in case it would be a year before another would come again.  Silence was my chance to speak. 

Whatever the truth of my memory, the impact was that silence became an entity that I needed to fill; if I didn’t, and it continued, I would become increasingly uncomfortable.  And so I filled them.  I would jump into the silence with whatever opinion, facts or half-baked humour I could muster.  It wasn’t always the best idea. 

Filling the silence risks not hearing the very thing that needs to be heard.  Increasingly I’ve realised that isn’t me.  

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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

Nothing to lose

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

Continue reading