When explaining to people some of the circumstances surrounding my forthcoming curacy, I have been beset by a sense of guilt, a fear that people will question my commitment to my calling, every time I explain why it’s panning out as it is:
- I will be serving as a Self Supporting Minister (SSM, same as non-stipendury, it means I won’t get paid, just receive my expenses). I’m a freebie basically!
- This means I don’t have to work full time, and have provisionally agreed to be in the parish 2.5 days a week, plus Sunday’s, to give time for the requirements of training and further study. There are logistical consequences to this for family and parish, which will be the subject of my next post, and there will be a nominated day-off, I just don’t know what it will be yet. That’s an issue to be discussed and resolved elsewhen.
- I will be doing what is known as ‘primary’ Initial Ministerial Education (IME) such that at some point during my curacy I can test whether my calling really is permanently as an ‘assistant priest’ (which normally means you remain SSM) or whether I am in fact called to some form of ‘incumbency’, i.e. will I always help another priest run a parish, or might I one day be a ‘proper’ vicar?
- Over and above my uncertainty as to which of these contexts my calling ultimately lies in, part of the reason for being comfortable with my selection as an ‘assistant priest’ candidate for ordination was so that we didn’t disrupt our son’s education at a critical point; being a candidate for stipend ministry from the start would have made us deployable, and we would have had to move house as well as church. We weren’t prepared to allow that to happen when our son is in the middle of his A-levels! Had he been younger or older, the situation would have been different, but parenting has for us always been partly about giving kids stability at critical stages in their lives, and this is one of them.
And there’s the nub of the guilt trip. There are some Christian’s in churches I’ve attended over the years who I think would question my commitment to my calling to the priesthood because as a family we aren’t prepared to move our son in the middle of this critical period of his life. I’m currently preparing to lead some worship based on Philippians 2:1-13, and whilst I would say I am considering the interests of others (the lad’s education and therefore his future), I’m not sure I’m quite living up to the Christ-like attitude of taking a servant nature to the point of sacrifice.
Whilst NO-ONE HAS criticised our decision to restrict my willingness or ability to serve God at his bidding wherever we’re called, this still leaves me with this nagging sense that people are firstly surprised, and secondly don’t always quite approve.
Looking deep within myself, I don’t think God has a problem with us putting family first in this way at this time (he gifted me a loving family before he called me to ordination); if he did I think I’d have found that this journey had stopped long before now.
So I wonder if it’s actually me that has the problem? Is there a sense in which I fear that by putting limits on what God can do in my life, I’ve closed off a little bit of me/us as a no-go area to him for the moment (in a way I didn’t in earlier parts of my ministerial journey), and that this might have impacted on my connection with him? The latter is something I’ve been battling through these formational months, and now on top of it, I wish I could leave the sense of guilt behind. Perhaps it’s invisible scars of the past, I don’t know.
I wonder if others have experienced times when they feel they’ve put necessary limits on what they’ll give over to God, and it’s had spiritual consequences? Or, should I stop worrying and know that God has blessed me with both a family and a calling that help to promote and celebrate the importance of family life?
In the mean-time what I do know is that I feel very positive about the future, and there is a strong feeling of joy welling up within me, as I anticipate being able to engage once again in serving a parish as a minister, and later as a priest.