Mine took place in March 2006 when the revised process was still fairly new. I was called to Ely and was quickly surrounded by a dozen or so others who were as frightened as me. As with all things, I didn’t go unprepared although preparations are few in number due to the nature of the event. Here’s what I did:
· Memorised all of my papers, forms and statements - not just the words but the unwritten truths (the more important aspects of the sponsoring papers, as you will fast discover)
· Asked trusted critical friends to give me clues as to how I behave under stress or pressure (I talk too fast and fidget apparently, and suck in hard through my nose when I make statements)
· I prayed hard for a long time in an empty but locked church so I could talk out loud and hear how daft I can sound at times, and how pompous
· Tried hard to remember that I was there because I had a right to be and that I was called to the process, even if not necessarily beyond it.
· Had a book in my mind that I had read recently in case asked
· Had three or four favourite passages from the Bible that I could call on if asked
When there, you will have a sense of having every movement and moment scrutinised. I am told that this is normal. What is important, though, is that the selectors see who you really are, not who wish to be portrayed as. Over meals, in those informal ‘passings’ in corridors – they all add to the picture that they hold of us when they gather at the end. Indeed, more of the ‘me’ discerned over those times reached the report than the ‘me’ in interview.
A highlight for me was in how much fun it was. After the initial “Oh …. My …. God” moments at the beginning, things settled nicely and I would even go so far as to say that part of the process were fun. Everyone in the ‘room’ wants the same outcome – God’s will for you. I came away claiming to have enjoyed it, and that was a wonderful revelation.
The low point for me was not in the process, but after. I left the Panel quite sure that it had gone well, but during the two week spell between the panel and its result, I went from a high mood directly after to absolute depths of despair ten days later. That is quite unlike me, and it caught me by surprise. I was incredibly down in the days immediately before the result arrived, simply because I had convinced myself by then that I had failed.
If I had to give five tips to those about to go, they would be:
1. Be yourself whatever that means (I even went to my interviews in a business suit and tie, because at that time that was what I did and who I was – and much to the mirth of the gathering)
2. Be open to the possibility that you might actually pass
3. Time the presentation scrupulously
4. Fill in your audit with good handwriting (I was told off for mine) – the selectors need to read what you put and it sets them against you from the beginning if they struggle (and they are under pressure too)
5. Most important – is it you going to Panel, or a set of projections from your ecclesial tradition? Fight for yourself, not your church or worship-style. They won’t care if you are catholic or charismatic, but they will care if that is the only thing you talk about.
If you are one reading this and preparing a small bag of chattels for a few days away, then may God be with you and those who will be praying for you back at home. If you are successful, they will need your prayers by return!