OK God: Your Call! (Being recommended for ordination training) #fb

The octagon of Ely Cathedral, showing the central figure of Christ in Glory - photographed immediately before my BAP, 26th March 2012

The last few weeks have proved to be the culmination of an eighteen month journey which has changed the whole focus of my future ministry. The final stages of this journey have taken place through Lent, and therefore it seems only right to share my news on Easter Morning!

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!!

For many years (preceding my training and licensing as a Reader in October 2009), various friends and associates have encouraged me to consider ordination, and I have tried hard to ignore it, taking the whole idea as a bit of a joke.

Becoming a Reader was, I now realise, part of the process God put me through to help me take the idea a little more seriously; a time too when I could focus on learning to preach and teach. In the final year of training various people, including some at my placement parish at All Saints Basingstoke, wondered if one day in the future I’d get ordained. Even as I was licensed I was aware that I didn’t quite ‘fit’ Reader ministry, but I thought this was due to my own inadequacies, rather than anything else; still I refused to take the idea of ordination seriously.

Before Paul, our previous vicar at St Peter’s Yateley left in July 2010, he challenged me to seriously consider whether I was in fact called to be ordained. [He actually pinned me up against a wall, in front of my husband, and said he’d had a vision of me taking my first wedding… “and you know what that means!” were his exact words!]

Paul was fond of telling us to test if ‘words of knowledge’ could be put down to “too much cheese” or were really ‘of God’. I promised him I would take the idea seriously, but hoped I could put that off till after the summer. Yet, his challenge was unwittingly echoed by the Royal Navy Padre (now Archdeacon to the Royal Navy) that I worked with on the Royal Marine funeral I assisted with a couple of weeks later. Why, this gentleman asked, was I a Reader and not a Priest?

Then again, before the end of August that summer, our friend (and previous curate at St Peter’s) challenged me over lunch at her house one Sunday: “When are you going to do something about the priesthood?”

It seemed like God was shouting at me to find out why it was that so many people I respected and trusted where saying this to me so vehemently, because I simply didn’t get what they saw in me that said ‘priest’.

To cut a long story short, in the months that followed, with the help and guidance of various people and books, I quickly came to understand that my passion for the church’s place in the community, the more sacramental forms of worship (in its widest sense), and the wider mission of the church (like those I have worked with through Mothers’ Union and my involvement preparing people for ‘occasional offices‘), were all elements of “me” that marked me out as a potential candidate for priesthood. I ached to ‘bless’ people, to come alongside them on God’s behalf in a way that I’m not totally able to as a Reader. It is like wearing a straight-jacket – Reader Ministry fits, but doesn’t give the freedom to really minister in the way I believe God is truly calling me to do.

I now realise that for me, I had to be a Reader to recognise for myself the call to priesthood that others had already identified as the pattern of my future ministry.

Part of the process has also included the setting aside of other foci in my life, including some of the things that had contributed to me reaching this point. For example, before my final selection conference I told fellow Mothers’ Union Trustees in the Diocese of Winchester that I wouldn’t be standing for election at the next triennial (having already set aside editing the MU Diocesan Newsletter ‘Archway’ last year.)

The beautiful garden (and view of Ely Cathedral) at Bishop Woodford House, where my BAP took place.

I understand that for me, the process of discernment and selection has been relatively swift at 18 months. Every advisor and interviewer I have seen, has whole-heartedly endorsed the view that I am called to ordination and this has, I understand, been fully confirmed by the reports that Bishop Jonathan Frost has apparently received following my Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) in Ely in the week before Holy Week. The most important thing about this final part of selection, was the overwhelming sense of God’s peace I experienced, particularly on the first day but throughout this three day selection conference, and also the fact that I enjoyed what was three days of jolly hard work in a stressful situation – especially the three, hour-long interviews!

Bishop Jonathan phoned me with the news that I have been recommended for training for ordination following the Chrism Mass at which he preached in Winchester Cathedral on Maundy Thursday 5th April 2012.

I am so pleased that after being able to share the news with the parish in which I grew up (All Saints, Minstead in the New Forest) on Good Friday; the news will become completely public in St. Peter’s Yateley after Holy Communion on Easter Morning. As I write on Holy Saturday, it feels like someone is finally taking the cork out of a well-shaken bottle of champagne! Finally I can share all the important things that God has been saying to me over the last year or so 😉

So in the coming months I will become what is known as an ‘ordinand’. Since I have already completed a Foundation Degree in Christian Ministry and Theology as part of my Reader Training, I have been asked to complete only two years further part-time studies (rather than three.) This will be at Ripon College Cuddesdon, through a variation of their Oxford Ministry Course. The college is South-East of Oxford and just over an hour’s drive from Yateley. I shall visit college weekly, with two additional weekends training per term, and a summer school. The really scary bit for me is that though registered initially for a Post-Graduate Diploma, this may actually lead to an MA at the end of those two years.

My responsibilities and involvement in St Peter’s will also change, the details of which will probably become clearer over time. What I know at this stage is that with a new vicar in place, those advising me in our Diocesan Discipleship and Ministry Department are content to let me continue worshipping in Yateley as an ordinand. After I have been ordained – likely to be the summer of 2014, I will need to serve a curacy elsewhere in the Diocese; all that lies in the future.

I seem to have said so much, yet know it also is so little of what I have thought and wanted to share over the months. For those that are interested, or want to know more about how one person experienced the process of discernment and selection for ordination in the Church of England, I will write more in the coming weeks.

The back of Alton Abbey during my pre-BAP retreat March 24th 2012

To those who have been part of and prayed for this ‘hidden’ journey, to my colleagues and our new vicar Andy who has encouraged me on the final leg of the journey, to my spiritual director who has helped more than I can ever really reveal, to the DDOs and advisors, and to the monks of Alton Abbey who give me space to think, my particular thanks and praise for all their love and encouragement.

To my family who have cheered me on, and are sharing this journey for the long-haul, I am unendingly grateful – I love them all massively.

And to God, for making himself heard through the babble of my disbelief and inadequate understanding of who he has called me to be, in Jesus name and in the power of the Holy Spirit: To God, be the Glory, Great things He has done!

Remembering our priests, and what we expect of them

HT to Maggi Dawn for the wonderful poem on Priestly Duties by Stewart Henderson.

I have several friends being ordained deacon or priest in the next few weeks, and this made me think and pray especially of them. In fact, just in case they miss this post I shall send it to some of them.

The poem is really powerful, and it should also be read by everyone who attends or even thinks about church: it is a comment on just how much we expect of our priests, and just how unfair we can sometimes be in our expectations of them.

It has also had the interesting effect of making sure that a “sleeping dog”, doesn’t lie completely quiet.

Found myself today looking at Sarum College prospectus (which came unrequested in a Diocesan CMD mailing) and finding I really liked the look of an MA course – I’m not going to, and I probably wouldn’t qualify to be able to, but an MA in Christian Liturgy looks fascinating.

(Also noted today in the Sarum College prospectus – though I can’t find it on the website – that they are offering a training course called “www.bb” – Women Who Would Be Bishops… now that is what I call faith, hope and good forward planning!)

Here we go again… women, priesthood and the episcopate

On a less cheerful note, and commenting on the current top church news story, the other issue that has once again reared it’s ugly head (in the Church of England) is women in the episcopate.

ONE of the things that gets me is how did anyone consider that women could be welcomed into priesthood, but excluded from the episcopate?! The episcopate is surely simply a logical progression – bishops are still priests, in fact still deacons and therefore have pastoral responsibilities that women have had for years without an issue, and this was a ministry the kind of which Jesus welcomed, from women!? Hurumph.

It struck me also that if the party in government behaved like this (letting a quango dictate changes to what is effectively legislative drafting, after the event – if I understand the system correctly) their own party members would probably create a stink, let alone the opposition! I do hope and pray this can go back to Synod and that Synod can re-emphasise what they asked for, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Reading Maggi Dawn and her commentators on the subject is edyfying but frightening; I’m not sure I could leave the Anglican church (as she suggests) in the face of these ‘bullying tactics’… perhaps I’m not close enough to the problem, since I’ve only been called to lay ministry, don’t feel theologically well enough equipped for the fight, or perhaps I’m thinking we can’t let prejudice win by walking away. The idea of a ‘stay at home’ Sunday might make a point, as one of Maggi’s commentators suggests (especially where there are women not presiding and thus leaving noticable ‘holes’ in the pastoral and sacramental care of Anglican flocks) or perhaps women could flashmob their Cathedral services instead that day, but what could the flashmob do?!

In Bosch’s ‘Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission’ (which I’m reading bits of for my assignment) it talks about Jesus Christ who “consistently challenges attitudes, practices and structures” that restrict membership of the Israelite community. If I agree with this reading of the New Testament, by extrapolation do I not believe in a Jesus who would challenge the attitudes practices and structures of the churches formed in his name, including my own? In which case should I stand up with my female friends in or entering the priesthood, and say this sort of behaviour is not what Jesus desires?

I hope a friend won’t mind me quoting her anonymously. She is currently in her last year of training for the Anglican priesthood and said to me today:

“This will not go away as long as women are allowed to pursue their vocation to the priesthood, and it will get worse if the church tries to prevent them once more. Why on earth am I doing this? It’s so painful and I could go back to [a] much less misogynistic profession…”

And yet, the priesthood is the calling to which her fellow Anglicans believe she is called to enter!

It’s all so desperately sad.