So, the next stage of the adventure looms. The past year has been amazing. I have just paid my last college bill and handed in my last essay on the Documentary Hypothesis and Deuteronomy. This finishes my 'independent' study at theological college. Just over a month ago, I went to the Church of England selection conference, Bap thingy (it goes under so many titles!) as a candidate for training for ordained stipendiary ministry.
How this all happened is, well, let's just say, it's been a journey, a good one and a scary one. It's all happened quite quickly. I struggled with the whole issue of women in ordained ministry for about 18 months or so and when I put the last full stop on that essay I wrote, my first one for theological college, about the theological objections to and affirmation of women in ordained ministry, I laughed with joy, because I was clearer on the issue and felt very powerfully that now that I had grappled with the topic, I could no longer use it as an excuse. I understood the theological reasons behind the Anglican Church's decision to ordain women to the priesthood in the 90s and the teaching I had listened to that the Church had simply just given in to prevailing culture no longer stacked up. I realised God would let me know whether the ordained ministry life was to be a part of my future, despite the fact that some theologians argue to the contrary. I knew that God had already given me a ministry as a Christian and particularly to teenage children and the under 5s. Did he have other thing in store?
So final full stop and me driving to college to go to worship - a great drive, I was excited. Once I was there, I sat and I waited and the confirmation came. It is the only time in my life that I have spoken the words usually spoken by the priest, the celebrant. It was an inclusive eucharist and I knew that God was telling me that these words would be words I would be speaking again. It was time to renew my relationship with my Vocations officer, which I had neglected for a year so I saw her at Christmas and she arranged for my first meeting with a director of ordinands in the Feb of 09.
I'll never forget that first meeting with the DDO. I was grilled and rightly so and I'll never forget fixing my eyes on a woman who was crossing the road with a red rucksac on her back as I was protesting 'but I care...I do...see those people out there, they are made in the image of God and are the most beautiful and precious thing that this planet has to afford and I want them to know how very much they are loved by God.' This all sounds so, I don't know what, in the writing, but at that moment, it was as if time froze for me for a second...I can still see that woman with her rucksac crossing that road. The rest of the interview is a bit of a blur, really. I ended up back on the pavement with a parking ticket on my car and a handful of paperwork to be filled in and this kind of amazing feeling, like I was going to explode with joy.
So my DDO had given me paperwork to fill in and I was confused, no,I was in denial. I returned home saying it was just the way things worked, it meant nothing.
On my next visit, I was told I would be going to selection conference in July. I had 4 months and I think I met with my DDO another 5 times so that I could discuss with her my relationship with God and what God had communicated to me through scripture, prayer and experiences about what my ministry might look like. I also spoke about the Church and Anglicanism, in particular, and what I understood about the atonement and ecclesiology and denominational differences and how I go about communicating the gospel and plenty of other things. In fact, DDO meetings felt like a cross between confession, conversation and psycho-analysis. It was sometimes all rather painful but it also felt like such a relief!
....I had just four months to go. Now, in some ways this was great news. As a teacher, I had always thought Ofsted ridiculous, all those months to prepare. I figured that HMI should just turn up out of the blue, I liked to keep it real. So with college essays due and family life, I really had no time to prepare for Bap but thought about it being a kind of 'Holy Ofsted' and I had never done anything different for Ofsted but be myself. So paperwork was always printed off just in the nick of time and I read through the criteria for selection but realised there was no way I could possibly make myself satisfy them - I either would or I wouldn't! So this is how I went to conference - worrying about very little and praying about everything! I knew that I had to just be me because that is who they would be taking on (or not) and this is the way that God has made me and its his plan and not mine, afterall.
On arriving in Ely, I got absolutely drenched - no umbrella! However, my arrival, looking like a drowned rat, made all the other potential odinands laugh, as I dripped my way through greetings in the hall. I knew God had very much been with me in the rain. On the first evening, I was bamboozled. I filled out my personal inventory and wrote really rather scruffily but very honestly, in fact, so much so, I thought they might think me a bit weird, but I just figured I had nothing about which to be afraid.
The next day, after a very prayerful, sleepless night, it became pretty obvious what I was supposed to do. I went to chapel before every interview with my pink sheet detailing the selection criteria, and my blue sheet containing a bit of information about the interviewers and my journal and my Bible and I simply prayed a very simple prayer:
'Lord, I trust you to give me the words. You will either give me the words to speak so that these people discern that ordained ministry is not for me and it will become clear to me what you really want me to do, or you will give me the words which will lead to me getting selected. Whatever your will. I trust you.' (Actually, with the length of my sentences, my prayers aren't that simple!)
The time then fled by as I was taken to notes in my journal and passages from the scriptures, about which it became clear I was to speak. I spent a couple of hours in prayer like this before each part of the process and so, you know, in some ways, I feel like I cheated. God gave me the words to say. I went into those interviews so topped up by the power of the Holy Spirit, I was beaming all over my face and almost ready to do cartwheels. I laughed and cried my way through interviews and really met with the Jesus whom I saw in every one of my interviewers, and just had one of the most fantastic times of my life. In fact, my Bap is up there with my marriage and the birth of my babies as one of the most fab experiences ever. Praise you, Father.
The day before I was to return to the DDO office, for the Bap (selection conference) paper breakdown, a prayer that I had been praying on and off for about two years was answered. I cover this at my other blog, 'angelutterances', which perhaps gives a clue, by its title, as to what I was given. I knew God had a gift for me but I didn't know quite what it was going to be and I suppose I was hoping it would be a 'yes' from the ministry division and I suspected I would meet powerfully with the Holy Spirit at New Wine, which I had already started packing bags to attend. But this gift came early and is amazing and, in a way, it put the whole ordination thing into perspective. I do not crave ordination. I crave a relationship, I crave intimacy with God. I seek to walk in his Spirit. I seek to be a part of his Kingdom-building project. I knew at that moment, when I received this gift that I loved Jesus more than anything else in this whole world. In fact, I realised that first and said it aloud and then received the gift. So I went to my DDO meeting, possibly a little more calm and just 'at peace' than I might have otherwise been, and I got to read through my report, which was their 'yes' to my wonderings if Anglican ordained ministry was to be a part of God's plan for my life.
So there might be less blogging over the next two years (of full-time training), or there might be more, who knows? I tend to thrash out my essay ideas on line here, anyway, and communicating with all you lot has been, and will continue to be, such an invaluable part of the journey. God bless you!
I still want to say '.... so who knows what the future holds', as I have said with my other 'Looking back posts'.
I think, you know, that as Christians, we have to say that.
The only future that is ours and secure is our eternal life with Jesus, which starts in the here and now, as we get to be involved in his Kingdom breaking in. About everything else there is no certainty, only that God is very much in control, that his Son died for us and came to give us newness of life and that we can know both Jesus and the Father through the power of the glorious Holy Spirit poured out for us at Pentecost, in fulfilment of Joel's prophey and the promises of God the Father and his precious Son.