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.

That the tapestry had reminded me of those fleeing war and poverty on overcrowded and flimsy boats had been no accident. A gift I had been given by the artists showed the tapestry’s journey from concept to completion and included photos of refugees fleeing and fighting for survival in the choppy Mediterranean Sea. This was no meek and mild tapestry for a church, but one that would draw people in and force them to engage with the continuing need to serve those in need. I can only hope that they will want those the lady represents to be saved from more than the water.

Humbling as being immortalised in cloth was, the reminder of a desire within me and sense of calling (not always the same thing) to be a link between God and others, whether saved or not, was timely. The journey to my first BAP had created a level of introspection that I did not successfully escape from; I and the church had been too focused on working out if I was right to be ordained with little enough time given for working out why. God had given me the gift of time and grace in which to find my way to the reason I was on the discernment trail: the first journey had been about me, the second journey had been about the lady in the water. And the journey to and from my third Examining Chaplain meeting would give me 4 hours to contemplate the link in the chain I feel called to be.

My first Examining Chaplain meeting had been mentally uncomfortable, this meeting was uncomfortable in another way: the chaplain had placed our chairs close enough to each other that once sat we were not only in touching distance but I could see her prepared questions and highlighted sections of my paperwork. Having my private space invaded was unnerving and disrupted the peace I had built up as I meandered across the countryside on route to the meeting, but only momentarily.

As before I had my notes before me and as before I did not look at them; instead they acted as a comfort blanket whilst I maintained eye contact and put my preparation contemplating the Selection Criteria to the test. It was therefore rather ironic that most of her questions were focused my BAP Registration Form, seeking clarity about what I had meant in my protestations of faith and mission.

I hadn’t looked at the form for some time and could not remember what I had written. I had no thoughts waiting to emerge from my subconsciousness, I had to start from scratch and think afresh about the issues that came up. Maybe my mental warm up with the criteria had helped for I provided seemingly coherent responses that I seemed to satisfy the Examining Chaplain. It was comforting and helpful: I knew that upon my return home I needed to look carefully at the form and ensure that if I was to be sent to a BAP each thought conveyed was clear.

When the selection criteria were discussed more explicitly much of our conversations focused on relationships: those between us and God, between humans and between the different parts of the Anglican Communion; and it was here that my preparatory contemplations bore fruit and provided comfort. When asked what I thought was special about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion I had an answer: no other organisation manages to do what the Anglican Communion has done and keep such a diverse group of people together. The Church of England itself contains a tremendous array of churchmanship styles and interpretations of how we should interpret and follow God’s word and actions, the Anglican Communion takes that and adds an international dimension.

The church is a family and like a family the relationships between members is often under tension and arguments occur. And though in the present it is under the particular strain of different views on sexuality and relationships, and the future cohesion is unclear, it is nevertheless something to celebrate rather than bicker about; the world is watching and how we disagree whilst still loving each other matters if those who do not yet know Christ are likely to want to get to know Him. At a time nations are fearing differences and looking inwards, the Anglican Communion offers a way of showing how much we have in common with each other, how differences can be celebrated, and how by looking outwards and helping those in need we can find hope for our individual and collective future.

The questions she had asked had been purposeful, and whilst it had not felt like an interrogation it had been an interview rather than a conversation: she had a job to do, not a friend to make but she did so in a warm and friendly manner.  There had been smiles and she had helped me to feel enough at ease to pause and ask for clarification from her before answering.  I left feeling happy and at peace, yet I knew from experience that it would be dangerous to read too much into my interpretation of her spoken words or body language, I know of my fallibility in such things.

Our time ended where I had begun the day, with the tapestry and in the conversation that followed she let slip that she had looked up my profile on Facebook. Although I had nothing to hide it made me nervous and question whether I had set the security settings correctly so that all she would have seen was my profile photo – she would have gleaned nothing much had she seen all my postings beyond a penchant for heart-warming stories and appreciations for my children’s surreal take on life. That said, I was relieved to find my security settings were all in order when I checked upon returning home; it was a re-enforcing reminder of the need to write this blog anonymously to enable an open and honest account of exploring ordination, something I hope is helpful.

Is now a good time to mention I don’t really look like the man reaching out from the boat?

Do Worry, Be Happy


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

Shown the door


Doors closing or opening?

I’m not paranoid, I know people are watching my every move.

As you try to discern if God is calling you to be ordained it can feel as the Church is watching and analysing your every move: CCTV cameras trained on you, hidden cameras in place to catch you unaware, spies and informers reporting back to headquarters. Of course that is nonsense, there is no need for the church to watch or inform you because you will be informing on yourself, and willingly so.

Continue reading

One Foot in the Graveyard


Moving age-groups not houses

Shortly after finally making contact with the DDO (see Communication Breakdown) I attended a workshop for those on the discernment path. I had been to several before, including one a year ago which covered the topic this was to cover: the dreaded and artificial BAP Pastoral Letter Exercise. Back then I had spoken to the other candidates not just about what it was like to go to a BAP but what it was like to be rejected, or not recommended as the Church of England like us to call it. Giving the talk had left me unable to focus on the Pastoral Letter Exercise so a second opportunity to do so in the company of others, and with the insight of the DDO and a particularly caring and constructive BAP Advisor, was to be welcomed.

The time I had spent over the past year picking the brains of those with good pastoral experience and skills, coupled with the thoughts of others present on the day, meant that I finally felt I understood what BAP Advisors expected to see in a candidates response. Even more encouragingly I felt like I might be able to write one that would at the very least be acceptable and not spat out like a rancid piece of food. That was just as well for the DDO dropped a bombshell into the conversations that shook several of us to the core.  There was no sugar-coating of the pill, there was no precursor of pastoral sensitivity, there was just the bare facts: the funding and training pathways for ordination changed. The facts came with no explanation, reasoning or justification, they were just injected into the day’s proceedings.

Continue reading

Communication Breakdown


Communication breakdown
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
Led Zeppelin

I started the summer waiting to move into the next stage of the discernment process: meetings with Examining Chaplains and a Bishop to decide if I should go to a ordination selection conference (the BAP). I was still waiting by the end of the summer.

I had suspected my Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) had been a little optimistic in his planning for the next stage of my discernment journey but I had no reason to question his judgment on how the next stage would progress. Prior to heading off into retirement my DDO was handing those he was guiding to the remaining DDO , for her to arrange the meetings.

Whereas when I reached this stage before I had been asked to write 3 essays to give the Examining Chaplains an insight into my mind, personality and faith (see Rescued from the darkness; Defining Ordination is harder than you think!; and Challenging and Exiting Times). This time though things had changed, and sensibly so.

Continue reading

Ground Control to Major Tom



It is time to prepare for re-entry

There was a time when exploring ordination felt like being on an express train: things happened regularly and quickly. Each week there was something new, some new issue to wrestle with, some new emotional struggle to document. More recently it has felt like being on a canal boat or the International Space Station: slowly drifting along, detached from the goings on of life. The detachment has been somewhat comforting. Like astronauts left alone on the International Space Station I have been able to observe the fragility from afar, whilst similarly connected to it by the sporadic communication from the Ground Control that is the church. But the time has come to re-enter the world of ordination and face the fire that comes with it. Continue reading

The Joy of the Lord is our strength: choosing joy to rise above our troubles

In the film Inside Out 5 characters, representing different emotions, live inside the mind of a young girl who they help to cope with life. Joy is one of those characters and her incessant joyfulness becomes problematic as the child experiences a number of challenging and upsetting experiences. The character of Joy has to learn what it means to be joyful in the face of these challenges.

Continue reading

It’s not you, it’s me


It’s complicated. It’s not you, it’s me.

Discerning whether God is wanting you to be ordained is not a simple process. At times it feels like a tightrope, a roller-coaster or a double-edged sword. On one side it is very much about you as you try to work out what God is wanting you to do and whether you want to do it too. On the other side it is about who God is wanting you to work with and whether others want you to do that too.

It is about you and it isn’t.

Continue reading

The Modelling God

Modelling God and Godly Character

Modelling God and Godly Character

We all have a life on the frontline in the world that’s significant to God. It’s one on which we need to produce and model the fruit of the Spirit, but it doesn’t mean going to fight ISIS armed only with a bunch of grapes and some satsumas. Continue reading

The Good Shepherd and His Sheepdog

Whilst I was ruminating on Jesus being The Good Shepherd I found myself thinking about how people shepherd animals. It may also have had something to do with the fact that before I flew up to Scotland I came across an episode of Top Gear on the television. It was one where the trio of hapless presenters were trying to shepherd sheep using motorbikes. They failed miserably. A lack of communication and skill was their undoing on this occasion. Continue reading