An authentic Lent – a reflection from discernment

St Mary's Eversley

With less than 5 weeks to go before my Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP), I came to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. This year I had no real need to ask myself what I could do to make the next 40+ days special, for Lent was to form an almost exact parenthesis around my final preparations for for this national selection conference for those seeking ordination.

This year I decided to use ‘Reflections for Lent’ (Church House Publishing) as my Bible reading notes (on my Kindle), to keep me grounded in the lectionary in conjunction with the pattern of Common Worship Morning Prayer (via a wonderful little android app called Pocket Common Worship Prayer also available as a googlechrome app).

The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday was Daniel 9:3-6 and 17-19 and seemed to start almost where my reflections on the Transfiguration had left off a couple of days earlier:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands,… we do not make requests of you because we are righteous.” (Daniel 9:5 and 18)

Martin Percy‘s notes said this:

“We all stand before God and will be judged. Not on what we have amazzed, but on the content, quality and character of our lives… [I know I] will be weighed – and found wanting.”

Various thoughts flowed from this in relation to me offering myself for ordination:

The selectors will be looking at the content, quality and character of my life – that is why the two day selection conference is so daunting because they don’t want to know whether or not you look smart, or can real off good quotations from some books about the priesthood, but what you are like inside. They call it ‘quality of mind’, and much as my friends might make a joke of that phrase in my regard, its about integrity, whether what appears on the surface of my personality and in my application and supporting paperwork, is backed up by what I think and believe in the very core of my being – about my relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

I know before I even go to this selection conference that I will be found wanting. Who, when standing in the present of our glorious Lord, wont be! Yes, the selectors are real humans (lay and ordained) but I expect that the sense of ‘standing in God’s presence’ to be strong. But this idea of being ‘found wanting’ may not (and since I’ve published this, hasn’t) stopped them selecting me for training.

One of the many things I have come to understand better during the process of discernment, is that God calls us to whatever task he has for us, despite “our manifold sins and wickedness” (to quote what I guess is a remembered bit of 1662 liturgy). Being called towards ordination doesn’t make me any better a person than I was, or than anyone else!

I also come to this called ‘unformed’ for this role called “priesthood”, or perhaps as one of my advisor’s suggested ‘slightly formed’ by my experiences of the last couple of years! This is why so much of training for the priesthood is called “formation” because I will undergo a process of change and transformation from my current understandings and perceptions of ministry, to those I will have as a priest. A formation that I guess will last a lifetime.

That evening our evening Holy Communion for Ash Wednesday (shared this year at St Mary’s Eversley) the Old Testament reading was Isaiah 58:1-12, and two things struck me:

1) That I am called to a ministry that sees the things that fill people’s lives with darkness and a poverty of spirit, and seeks to shine Christ’s light into those places so that they can live transformed lives – what I describe as my desire to “come alongside people on God’s behalf.”

2) The vicar called us to live an authentic Lent; one that doesn’t cast aside our normal practices of work and worship with some hollow façade of repentance, but which builds on them so that we are enabled to bring light and transformation to people’s lives. We should be prepared by our Lent actions to live as an Easter people!

For me, this Lent feels like it will be the most “authentic” in this sense that I have ever experienced. It is full of reflections on who I am in the light of both the life of our glorious Saviour, and of my understanding of God’s calling on my life. I will rightly be measured and found wanting, and will need to repent of my sins. But this is part of the preparation I have committed to by following the process of discernment through – and sometime around Easter it will have reached some sort of conclusion as to the way I am called to live out that penitent life.

[Yes, looking back now, a week after having heard on Maundy Thursday that I am indeed recommended for training for ordination, I can say that the match up between Lent and my studies and reflections prior to BAP was a helpful one, but also very special. I know it will never be repeated, but that each Lent will have it’s own distinct flavour as I move through different stages in my ministry among different people.]

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About ramtopsrac

Church of England Priest, child of God, daughter of the New Forest, wife and mother.
This entry was posted in life, ministry, theology - how God fits in and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An authentic Lent – a reflection from discernment

  1. minidvr says:

    Rachel,

    Thanks for your reflection(s). Tomorrow, is exactly 4 weeks to go for my own BAP. I’ve been quietly trying to prepare among the hubbub of normal life. The discipline of following a Lent Course and posting something daily has helped to concentrate my mind – but, now along the way to Pentecost – it feels like a waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend.

    I know that there is so much to do to prepare, and have several sessions booked with my SD to prepare as well as an interview at the training college, which they have insisted on, even before BAP. Much to ponder.

    The strange thing, is that the DDO seems to have cut me adrift. I’ve not had any communication from him since Diocesan Panel in February, and it feels like a loss. It might be deliberate, but not that helpful. He sent me the Part Two paperwork by email to sign and to send back. Which I did, that was the last communication I’ve had. Prepared to the intense contact prior to Diocesan Panel – it seems strange? Time for reflection and to test the sense of vocation?

    Still I’m comforted by the support of my parish and many who are praying for me – it’s that prayer support that I felt when at Diocesan Panel, and which has been such a strength since. Not sure why I have been called, particularly at the wrong end of life – perhaps the first vocation is finished since I retired – and this is his new call to use the rest of the time remaining to serve. I do know that I wouldn’t have been ready in anyway during my working life.

    God’s mystery just goes on and on, and I love that part of it. It’s just waiting in isolation (or so it feels a bit) that is difficult.

  2. ramtopsrac says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you feel cut adrift by your DDO, but from our Twitter discussions I’m aware that you had a lot of the information I received from my DDO in the last week before BAP, several weeks ago, so try not to be too concerned. Talk it over with your SD, but if you have something specific you want to sort in your head that they can’t help with, I should be proactive about contacting your DDO for assistance or advice.

    God’s mystery is unending, and he only reveals as much as we can deal with a step at a time – easy to say but more tricky to live with, I find! I found the isolation of my parish not knowing tricky, somewhere you have much support. I sense that learning to live and minister through a sense of isolation from other people (even our fellow Christians) whilst remaining with a strong sense of calling and service through our personal relationship with Christ, is an important skill that will be developed and tested throughout ‘formation’.

    You continue in my prayers as you wait and prepare for BAP.

  3. Pingback: Dare to Break Bread – a reflection from discernment | A Reader in Writing

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