Being sensible and realistic – ordination training

The Holy Hill (Ripon College Cuddesdon) photographed from long distance.
The Holy Hill (Ripon College Cuddesdon) photographed from long distance.

“It’s formational.”

Actually, I’m quite grateful that no-one has used those words to me recently. However true they might be. I might just have groaned in anguish (or worse) if they had – even though it’s probably true.

The best email I’ve had recently was when my Pastoral Tutor wrote to me saying I was being “sensible and realistic”. I like sensible and realistic, I can do them. They’re what I’m good at. It’s the deep analysis and criticism of a theological idea that I’m struggling with, as another tutor recently pointed out, quite accurately – though I could have told him that too!

Although I know I couldn’t have recognised my calling to ordained ministry without being a Reader first, having the Foundation Degree in Ministry and Theology, taught through practical skills and excellent in worship leading and preaching skills we really don’t get in ordination training (that comes in Initial Ministerial Education 4-7 for curates I think) has meant I had to go on a post-grad course part-time, with the original intention of getting an MA. But that requires a huge leap of academic skills, especially for a practical learner like me. Though I’ve not failed a portfolio yet – progress has been excruciatingly painful and SSSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWW.

There have been additional factors. Last academic year my initial Academic Supervisor left, and my new one, though lovely, wasn’t in college the days I was. Then there was a bit of a squabble between my Diocese and Min Div over funding me as a mixed-mode student which left the college short of money and which I eventually had to be told about so I could write supporting material and avoid attending a Candidates Panel.

This year, and particularly since December, my health has been the issue. Nothing earth shattering, but being a lady of increasing age… Medical intervention has proved less than helpful, at least in the short-term. I’ve been really grateful for the support of all sorts of folk, on-line and in person. I’m working on a blog post about that too, so you have been warned.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’m academically only half-way through what I need to achieve for a PGDip after three-quarters of the course. The aim is now to do another two portfolios by ordination day, leaving the last to be completed by the end of August; one Old Testament, one Mission and Evangelism, before a final Theological Reflection.

What have a learnt from all this?  

Firstly, that I actually knew myself quite well – I was always unconvinced I could do an MA, but at the time there wasn’t an alternative (I’m told that Cuddesdon hope to offer an alternative under the new Common Awards) and lots of people thought I could, including my DDO and husband! They’ve both been right before, so obedient to a fault, and with little choice, I went with the idea. The sense of relief that people are actually now starting to believe that I’m not designed for such an academic task is great – even if means giving up on a great research idea. I may go back to the idea later – though not via an academic qualification, that I can assure you.

Secondly, I’ve learnt that we change. Women that is (men may do too, in other ways, I don’t know). Our abilities are altered it seems, at least temporarily, by the changes that start for some women rather earlier than they would really wish. I’ve not been the same woman, with the same focus and concentration, that I was during Reader Training (2006-9). If you read some of my posts since Christmas you might realise that a little black dog takes hold occasionally too. It’s taken till this month to realise that the hormonal changes I’m probably experiencing could be the cause, rather than me having some sort of mental health problem, which is what I’d started to fear was the case. Now, I’m trying medical and less proven techniques for getting on with life as I know it can be lived.

Thirdly, my placements, news of my title post, and brief forays into the pulpit and service leading, have kept the light of my calling alive. It’s still there. I believe God still wants to use me in parish ministry. That’s the one thing that’s kept me going… and needs to continue to do so in the coming months.

How might my experiences help others? Well I’d say (now) be willing to try what others think is best, but don’t bottle your fears and concerns too long when they look like they’re not working out. You have to be willing to go, cap in hand if necessary, to the appropriate people, and say you’re not coping – WHATEVER the reason. If that means talking about gynaecological issues with a monk, so be it! Talking helps, I promise you, and it means people will be praying, even when you’re feeling like you can’t.

Lots of stuff going on then, lots that is… oh darn it, let’s call it formational 😉



  1. Not *liked* as I like you having a tough time of it. But liked as in a liking for your openness, willingness to share with others for their benefit, and that you have now a way forward.


    • Thanks Richard, indeed the aim was both to update those I know who have been concerned or involved, but also to offer what little wisdom I have gained to others on the journey. There is a danger I feel that some will take the silence of tutors & advisors as a lack of care, which isn’t true. You have to be honest & direct to enable people to care.


  2. It seems to me that you’ve coped brilliantly in dealing with the hard, difficult and nearly impossible in the face of the issues that you describe. And it’s refreshing to know that people who are supporting you are doing so in prayer and helpfulness which has allowed you to journey on, although the outstanding workload sounds daunting to me, and I’ve never been anywhere near either a foundation degree or anything more academic that a short uni course.

    What it shows me from your example is that anything is possible with the help of God’s grace, amply supported by helpful people and prayer. I believe that you’re ordination will be something that will confirm to you the blessing that your ministry will become and the just how far you’ve traveled so far – with another journey to start from that.

    God doesn’t work in half measures does he?


    • Thank you for spotting God’s grace when I’ve been very limited in my ability to spot it for myself.

      There have been times when God’s grace has seemed very far away of late – especially when medical things designed to help have just made things infinitely worse! It’s the friends and pray-ers that have been the biggest strength, and I suspect will be right through ordination and beyond, certainly until the dratted course is done. I suspect my biggest experiences of God’s grace, in my life, and possibly more noticeably in the life of others where I find it easier to spot, will come once I’m stuck into parish ministry.


  3. Really good post, Rachel. And in the midst of all the difficulties and stresses, it seems to me, as I reflect on what I have just read, that your sense of calling and vocation seems clearer and stronger than for many months; almost since you started the training. Something to do with us being even more aware of God’s presence when things are tough?
    Come and theologically reflect over a cup of tea some day!


    • Have I been more aware of God’s presence through the rubbish stuff? Good question.

      I’m not convinced I really have, though this week as the ‘issues’ and mood has lifted (at least for a brief moment) I have been able to reflect more coherently, and acknowledge the wisdom and help (spiritually and practically) of friends old and new. Rather it’s felt more like the devil conspiring every which way he can against me making progress, either with my studies or with other things that are important to me, like family life.

      However, you’ve spotted something in my written words that I was aware of when writing them – that for the first time in months (certainly since a brief rest-bite during my placement back in Sept/Oct) I am feeling and expressing myself like me again. That has been the biggest gift from God in the last week.

      Now if I could just keep that through the manic weeks of Deacon’s Day, multiple study weekends, Easter School and those last 3 portfolios, that would be really, really good – and a blessing that more than just me could benefit from.

      Yes, tea and reflection sound good. Need to bit of incense too. See you soon.


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