So, something happened this week that has really questioned my path to ordination... I won’t go into details but anyone following me on twitter will know what it was!
I have spent the last 2 ½ years thinking about my vocation, going through the discernment process and finally being selected and sponsored for ordination training. Next September, all being well, I will start training to be a Priest.
This has not been an easy process, and one that I have blogged about at length, but at the end of it I feel convinced of my calling and what kind of journey God is putting me on. Part of that is, I feel sure, about reform and making a difference. I have never been afraid of a ‘fight’ or standing up for what I believe in and I felt from early on that would be significant in my journey in ministry. The other part (but wholly related) is about doing things a bit differently, being a pioneer and being involved in contemporary ways of doing ministry.
Despite all this I am not taking the OPM route (Ordained Pioneer Ministry) for various reasons which I won’t go into now. But, I will say, that I am not one for labels, I don’t think they are helpful generally, they just pigeon-hole people and this happens a lot in the church. Someone is labelled ‘Anglo-Catholic’ and we instantly think incense and Saints, we don’t see the heart of the person who desires to be closer to Jesus. We hear ‘Evangelical’ and we think hands in the air, anti-women, anti-gay... Neither of these are fair descriptions of the people who are labelled in this way. I, for example, would be referred to as evangelical, but I’m certainly not a conservative, I’m a woman heading for ministry if nothing else...
Part of ‘discernment’ is about understanding the breadth of the Church of England, knowing what all areas are about so that we can live and work together under the same banner. Great, I totally get this and think it is really important. I think it was John Wimber who said we need to love the whole church from the incense swinging all the way to the hands in the air... After all we all serve and love Jesus (I hope!) although we might show it in different ways and have different ways of expressing our faith. We might think that some of our counterparts practices are a bit odd or not something that we choose to do, but we can respect them anyway. We can learn to have an understanding of why others choose to worship in the way they do. Whilst I attend an evangelical church and that is the kind of ministry I feel called in to, I also choose to go the chapel at my sons school each week, which is very traditional, includes incense and bell ringing each week (I do not say this in a derogatory way and whilst I may not know what the bells are called I do accept and understand it). I really like the services there. I was brought up in traditional village churches and perhaps this reminds me of my childhood, I don’t know, but I do appreciate the space, silence and comfort that this service brings me.
This, I think, is the kind of thing we should expect from potential ordinands. From whatever spectrum, that there should be an openness to all disciplines of the Church of England. I can just as equally sense Gods presence in the Chapel at school as I do in our sports hall at church. I would also hope that this is something that we could expect from all our clergy from Vicars up to Bishops and ArchBishops. Sadly in my experience this is not always the case.
I really love the Church of England. Sometimes I wonder why, I really do, it frustrates the crap out of me, but I actually do. Perhaps because I attended church as a child, perhaps because I was baptised and married in the CofE, perhaps because that’s where I first experienced God. I don’t know, but I do know that’s where God has put me and that he plans for me within it.
The thing is, although I knew part of my journey was about reform facing up in battle and so on, I’m not sure how prepared for that I was and so early on in my ministry life! Someone said to me today it would always be like that in the CofE and a little bit of my heart sank. Funny thing is the other part was up for it and already putting on the armour...!
The thing that happened this week had me in tears, and yet afterwards I felt God telling me effectively to ‘man up’ (or woman up) and get on with it, he had put me here for a reason and there would be bigger battles to fight than this one... And that’s totally fine, armour at the ready, I know God is my shield and my strength, but I do wonder if it should be this way... I mean I don’t need to rant again about what I think about the future of the CofE, but really shouldn’t we be encouraging people who might want to do things a bit differently? Whatever we feel about the church and its practices, we must all recognise that things aren’t actually that great for the traditional church as it is, are they? Yes there are pockets of greatness and wonderful clergy and I’m not having a dig at anyone, but can we all agree that perhaps it’s time we thought about trying something else? Look at the churches that are growing most, they are those that are contemporary and forward thinking; or those that are really serving their communities and reaching out in ways that are actually needed; or they are those that are appealing to a particular area of society; as just a few examples.
I find it so frustrating that sometimes these things, these pockets of greatness, are almost overlooked or not encouraged, not given support, because perhaps they don’t adhere to every section of canon law, because the Vicar doesn’t wear a dog collar at every second of the day, or perhaps because someone is allowed to preach without being licensed by their Bishop.
Although I have deliberately not written about what has caused this post I realise that it’s probably quite foolish to write publically about some of this stuff before I am actually ordained. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me over the last 2 ½ years, ‘just jump through the hoops, once you’re in you can do what you like’. But I have always found that quite hard as I am someone who wears their heart on their sleeve and I don’t find jumping through hoops all that easy (and anyway it doesn’t seem quite right for someone serving God to effectively be dishonest) so this post holds back a bit, but hopefully shares some of my frustration. It may not make much sense and I quite admit it’s a bit of a rant but there you go. I haven’t written much recently, mainly because I’ve been so busy, but that seems to happen, I go in phases when I write every day for a week or two and then not for a month. That seems to suit me. I miss my blog when I don’t write but then something comes along that makes me so desperate to write that I have to pour it all out and I guess that’s what this is!!
So, my desire is to serve God and to serve the church, to see people meeting with Jesus and even when they don’t personally, that they will recognise something a bit different in my church or in me or those around me. And my prayer is that I can do that in unity with those around me, with other clergy and with my superiors. I hear so many stories of people doing more contemporary ministry getting up the noses of those around them and those in more traditional parishes nearby. This saddens me. Why can’t we all recognise that we serve a broad church with a very wide cross-section of people. We say there is a place for everyone in the Church of England and so let’s recognise the need for that breadth and diversity...