Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Video: Twelfth visit to the rector


The topic Lucy emphasised in our conversation was 'unmendedness', that of others and that of yourself, and coping with it as a priest. It isn't skill, but wisdom, part of the wisdom of just being a person - remaining 'alive' inside, and finding strategies that keep you connected.

Sometimes there's a temptation to 'pastoral lust', the desire to give someone clear direction because you think you can fix their life. But Lucy said you are always wrong. You've got to let people go to hell in their own way; your job is to accompany them but not end up in hell yourself. The way to do that is getting into your own mess. The harsh truths about myself don't stop here, the job is a perpetual journey and the harsh truths keep coming. The strategies that keep you connected have to deepen your trust in God.

It was all very interesting and really getting into the formation nitty gritty of priesthood, the personhood that is essential, the wisdom that must be opened to rather than learnt like a skill.
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Since things are going to get serious once the DDO kicks off the next stage, Lucy also wanted to make sure I don't approach this like any other job interview, like some exam or achievement to attain. As much as positive thinking and optimism is essential to fend off despair and hopelessness, neither extreme is the right attitude.

Between getting a BAP date and going on it, Lucy recommended that I take some time out to truly imagine getting a 'no', or a 'not yet'. It's important that I don't lose sight of the reality of the possibility that that will be my result. The way I put it was that I'm consciously trying to keep my attitude in the 'if' space. I never say 'when I go to theological college', only 'if'. Otherwise I'm really risking my emotional health.

That's about it, the cliffsnotes version anyway. See you after the next meeting!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Video: This is what discerning feels like/DDO 5

This won't make sense unless you watch the video, which is clips from 5th December and 15th December so make sure you watch it first:

This post was written throughout the following weeks since the video over Christmas.

I will paraphrase the report, as it is a personal document between me, my DDO, and the psychotherapist who wrote it, so I'll try not to break confidence and quote it directly. The part that caused concern was it was felt that my emotional maturity still needed some development; that I didn't let or allow painful experiences affect me ie. I put truly difficult feelings at a distance. This led to doubts that I should go forward for selection at this time. It wasn't a 'no', just a 'not yet'.

Firstly, I'll step back and address why this was flagged; why, if it's true, this is a problem for a potential priest. Lucy was helpful in explaining this context. It has become an important part of the discernment process that as well as assessing whether someone has the call, would be good at the job, and would an asset to the Church and its congregations, etc, there's also an emphasis on assessing whether they will be able to handle the job, and can look after their own health and mental health.

Priests are under so much pressure and encounter so much of the drama of life, so much of other people's suffering, that without the proper tools - eg understanding how they work best, having a support network that is reliable, making good use of that network, having stable strategies to deal with their own emotions in emotional situations - they will probably eventually implode or explode, or 'burn out' as is the common phrase.

This is referencing Criterion D: Personality and Character, which says "Candidates should be sufficiently self-aware, mature and stable to show that they are able to sustain the demanding role of an ordained minister. They should be able to demonstrate how they have faced change and pressure in a balanced and flexible way and how they manage stress." To evidence this to the selectors, candidates "should be able to speak of how they have coped with difficult life experiences, how they have reflected upon them and incorporated them within their life and understanding."

Drawing further from the criteria, I don't think the therapist thought I am completely reconciled to my own vulnerabilities and limitations, and she had worries about my capacity to assimilate and deal appropriately with my own response to negative or difficult life experiences. If I were to be a priest like this, the chances are that it would break me.

Talking with Lucy was tough. I felt like she really jumped on this as a grade A excuse to stop me going forward, making suggestions of what I could do instead in September, like spending a year at a L'Arche community. I was glad I went to her, because she emphasised the importance of not thinking about the timing, not letting the practicalities cloud my thinking about the important stuff, which was in fact discerning something personal. But it was disheartening that she seemed quite so keen to stop me; she did say she would support me if I decided to continue, but with a look that suggested she was already trying to work out how to comfort me when I get rejected. But this could just be bias based on residual resentment from the first part of our exploration, when I was wrongly frustrated at her.

I have since talked to my parents, who have the advantage of coming at this report with a fairly comprehensive understanding of my emotional/psychological history, and I was unsurprised that it was this conversation that has been most helpful. I can now see the grain of truth that the psychotherapist was trying to point out. She didn't get it right, of course not, she met me for only 90minutes, so she over-estimated what she saw. But she did identify something that could be a problem if I went ahead unaware of it.

I do compartmentalise when it comes to crisis or problem-solving or being helpless. And there have been times that I have parked my emotional response to a situation over to one side and not dealt with it as well as I could have. But it's not something I do every time. Most of the time I do deal with it, but up til now it's not been a conscious process - I've been lucky that without realising I needed something, like to do something about the situation, or talk to my boyfriend, or go out with friends, or take a day to myself, or whatever the strategy was, I did it without thinking. So the times I didn't handle it well were the times that I wasn't lucky, that I didn't accidentally sort myself out. Now I'm aware of my lack of strategy, over the next few years I can put conscious thought into what I need and eventually those moments of failing to deal properly will be very rare and not based on accidental luck.

Pausing the discernment process now isn't going to help. Yes, there are things I could do to show I have started addressing the issue raised, and talking to my landlord who is studying to be a priest himself, I understand I can't just give empty reassurance that I will mature in my relationship with my emotions - they need hard evidence, so I will have to do one or two of those things, like work experience with a prison chaplain or volunteering for the Samaritans. Lucy was keen that I get more experience of being in situations where someone is suffering and I cannot fix it, which mean I can't respond with action, and those seem more plausible options than her main suggestion.

Sure I can see her concern that if I was plopped into a job as priest right now, I might not cope so well. That's what the psychotherapist thought as well. But I'm not going forward to be a priest now. I'm going forward to selection for training. Three years of academic study and formation at college, then three to four years of experience and formation in curacy - this will bring me to being a minimum of 31yo before I am officially able to work as an unsupervised priest, and 31yo me will look a lot different to 24yo me. She'll have learnt about herself and gone through years of life, and life generally matures you even if you resist. And now I'm forewarned of one of the issues to put some effort into developing, I'm doing the opposite of resisting!

This report hasn't been given to me to stop me. Like I said in the video, I would know something like that in my gut, in my bones. It's not got the feeling of a change in direction. No, this was handed to me as an opportunity to start digging into myself below the surface, and listen to the people around me. I had a similar experience in the first year at Guildhall, so God has precedent doing this in my life. That time I needed to become more aware of myself and some of my faults to get into the right frame of mind to train as a stage manager; this time I need to do the same and go deeper, building on everything my 8 years in backstage theatre has given me, to begin the second stage of my vocation, and become the priest I'm meant to be.

As Lucy and I discussed, this is what discerning feels like. This is the inward looking journey that I need to go on, because it's not just the Church that needs to get to know me - I need to learn more about myself as well. This has been hard. As you can see, I got this news weeks ago and it's only now that I'm getting a handle on what it means for me. I didn't want to acknowledge that I had issues to resolve - you can see in the video how determined I was in my initial reaction to circumvent the long hard look at myself to which Lucy pushed me. But this is what is needed. Even if I become the Archbishop of Canterbury - first among equals, primate, archbishop, bishop, priest - I am always laity first, a frail human being that is a single part of the body of Christ. If I don't know who I am as a person, I won't come to know myself as a priest.

I want to see Lucy one more time before I go back to the DDO and tell him I want to continue. Hers is always a useful insight and I want to further our conversation with the developments in my own thinking since our last meeting. I've also received a 'write something every day for 365 days' notebook for Christmas, and I've challenged myself to express my emotions in this notebook - not what I think, but how I feel, and it's already proving that I'm not very clear on my own emotions, so hopefully it'll be another useful tool in self-awareness.

Post Script
As for the priest's report, to be honest it was just really nice. He said I seemed to have two sides, a more precise side and a wilder side, and he said that as a compliment, he found me to be engaging; and it's also had quite an impact on me by pointing out that I do in fact have quite a dedicated prayer life, I've just been too perfectionist about it. This was useful to have pointed out, and I'm less anxious now about feeling inadequate vis a vis prayer. Those are the things that have stuck with me, so I'm not going to get it out and analyse further.

Happy New Year! (Next time you see me, I'll be filming on my new camera, wahoo!)


Friday, 9 December 2016

What's the purpose of my being a priest?

In January, 11 months ago, I wrote this post about my existential crisis 'is being a priest what I was born to do', how will I know if I've succeeded at life, and should I try and plan my life with goals to achieve?

Since then I have surrendered to God, plus started the discernment process which will hopefully lead to a conclusive answer to the question of my calling. But these last few months working at St Martin's, I've begun to be plagued by questions going beyond whether I'm meant to be a priest.

If the answer's yes (of which I am convinced) then what is the purpose of 'Rev. Georgina'? This person in my future, who is she called to serve? Basically, as the kitty says:

WHY GOD WHY!!!

So even though I swore off vocations events, a few women from the SMITF congregation were going to London Calling: Young Women, so I went along as a veteran to support them. It was a great event, and I actually got a few things from it.

  • Liz Adekunle, the Archdeacon of Hackney, was pretty cool, and she used the phrase about women priests being "used creatively" which was the first thing I wrote down, as it struck a chord.
  • The chaplains Julia Candy and Natalie Garnett spoke of being a 'point of contact with God' and "letting people know they're precious".
  • Carys Walsh said that mission and evangelism means "enabling the people of God".
And since the event, I read this in a book by my vicar, Sam Wells - "the person who speaks to God for the people and speaks to the people on behalf of God."

These sort of things have been stewing in me as I contemplate how to be who I am for other people, and what that might look like once I'm a priest. I'm not expecting to figure it out any time soon. I've spent the last 10 years figuring out who I am and what a priest is and how those two go together; if I get recommended to training, I'll be spending 6-7 years figuring out what's beyond that.

The question has been asked and the process has begun, and of course it's not ultimately down to me - God will take me through it and revelation will happen when all is in place and ready. I know that; this isn't me trying to set out a career plan. This is me realising that having accepted who I'm meant to be, and whilst the Church are deciding whether they agree, I should start contemplating why I'm supposed to be a priest.

What am I meant to do with it? What am I meant to do with all the blessings and opportunities I've been given? What's it all for? What does God want me to do once I am a priest? What's my purpose?