In which a member of the parish fesses up…
There is something I have been keeping quiet about over the past couple of years – my vocation. Shh! Don’t say that too loud. Someone might hear.
It has always seemed like a big word, a big deal, something other people had. I was willing to accept that we all have the vocation to be the person we were born to be and to be that in the fullest possible way. Actually, that is a pretty big deal, especially as so much can get in the way of that vocation. But over the past few years I have had a growing sense that part of following that vocation, part of living my life to the fullest, could mean being ordained into the church.
No. Not me. That was something that vicars did and vicars knew the answers and could explain the Trinity and always believed in God, and never swore. I didn’t know the answers, wasn’t sure that it mattered that the Trinity is inexplicable (in my opinion – see, I don’t know), and had days when I wasn’t sure whether God was just something made up to make us feel better or, far too often, feel worse. Though obviously I never swore….(just ask my colleagues).
And yet… I kept wondering and I kept being encouraged in this wondering by Alan and Lesley who seemed to think that I might be suitable vicar material (and vicars obviously know the answers so they must have had a point…). And before I knew it, somehow I was being referred to the Diocesan Director or Ordinands for the Diocese of Guildford, a delightful and perceptive man called Rev’d Canon William Challis who shared my sort of sense of humour. So began a series of meetings in which we discussed faith, the church (not necessarily the same thing) and laughed a fair bit. Meanwhile we were both doing some discerning.
I assumed that William would discern that I was not suitable material and we’d agree that this was not part of my vocation and I’d say a sad farewell, glad I had kept quiet about it as how embarrassing would that be if people knew I didn’t fit the criteria, or that I had even assumed I might have done?!
But we kept on, looking at those criteria for selection and discussing subjects such as faith, mission, leadership, spirituality, vocation. It was challenging but fascinating. References were sought and given, William came to visit the family, and it seemed that he thought I was suitable after all. Suddenly I was faced with going on a Bishops’ Advisory Panel, or BAP, three days of intense scrutiny with other potential ordinands by a team of assessors who would make recommendations about us all.
As the months that this process took progressed, several things became a little clearer. The first was that I could be a vicar and still not know everything – still have days of doubt, still be human, still be me. After all this is an opening up to God and being led by God, I am not expected to do it on my own.
The second was that ordained local ministry would be a better fit than having my own parish. This would mean I could stay in the parish here (hooray!) as part of the team. I would be part-time and self-supporting (ie. non-paid) so I’ll have to keep working elsewhere to bring in the money. That will be OK though as I am rubbish at boundaries I will need help here.
The boundaries issue was one of the points made in the report which came back from those BAP assessors who were really quite nice and not the Harry Potter dementors that I had envisaged. They also came back with a resounding yes! I start training next September on the Guildford Local Ministry Programme with a view to ordination in 2022.
The other thing that has dawned on me is that I am responding to a loving God. A separate, though intertwined, process has been going on over the past few years. With the help of those actually very wise and knowledgeable vicars here in the parish I have gradually been losing my perception of God as an angry taskmaster whom I could never please, and finding that God is a gracious outpouring of love for us all, a God who can help us step into our vocations and allow all of us to live our fullest lives.