Going to a BAP, again!

My retreat from social media is over. My return to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) has been completed. The results are in and a chapter of my life that begun back in January 2013 is over. It has involved 1 Vocations Chaplain, 5 Examining Chaplains, 3 Diocesan Directors of Ordinands (DDOs), 2 Bishops’ Advisory Panels, 2 Panel Secretaries, 6 Bishops’ Advisors and 2 Bishops; with far greater numbers of people that have accompanied on my journey with encouragement, wisdom and prayers.

But what happened? As often is the case there is a before, during and after to this extended blog post of going to my second BAP. Whilst my blog post Strange Days (aka Going to a BAP) covered what goes on at a BAP in detail this post will aims to illustrate the value of finding peace and living in the moment with God through challenging times, because returning to a second BAP was truly a challenge. As for the result? Well, it wouldn’t be right to write the ending before the beginning!



Jesus on the Cross, within St Mary Magdalene Chapel within St Mary’s Convent, Wantage, one of my favourite places to pray in the convent.

As my BAP approached I had decided to pause the blog and to retreat from social media to I focused on what was important: discerning God’s will for and call on my life (see Silent Running). As a sense of impending doom building as each day took me closer to the BAP I realised that simply abstaining from social media would not be enough, I needed to take it further. I needed to go places and do something I had ever done before. I needed go on a spiritual retreat.

That I had never gone on a retreat had been noted in the reports that had been sent to the Advisors in advance of the BAP. It wasn’t for want of will that I had never been on one though. Much as I could see the benefit of a retreat I had never been able to justify deflecting the time and money from my family’s needs to enable me to go on one. But as the retreat from social media focused my mind on avoiding making the same mistakes as I had leading up to and during my first BAP, the value of a spiritual retreat to both myself and my family overcame my objections. When one then came to my attention that would take place immediately before my BAP I seized the opportunity and booked a place; the circumstances surrounding it suggested it was no mere coincidence but God-sent.

Given I had become particularly interested in the concept and value of silence it seemed appropriate that the retreat I set off for would be a silent one in the company of nuns. It proved to be more fruitful than I could have imagined.

Silence became my instant friend. The removal of all distractions and calls upon my time enabled me to hear things otherwise so easily missed. As I listened to the silence I began to hear much more. Each chime of the bells emanating from the convent sounded out the power of prayer and the everlasting presence of God to all with ears to hear it. The distant drone of car tyres reinforced the peace of being still and unhurried. I felt no urgency and no need of praying for specifics, the silence had awoken my soul to feel God’s gentle words and suggestions.

I was living in the moment with God and it was good. I had surrendered control of my thoughts and allowed God to lead me to places it needed to go. He helped me to release my fears of what was to come in the BAP and in the resulting decision. He helped me to appreciate those that had gone before me and the work He had been doing within me. He helped me to trust that whatever was to happen He would continue to provide the peace and the direction for my life. And through the retreat He also added a whole convent to the numbers who would be earnestly praying for me and the Advisers in the week to come.

I had one more meal with my family, one more bedtime story to tell and one more school run to drive, but the peace and presence of God that had seeped into my soul during the retreat remained and carried me through what came next. As I stepped on board the train towards my second BAP and all that I knew lay ahead of me, little did I know just how intense it would be.


I arrived at the venue for my BAP particularly early and to my pleasant surprise was guided immediately to my room. The time granted to me before the proceedings would begin turned my room into a sanctuary and a continuation of the retreat I had left 24 hours before. Just as within the convent I had felt no need to hurry or be somewhere or with someone, so I felt no need to socialise with the other BAP candidates arriving or to seek an escape from the venue to pray. I had a job to do and I knew that in order to do it I needed to retain my connection with the peace and presence of God, socialising would happen but it would not be chased after. My focus and determination led me to forgo the somewhat traditional evening escape from a BAP to the pub and seek the solitude I needed instead.

When the time came for the BAP to begin I descended the stairs and entered the group room for the first session: the traditional ice-breakers designed to ease tension and help both candidates and advisors to get to know each other. As the time we had together lengthened I could see the unspoken hopes and fears contained within each fellow candidate; the joy I saw led me to praise and the pain led me to prayers.

The Personal Inventory designed to extract quick and unpolished answers and evidence against the selection criteria came and the answers flowed. As before a request to write a tombstone epitaph was made and as before I could not contain my wry take on it: “No longer at this address, returned to sender” was my answer intended with both humour and seriousness. Thankfully it was received as intended by the Advisor whom received it for the interview focusing on the associated criteria.

It was what happened next that set me on edge and began a spiral of incidences that made me fear for my ability to stay the course and see the BAP through to its conclusion: I entered a room for the final group session of the day last, and significantly so; everyone’s eyes bore into me as I sat down. I could almost hear the advisors write a black mark against my name. Whilst the discernment process had forced me to analyse all aspects of myself, the BAP turned it up to 11. Minor and insignificant points that in normal life would not be noticed or considered worthy of note became things which threatened to derail my entire journey. The end was so close but felt fso, so far!

The presentations took place the next morning with the same goodwill as before, each candidate willing the others along in both their listening and speaking. I cringed and made a mental note when I engaged in the discussion I chaired in a way I instantly realised was not ideal: I had corrected an irrelevant falsehood rather than simply allowed it to be heard and forgotten. I left, even more on edge than before, to begin work on my nemesis: the Pastoral Exercise. As I began to find traction and make progress with the task I looked up at my clock: it was 13:02 and I was late for lunch.

I ran to the dining room to find everyone eating and that the only seat available was beside the Adviser that was scheduled to interview me immediately after lunch. To make it worse he was the Adviser I feared the most and was to interview me against the collection of criteria that worried me the most. I apologised profusely and was told no offence had been taken or black mark made against me but the encouragement made little impact on me, the damage had been done. When I returned to my room I was hit by an anxiety attack and wanted to run away but my feet would not move. It was as though I was being kept at the BAP against my will because my will at that moment was not God’s; He acted as my anchor to help me weather the storm.  I found my drawn to the chapel, to gaze upon Jesus on the Cross.  As I did I heard a gentle voice over the noise of my anxiety “I love you.  I love you”.  God was on the case.

A Sanctuary for Strange Days

Once again a sanctuary during my BAP

I entered into the room for my first interview with a mixture of fear and dread. In hindsight it is unsurprising what happened next: when asked how I was I gave account of why I felt on edge and burst into tears. It was not the start I had wanted but was perhaps the start I needed. The tears released the pressure that had built up within me and enabled the Advisor to demonstrate a kindness and understanding that replaced the detached demeanour I had observed. I quickly regained my composure, peace returned and I left content having enjoyed the conversation that had taken place.

The second interview I had was in the same place as the equivalent interview at my first BAP but the experience was very different. The similar interview at my previous BAP had been an extended set of rapid fire questions that left me bruised and battered. This time my answers had been noted, my approach to life apparently understood and smiles exchanged. It was over quicker than expected too and I left to spend the evening trying to find my way through the Pastoral Exercise.

The peace and joy I had been granted through my first two interviews stood me in good stead during my final one the following day, which was just as well given yet another shaky start. As we began my phone, which had been on silent for months, rang loudly from my pocket. It was my children’s school calling, most likely because they could not get hold of my wife (the school she was working at was being inspected by Ofsted during my BAP). I declined the call, apologised profusely once again, and the interview began. As before the interview carried on as though no faux pas had been made, and as before it was an interview full of joy. All that was left was to read over my response for the Pastoral Exercise again and again and again, before I finally swallowed hard and sent it off to be printed and handed in. I prayed I had properly applied the lessons I had learnt from those far wiser than I.

I left the BAP happy and content. The work God and others had done with me in addressing the painful truths my first BAP had uncovered had been fruitful: my focus was not on me but on others. I had still referred to my own experiences in conversations but this time I did so to an appropriate level gained from a healthy perspective and an awareness of myself and my company. The mistakes I felt or knew I had made during the 3 days were, in truth, minor ones blown out of proportion and perspective by my anxious and over-analytical self. I could do no more than hope and pray that the Advisers had had their questions and concerns answered, and had seen God’s will for and within me.



The Corpus Chapel at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, a place for me to decompress after my BAP.

I did not rush home but continued to remain in a retreat of sorts, spending time with a family member living nearby, going to Evensong somewhere I was anonymous, and meeting up with my first DDO. Although we had not been in contact with each others for 3 years my name had repeatedly come to her in her prayers, and she had contacted me when she had heard of my return to a BAP. We met and embraced like old friends and it was a meeting full of joy and celebration of each other’s lives. I left to return home and wait for the result of the BAP.

The peace and contentment which I had been gifted through the retreat, and which had help me not just to survive but enjoy the BAP, remained in place in the days that followed. The only interruptions were the well intentioned questions asking how things had gone, and the realisation that moments of significance in the decision making process were happening: I had felt rather queasy when I realised that the Advisers would have made their decisions and recommendations; and when the time came when the Church of England’s Ministry Division were due to email the report containing the recommendations to my Bishop and DDO I felt worse. Not that these were the only moments that disturbed my peace.

Leading up to, during and after the BAP I found myself admonishing myself anytime I felt hopeful that I would be recommended to start training for ordination. Given what had happened before (see my post-BAP 1 blog posts in my timeline) I had decided it was better to expect the worse and be surprised by the best. As the time came for the letter to arrive that would tell me my fate an increasing sense of dread came, I knew that opening the letter would be very difficult and reading it even harder.

I had been told that the Bishop would read the Advisers’ report as soon as possible, come to a decision and write a letter to me which would be posted. A telephone call from my DDO to ask how I was and how the BAP had gone was encouraging but left me feeling on edge, she didn’t suggest any change to the plan but did ask about my whereabouts on that day. When the day came I tried to settle my increasing sense of foreboding and readjust to waiting until the following week for the news.

And so it was unexpected when my telephone rang at the end of the day Ministry Division had sent the report to my diocese. I heard my DDO’s voice and instantly prepared myself for the bad news, but it wasn’t. The Advisers had recognised and affirmed my calling, and had enthusiastically recommended that I start training for ordination!

I found it hard to take in the news and only heard snippets of the summary I was given over the phone. Whilst the Advisers at my first BAP had been so damning of my character and ‘calling’, the Advisers at my second had been quite the opposite. When the phone call ended I did not find myself excitedly jumping about though elation, instead a sense of relief came upon me that I had not been deluded, my sense of calling had been recognised by others. The journey that had consciously begun over 4 years before had come to an end.

The letter did not arrive for 2 more days, and until it did and I saw the words confirming the recommendation I found it hard to truly accept it was true, so much so that I could not tell anyone of the news until I held it in my hands. The summary report from my Bishop was very encouraging and constructive, and it was interesting to read that the areas I held back during the BAP because of the previous BAP’s Advisors’ comments were the areas they felt I could have been more ‘me’! A meeting with my DDO to look over the full report will come in a few weeks time, and there is the small task of finding a theological college to train at, but for now it is time to celebrate!

Information about my retreat

My retreat was organised and led by Michelle Eyre of Discovering Prayer at St Mary’s Convent in Wantage.  The Sisters were wonderfully hospitable and accommodating of those of us staying, and the convent was a perfect sanctuary in which to spend time alone with God.  I cannot recommend it highly enough and I know more retreats are planned so please contact Michelle and the Discovering Prayer website for more information.

Silent Running


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.

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The Lord’s Prayer at the School Gate


Waiting at the school gate in Wellow, Somerset

Each school day morning I arrive in a village with my children before any other family. We park, we chat, we pass around the tic-tacs (another story), then walk down to the school gate where we watch the traffic pass by and the rest of the families arrive.  It is a time I cherish, a time to share and a time to pray, and so I do.

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Silent Thoughts

Warning: this post contains plot details and spoilers from the film Silence by Martin Scorsese.


Martin Scorsese is not one afraid to ask challenging questions about the nature of man and faith, questions that some find simply the mention of a step too far, even heretical. Faith is something that has been a subject of exploration in his life and films. Having once sought to become a priest he famously adapted and filmed Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ, exploring the idea that Jesus may have struggled with his contrasting human and divine nature.

In his latest movie Silence he has taken more challenging areas to explore by taking Shusako Endo’s novel about 2 Jesuit priests who travel to 17th Century Japan in search of their former mentor who, according to rumours, had renounced his faith. At that time Christians in Japan were suffering under a brutal regime seeking to wipe out the faith. They were forced to renounce their faith, an act known as apostasy, by stepping on an image of Christ known as a fumie. Those that refused to apostatise were tortured, often to a slow and excruciating death.

The title alludes to Gods seeming silence or absence whilst people suffer for their belief in Him, and as the priests watch the persecution unforced around them their faith is severely tested. Whilst believers’ faith gives them strength, the priests struggle to maintain their own faith as the silence breeds doubts.

The film illustrates some of the challenges the persecuted church went through then, and still does today. One of those challenges is the decision whether to profess and practice a faith in public and risk the consequences or to hide their faith away, even publicly renounce or denounce it, and consciously act against the God they privately believe in.

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Hope Echoes


You are wondering through the cold winter night with the thoughts and worries of the year gone by running through your head and see a glow from behind some barn doors. Intrigued, you approach it. You notice it is ajar and as you peep inside you see a group of people gathered around something. They notice you and beckon you in. The warmth of the light and fire is matched by the welcome you receive. Your eyes take in the smiles before they descend upon a young couple who seem to glow with joy. They invite you to come closer. As you approach you become transfixed on a new born baby the lady is holding. She lowers the baby into your arms and he nuzzles into you: a new life full of new promise and possibilities, lying happily in your embrace.

The big cause for celebration that we’ve been looking forward to all year has finally come amongst us. Yes, the latest Star Wars film is now in the cinemas! The first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, is a tale of light overcoming darkness but the hope but we are counting down the days to celebrate the greatest gift of hope ever to have been given to us. And after the difficult year we are coming to the end of we could do with some hope, but the hope we have is not a new hope, it is a hope from the past, present and future.  Is a hope that Isaiah knew was coming, a hope that Joseph lived out when Mary most needed it, and a hope that continues to echo throughout the world to this day. Continue reading

Depressingly (dis)honest

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 2012, Photo by Frank Gunn

Walking the tightrope

Over recent years we have seen an increased awareness about mental health issues but how honest can we be when talking about them? How certain can we be that as well as more people talking about mental health issues more people understand them?

In a blog committed to being open and honest about what it can be like to discern whether I should be ordained it is perhaps strange to question the degree of honesty, but every disclosure brings with it a consequence. People disclosing their struggles with mental health can get sidelined and loose jobs.  I fear they might find routes towards ordination blocked too because of misunderstanding speaking louder than God’s will.

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Guilty as not charged

A picture showing the police id parade and line up from the film The Usual Suspects

I am used to be one of the usual suspects

I know I’m guilty of something, I just don’t know what it is.

When a car horn is blown or its lights flashed in my direction I look to see what I have done wrong and, usually, find nothing. When my name is called out in the street I look round expecting to be admonished but see a child being called back into the safety of his parents instead. When my boss asks to meet with me in private I walk into the room expecting to told off but leave having been encouraged. Perhaps it is down to the suspicion that my time of reckoning for all the times I have done something wrong and got away with it has arrived. Continue reading

Today, I remember

Remembrance Day Poppy

11th November, Remembrance Day (Image © The Royal British Legion)

Today I remember my grandfathers who fought for freedom from the bowels of a boat in uniform and from the shadows in disguise.  

Today I remember families left behind, too often waiting in vain for their loved ones to return.

Today I remember those living under skies of fire in basements beneath bombarded buildings and childhoods lost in the rubble.

Today I remember those fleeing torture or death at the hands of their neighbours, those abandoned by governments local and global, and those swallowed up by seas of water and despair.

Today I remember a soldier’s ear healed by the Christ that cried out in pain.  

Today I remember lights in darkness, hope amidst hopelessness.

Today I remember sacrifice and a cross of salvation. 

Today I remember Jesus.

Today I remember life, fragile and eternal.

Today I remember to give thanks.  

Today I remember the part I must play to end war and sustain peace.  

Today I remember the need to share signposts to God.

Today I remember.

Who and what do you remember today?

Carry On Calling!


The path of discernment is a right carry on!

The discernment road can be a rocky one, a journey of soaring highs and rough and rutted lows. My journey has been more of the latter of late. The journey to my first BAP was pretty smooth, an enjoyable glide along an undulating path before gravity took hold and sped me into a post-BAP crash. Since then I have found myself being a willing but wary participant on a road to a possible second BAP with enthusiasm, scepticism, devotion and despair as travelling companions.

The Church of England recently ramped up their efforts to encourage people to come forward for ordination, in part to help fill the gap left by retiring clergy. The messages emanating from the church’s leadership and the advertising campaigns have been notable for their absence of anyone over 35, with the focus being on young adults. This focus hasn’t been limited to advertising, the changes in ordination training and funding announced recently also signify a shift of focus towards those younger than me. I was already starting to get the impression that prospective ordinands over 35 were not welcome or appreciated by the Church of England when a new recruitment campaign video was released. Although full of encouraging stories it reinforced my cynical suspicions that my life experience and age might a curse and not a blessing (see One Foot in the Graveyard). Continue reading

Comfort Blankets

There is a part of England where I will forever be trying to save a drowning lady, our hands stretching out towards each other within a storm that Jesus has come to calm.

A few years ago I had been ask to model for an artist leading a team of others designing and making a tapestry for their church. I was, apparently, a perfect match for the image of St James that they wanted to portray in a scene depicting Jesus calming a storm with His power and truth as He instructed the disciples to become fishers of men. As I set off for my third and final Examining Chaplain I diverted to the church to accept an invitation to see the completed work.

Standing some distance away from the tapestry my likeness shone out like a reflection, but as I drew closer I became fixated on my fabricated eyes which were locked onto the unseen face of the lady fighting for survival in the storm. The tension in the tapestry was palpable, yet despite the turbulence threatening to envelop the situation my expression was calm, emanating from a security found in Christ that was being extended to the lady in the water. I wanted save the lady in the physical world but Jesus’s presence hinted at a saving in which I would be simply serve as a link between the lady and Christ.

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