Silent Running

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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.

It was in 2013 that I began to document my thoughts, experiences, struggles and challenges of discerning if God was calling me to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. I did so to help me think things through and only decided to publish them when I discovered that although there were lots of blog posts about Going to a BAP I couldn’t find any showing the whole process. I hoped that someone might find the blog posts helpful, what I did not expect was that it would lead to an invaluable source of fellowship, encouragement and prayer. Such things are important and appreciated, and not things I wish to abandon.

In the recovery from my first experience of a BAP I came to realise how unprepared I had been, the BAP came upon me too soon to give me time for proper reflection. The impact of not having been recommended was devastating and I want to do all that I can to avoid a similar reaction, whatever the result.

The first BAP report was a terrible piece of writing, an example of the Church England at it’s pastoral worst (see my timeline for relevant posts). But it did contain some painful truths and over the past three years I have sought to take them onboard and see if they could be addressed. All of my efforts will count for nothing though if when I get to my second BAP I am unable to draw upon and articulate that which I have done and God has revealed to me. Although I feel a sense of peace and excitement as I head to a second BAP I also feel fear, dread and pessimism. I know what came before. I know that how ever I wish I unequivocally knew God’s will, and was confident I could articulate it, I cannot pretend that doubts and uncertainty do not exist.

Much as people may go on a retreat from the distractions of daily life to focus on their relationship with God, so I realise I need to retreat from social media to do that. I need to spend time in prayerful contemplation with God. I need to look at the myriad of reports written about me, my own writing and experiences, and of course the Church of England’s Criteria for Selection. If I can adequately do all that I will have done all that I can to achieve peace with handing the decision about whether I should be ordained or not to others.

It poses a dilemma though: how do I retain the important and valued support through prayer if my presence does not pop up in a person’s mailbox or timeline? It is not a egotistical thought, I do not view myself or my presence as important, rather it is a pragmatic one and one borne out of knowledge of my own failings: with so many things calling for our attention it is simply hard to remember everything; however well intentioned we may be we can all too easily forget about something unless we are somehow reminded.

God is enough. God provides what we need. He can speak and support directly or through others. If I have discerned Him correctly in calling me to retreat from social media He will provide the wisdom, peace and support I need in other and perhaps more direct ways.

I am deliberately not announcing the dates of my BAP, not least because word got out at my first BAP that The Pilgrim Explorer was in attendance! If I am to remain able to concentrate on working with the Advisors to discern God’s will and calling for me I need to retain a sense of anonymity. By not announcing the date I am also buying myself a bit of breathing space after the BAP has ended.

I cannot say how long this retreat from social media will last, irrespective whether I am recommended for ordination or not. Although I am more pragmatic and at peace about the whole process I cannot say how I will react. As much as I can see myself being disappointed if I am not recommended to train for ordination I can also see myself being relieved. Similarly if I am recommended to train for ordination I can see myself being both excited, scared and even doubtful that the Advisors made the correct decision. The decision won’t be the end, it will simply steer the direction my calling will be realised.

I am incredibly grateful for the friends I have made and the fellowship and support I have received through social media; similarly I am humbled to have been able to support and encourage others, and I hope it will continue both ways for a long time to come. Although I won’t be writing blog posts for a while, or popping up on Twitter and Facebook timelines, I may well access my accounts to check on any comments or tweets sent my way (please forgive me if I do not respond). But whether you tweet, comment or do neither I would be most grateful and be incredibly blessed if you could pray for me and others discerning their calling and attending BAPs this year.

For now though it is time to be silent. See you on the other side, wherever and whenever that may be.

The Lord’s Prayer at the School Gate

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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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Do Worry, Be Happy

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Your thoughts will be discerned

I am an advocate for worriers. I know that Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow but to concentrate on seeking His Kingdom (Matthew 6:25-34), so worrying about the latter must be okay!

Worrying is a matter of perspective. One person’s worry is another person’s preparation, and so it has been with me prior to each Examining Chaplain meeting I have had. Last week I had my second of three, and it was the one had most reason to worry about and prepare for: the Examining Chaplain I went to see had seen and interrogated me before (see A Tale of Two Storms). She reminded me of Miss Marple as her likeness in age, look and character could hardly be separated from the infamous character. Continue reading