This is both the culmination of a long time of discernment (the process of talking , thinking, praying about whether I had been called to be a minister in the Church of England), followed by study (more talking, thinking, praying and some writing too), and the beginning of new phase as I become a curate in the parish. This means a lot more learning, both on study days and on the job – learning to take services, including funerals, preaching more, being involved in pastoral care and the like – as well as doing my admin and communications job. As an Ordained Local Minister I don’t receive an income so need to carry on working.
Those are the bald facts, but behind these everything is slightly less fixed. It often is when we are trying to follow God. The path to this point has been winding, with hints of it many years ago, and if there had been women priests around in those days I might have started the process earlier. Then again, that might have been the wrong stage in my life as I have changed a great deal since then. I was pretty certain that the theology I heard preached in the churches I frequented then had to be true and it was only my lack of faith and discipline that caused me to doubt. Even as I delved deeper into faith I thought that I could somehow know the truth about God, could squeeze God into a box and then all I had to do was obey.
As you have probably guessed, it didn’t work out that way, and God somehow wouldn’t fit into a box or even a list of beliefs that I could tick off. The more I grasped at God and thought I had it sorted, the more God slipped through my fingers.
And yet. There is always an ‘and yet’. God is the ‘and yet’, the presence who can’t be grasped but is somehow here, around us, sustaining us, shining light through the cracks in our lives, piercing the darkness. Over the past few years I have become more at ease with the idea that there will not be clear answers on this side of death at least, but that this is OK.
I wish, in many ways, I could give you clear answers, ones you could tick off. I know how long I sought them. But if I gave you those answers you would probably find 100 reasons why they didn’t work for you, or maybe you’d tie yourselves in knots trying to accept them in the way you think you should, regardless of whether that was what I meant. I’ve been there.
I am more content these days to know that I won’t know everything, that I can’t define God. God continues to be more than the answers, more than a set of doctrines, more than orthodoxy. God continues to be, well, God, the source of being and of love, lifegiving and creative, extraordinary but rooted in the ordinary, rooted in community, in our relationships with each other.
One of my favourite stories from the New Testament is that of the two disciples who, after the death of their master, Jesus, were walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–32) and hadn’t heard about the resurrection of that same master. Jesus, the risen Christ – the Messiah – walked with them and explained what was said about the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament) and how he would suffer and then ‘enter into his glory’. They still didn’t know that he was talking about himself and it wasn’t until he was with them for a meal and took the bread and broke it that they recognised him. Then, just as they would have asked him a stack of questions, he disappeared.
How frustrating, and yet… And yet they knew him deep within, for they said that their hearts burned within them as they walked and talked with him. They knew on a deep visceral level and they recognised him in a simple, shared act of a meal together. After that meal, their lives could never be the same again.
God for me is found in mystery but is also found rooted in the everyday, in community, in simple, embodied acts, in what we do together as a church. That is something we all work out together and I look forward to doing so with you more and more.
Pictured top: Stella (centre), family, friends and Bishop Jo (far right).