This post was first published at 'Dreaming Beneath The Spires' Blog, by Anita Mathias on 1st March this year… after my post on the Easter School, though it might be a good post for anyone who wants to know more about Vicar School itself...
So, Vicar School - sounds so jolly nice doesn’t it? Almost conjures up images of greying men in tweed and middle aged women in twin sets in wood panelled rooms, bibles open on our desks listening intently whilst we are taught how to give a good exegesis. Of course, the reality is rather different. On my course, we are very mixed: in age, churchmanship and dress – not sure I’ve seen a single twin set actually! And it’s nice that we are all so different because we can learn so much from each other, but because so many of us are doing different things it can be harder to form strong relationships. For example there are people I only ever see when we’re away on study weekends which is about twice a term, then there are those in my Tuesday class who I see each week but not all of them at weekends. It does get a bit confusing - I am just over half way through my first year and I think I’m just about getting the hang of it all!
So how did I end up here? Well, just getting into Vicar School is a slog in itself. Getting selected for me meant going through the ‘discernment process’ in the Church of England. My husband always jokes that this sounds like a bunch of bearded polo-necked men in a room thinking a lot, and well, there certainly was a lot of thinking involved. It’s a pretty thorough process that I usually describe as being like going through intensive therapy. Very worthwhile but hard work and a bit of an emotional roller coaster too. So when I was finally selected and ready to go to college it felt like the end of a rather long journey when the reality is, it’s actually just the beginning of another hard slog.
So, the course began back in September last year, with a weekend away with the other first years. Literally thrown in at the deep end: a weekend away with a bunch of strangers in surroundings that would be at home in a Harry Potter movie (ever been to Aylesford Priory?). Trouble with the weekends is that they start on a Friday evening and if you’re anything like me, by Friday evening all I am capable of is vegging on the sofa with a glass of red and some trashy telly. And yet, here I was, all ready for some academic hard stuff. Hmm, well, we actually started this weekend with some good old fashioned ‘get to know each other’ exercises. Oh goody, my favourite (not). Ours was ‘if you could choose an animal to represent the Church of England, what would it be?’. Then: ‘now find other people with the same animal, without talking’. Cue lots of people looking like idiots and wishing they were anywhere but here. I would like to add, there was no alcohol involved at this point… I’ve got to admit I wrote in my journal on that first evening ‘what the **** I doing here?!’ Thankfully it did get better, and since then it’s been pretty full on. We’ve had several weekends away, had some fantastic teaching, done our Mission Placement and begun to form friendships too.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at God working through the course to teach me, mould me and guide me, but I am. From the first term’s teaching on church history, which I thought would be massively dull but actually really loved; to getting fed up with more traditional worship styles (I’m a charismatic) and then finding myself weeping uncontrollably during a course Eucharist. From reluctantly starting the discipline of the Daily Office and then finding that God speaks to me through it every day; to realising that at heart I am an Anglican. It’s been quite staggering really (especially the Anglican bit…).
I’m also loving how what I am studying is really feeding into my work – I work for my church and it’s amazing how things that seem pretty irrelevant just slot into what I am working on. In fact I’m currently preparing a report for church on mission and growth, most of which will also feature in an essay I’m doing (rather convenient that one…)
Of course there are still moments when I wonder what on earth God has got me into. Weeks when I have work and college deadlines looming, or when my kids are on school hols and I still have to find time to study, or, as is coming up shortly, planning for the dreaded whole week away at Easter. There have been days when I have wished that I were the kind of person who would be content to be a stay at home mum, when it all seems just too much. And yet these are the moments when I am reliant on God more than ever. To be honest, without him I think I’d have walked after the first evening.
So, as I look ahead there is a certain level of mild panic at what the future holds, at where God might send us, but at the same time there is excitement too. I have learned so much already and yet I still have so much to learn. I am loving learning, loving getting back into academic writing, loving the reading (well most of it, not so sure on Kantian ethics….) and the research. This is a path that whilst being terrifying and unsettling, also feels completely right and where I am meant to be.