Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Towards Ordained Ministry: Session Five

This post details my experience of Session Five of the Towards Ordained Ministry course. See my previous posts about session onetwo and four to find out what the TOM course is.
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Spirituality - Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith, and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel?

The person who was supposed to take this session phoned the organiser an hour beforehand to say they were ill and wouldn't make it; so Neil himself had to do itRevd Neil Evans is the Director of Ministry for the London Diocese, and it was encouraging that 20 years of ministry stood him in good stead to cover the entire topic of spirituality in ministry with only an hour's notice!

He started with the classic reassurance that we all struggle and wrestle with prayer, and there is no such thing as a expert in prayer, followed by the hackneyed but true "pray as you can, not as you can't".
Image result for christian monks praying

A bit of background on him and his experience of prayer started with his training at Mirfield, where he learnt monastic prayer, which is regular, communal and supportive. Once he left the community, he had to find a new way to pray, and he explained three ways he has found useful.







One is apostolic, or 'on the go', which is living in a prayerful way, going out in the world but always being firmly based in an underlying spirituality.



Image result for anglican daily officeThe second is the daily office which is tool that you can hold onto, and he has found it has rooted him; morning prayer is a great place to start the day and go out from; and not being able to choose favourite chunks of scripture is good, being given them means you engage more thoroughly.




And the third is an annual retreat, always finding space for it every year.
Image result for spiritual retreat

He asked us to discuss with our neighbours "What does prayer mean to you?" and the answers that were fed back included
- liturgical vs charismatic prayer has a difference for each of us
- the acronym PACTS is useful - Pause, Adore, Confess, Thank, Supplicate
- there are examples to follow in the Bible
- working in a church really cements the difference of private vs corporate
- pastoral, with people in the moment
- discipline as there is no substitute
- bring everything to God including the mess
- we don't have to pretend and yet we are still loved
- there is space for spiritual gifts as different expressions of awe
- not just speaking to God as Father but also approach as Creator
- counter to common perception, it is not just asking but more being in the presence

There are very different ways to pray but one can't disagree with somebody's else's way - it's not wrong. just not right for me. Church buildings soak up prayer and cathedrals are saturated with it, but the key to any type is 'is God being honoured'? The "gift of the CofE" is that that can be done in many traditions! If God is worshipped, disagreeing with a tradition is meaningless.

So what works for somebody comes from who they are; the sort of person I am invites me to pray in a certain way. All personality preferences are valid (though you can take it too far) as God will not desert us where ever we are. We are entering into the presence of God, putting ourselves in the way of God, by and for finding ourselves in that presence.

There are dangers in praying, pitfalls we can easily fall into, such as telling God what to do, avoiding getting things done ourselves, and also in such environments like prayer groups, falling into gossiping. There's also a lot of complexity around prayers for healing, and Neil only touched briefly on the subject, basically saying that miracles do happen but there are no simple answers and ultimately it boils down to "Thy will be done".


Image result for praying

He moved on to 'ministerial development review' and the question of how one went about judging a priest's prayer life, but basically, in an intangible way, people do just 'know' if their priest is praying. More tangible measurements are questions like 'who supports you in your prayer life?' which he posed to us and some answers that came back included:
- spiritual director
- having a day off
- I said my agnostic/atheist boyfriend and a woman across the room empathised that her similar husband had also helped her
- tools eg emails, apps - structure
- other broken people you can't fix
- room mates who are also 'bad at prayer', collectively providing accountability
- church prayer ministry team
- being around someone who is themselves disciplined, by example or 'osmosis' as it were
- social media - both friends and strangers

We finished with as form of praying scripture (Mark 9.2-29) which wasn't really for me but I did get an interesting moment or two out of it.


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The previous sessions were:

Authority - Do you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority?
The Bible Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Doctrine - [I missed this one] Do you believe the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, and in your ministry will you expound and teach it?
Ministry Will you be a faithful servant in the household of God, after the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve?

The last one will be:
Mission - Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Going to see the bishop


For those who are astute, you'll notice that this meeting and video took place on Ash Wednesday and I am posting this quite a way into Lent. Apologies for that; I'll lay no excuses.

But it does mean I can tell you the good news that I have a BAP date! I'm all set to go in June, so these last few weeks have setting off on the epic adventure of the paperwork involved, which I might cover in a later post. I'm also arranging to go see colleges, so it's feeling really  real!

So watching this video several weeks later in the knowledge of the certainty of my BAP, here are the points I want to remind myself of:

  • Remember that BAP examiners are real people rather than the 2D constructs in my head
  • I should probably practice one-on-ones a bit more
  • Make sure I prep reading my paperwork beforehand
  • Reacquaint myself with 'what a priest is'
  • Work on my answer to 'where are you ecclesiastically'

I'll hopefully be catching up with a few more posts soon.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Towards Ordained Ministry course: Session Four

(Yes, I missed the third one!)


This post details my experience of Session Four of the Towards Ordained Ministry course. See my previous posts about session one and two to find out what the TOM course is.
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Ministry - Will you be a faithful servant in the household of God, after the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve?
Image result for lucy winkett
This was a slightly odd session for me because it was taken by Revd. Lucy Winkett, who is my sponsoring priest. She was talking about ministry, what it is, how she goes about it, what is expected of us and what is important. I was reflecting on the bus home that it was like reading an essay breaking down a piece of music and explaining all the component parts, but I recognised it, I knew what it sounded like because I had seen it played out for years.


I was also once again bowled over by my luck that I know her and have been able to learn from her, let alone work closely with her on my discernment journey. People were queuing up to talk to her at the end and I was completely unsurprised. 

She introduced herself and explained that she would "do theology the way I know how to do theology" which is in a relational way, so she had stories and props. a bit about herself include the struggle of training for ministry at a time when women couldn't be priests, making the point that even if things look impossible, "you just have to start". "Discerning my vocation has never stopped" as it's a life long task and we "never stop learning".

The phrase "exercising" ministry was rejected. The important starting point is that our greatest calling, our deepest calling is to be a human being made in the image of God - "to be you as God made you" and "relate to other people as Jesus did". The Holy Spirit "is a dynamic and live Spirit" which sometimes the institution can confine; the balance needs to be struck between necessary competency and freedom of that fundamental calling.


Image result for camino de santiago scallop shell
Lucy's didn't quite look like this
 but you get the idea
Her first prop made me smile when she took it out of the bag. It was a scallop shell; specifically The scallop shell on a string that she wore during her cycled pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago, which is the Way of St James, and a symbol of that saint, so very much an image within the life of St James' Piccadilly, my and Lucy's church. She gave this backstory and made the connection that pilgrimage is to "make a faithful journey with a purpose" is also a description of life.

The shell reminded her  that she doesn't know what is going to happen tomorrow, so she can't lose her sense of adventure. There's a danger that it can lost in the church's repetition, which leads to the disillusion quest for control.


Second out of the bag came a stole, a red one she was given in Jerusalem. She covered its practical symbolism, that of the towel Jesus wrapped around himself to wash the disciples feet, putting it on in the fashion of a deacon - "look a bit like Miss World" -  and then as the 'yoke' of a priest, 'my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' - of the life of a priest, "deep, deep down it's a life you're asked to love". Following your calling can be hard but God works like satnav, so even you divert off-course, the path is just recalculated so you still end up where God wants you to be. Lucy reassured of this gentle "movement of the Spirit."


The third prop was a Bible. This must infuse our lives, but it gets"tribalised" and that must be resisted. Ministers must know, read, love, and be instructed by scripture. "Encounter it every day" and it will make you counter-cultural, making sure the encounter is a conversation, even if it's an interrogation, where you wrestle with it like Jacob and the angel [at this point she grabbed hold of the pages in demonstration, gripping them in her fists, which was quite effective for being so startling]. And the encounter should be with your head, your heart, and your feet, getting out and being with people to meet Jesus.



Next was the topic of Holy Communion, combining the Bible and the stole in the importance of being rooted and grounded in Word and Sacrament; that's what it means to be a priest in the CofE. It's the one true thing that defines and separates a priest, being the only one who presides at the Eucharist. Being called to be a priest is to be called to stand at a crossroads, at the boundary "between time and eternity" as well as going to the edge, to the margins.


Mary Poppins-like, the props bag produced another item, this time a tennis ball, which Lucy proceeded to chuck back and forth amongst the bemused candidates. Don't forget to play was her point. "I realised that 'church fun' isn't actual fun" was met with much hilarity. Do things that you enjoy, and when you're in a position of leadership, bring those ideas to planning church events, get 'actual fun' into church life. One of Lucy's common sayings is "warm white wine and Twiglet just don't do it for me".

In a more serious vein, we are called to emulate what Paul calls kinosis, the emptying of God. But if we are to give ourselves away, play "insures there is a self to empty". Jesus was emptied on the cross but was also resurrected, so we're not called to be completely laid waste. And your misery as a minister could cause havoc. "As a basic, you do have to like people," she said, which means you need to know yourself and how you connect best and find that balance. Extroverts [like me] need to learn to not always be with people all the time. It's not necessarily a goal of 'emotional harmony' in a community; to build an apostolic church is to have a outward-looking community of combined celebration and forgiveness.


Image result for air raid helmetOur last prop was an air raid helmet. The obvious is true, that priests need a bit of a thick skin, but beyond that "I think priests should get into trouble...good trouble." Conflict isn't inherently bad; the creative possibility it creates should be moved towards rather than avoided. There's a strand of ministry to be prophetic ie see what others overlook, and developing a "theology of your own mistakes" can help build that creative environment where all "feel equal enough to disagree".

Moving away from the visuals, Lucy reclaimed a maligned Biblical character as a model for priesthood - Martha. She's known for being practical, and being a priest is a practical job - you've got to roll your sleeves up sometimes. And after Lazarus died, she was proactive, confronting Jesus and showing an example we should follow in prayer, in being honest when speaking to God. That speaking up, that "naming what is stinking", that harks back to the prophetic, passion for justice, and getting into trouble for it. And she also "names the truth", contemplative in a way Peter isn't (Peter ends up having a row with Jesus).
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So cleverly, I have made notes from the Q&A but did not write down the questions, some of which I cannot remember. For the first question I wrote down "miraculous God - the reality is so far away, obviously fear but need to trust, then can accept that."

Next I wrote the Yiddish saying "Man plans. God laughs" which I rather like and resonates with my own story.

I do remember that the next question was something like 'which is more important, Scripture or Sacrament?' and I wrote "in the end, scripture and eucharist are inseparable - cannot dispense with either - confidence vs rigidity" that last bit referring to the argument in the church over the relative importances, and you should have confidence in your own spirituality and tradition without being rigid about it."priests - narrators, "keep saying what you believe and try and live it."

Then came a question about boundaries. Priests should be "seen to be open and fair" - boundaries are important but difficult. There is a restlessnesss in relationships with congregation members that you don't have with friends, and that comes from your responsibility as a leader/
Sidenote about friends from before your ordination - keep hold of them! You will end up reworking them but you need them, even if they say things like "don't you put your vicar face on!"

This segued into a conversation about being visibly a priest in public, such as "people love watching what vicars buy" and her anecdote about being mistaken for a strippergram. She brought it round to the serious point that you don't actually have to be this glorified and unrealistic ideal people expect of you being 'holy'. Jesus is a visceral example of not being 'holy' in the expected way. Don't worry about what people think.

The last question was a candidates fear about his lack of musical ability. Lucy connected this with the previous question, opening it up to encourage everyone to have an opportunity to not be good at something, as omnipotent priests discourage volunteers!

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The previous sessions were:
Authority - Do you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority?
The Bible Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Doctrine - [I missed this one] Do you believe the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, and in your ministry will you expound and teach it?

Future sessions will be:
Spirituality - Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith, and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel?
Mission - Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?