So, firstly, Happy New Year to one and all! Although, of course, as one of my fellow students comments here, there are different points at which a new year can fall, and for those of us who have spent most of our lives in education one way or another then September is the point at which we tend to think of years changing. For us, January marks the start of a new term, rather than a new year.
That said, we Methodists can be somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to years. Officially the Methodist year starts in September, just like the academic one, because those itinerant ministers moving station do so in August (which historically would have been the point in the year when the weather was best for moving all your belongings – it’s amazing what you learn in Methodist History lectures!). Yet we use a lectionary that has, as all lectionaries do, Advent Sunday as the beginning of a new Church Year. And in most, but not all, Methodist churches/circuits January is when we hold that distinctively Methodist service, the Covenant Service. It is at this service that we Methodists, individually and collectively re-commit ourselves to God and to the work of God’s Kingdom, acknowledging that as Christians we put our own will aside in order to submit to God’s will. Of course, that is something that we have to do constantly, and often we will fail, but the Covenant Service gives us a chance once a year to publicly re-commit ourselves to that aim and goal. It is a New Year Resolution that all Methodists are asked to make each and every year, recognising that it is a resolution that we will all, at times, possibly many times, we will fail to keep but which, nonetheless, is one worth making.
But resolutions, of one kind or another, are not my focus today. (For further thoughts on the kinds of resolutions us students might make you can check out my friends at LankyAnglican and Lost and Found, as well as Katielou above.) Mainly because resolutions have never really been part of my New Year routine. Instead, at this time of year, my thoughts tend to turn to reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future.
In terms of looking back, I have to say it’s been quite a year! When it started I had not even begun writing the Portfolio that is a significant part of a Methodist Candidate’s application for training. Since then I have: written and submitted the Portfolio; undergone District and Connexional interviews; been accepted as a Student Minister; written the assignments for a significant part of my Local Preachers studies and been accredited as a Local Preacher; left my job and become a student again; moved to Cambridge in order to do so; been through the intensity of a Cambridge Term, made more intense by the fact that we Student Ministers and Ordinands have denominational, pastoral and practical work to do as well academic studying; started blogging. And amongst all of this I’ve also managed to keep my personal life going – although the holidays have reminded me how much I miss seeing my friends and family regularly. I’m lucky in many ways, including being the kind of person who enjoys change, who enjoys new challenges – in the nine-and-a-half years since I graduated I’ve worked for 5 different institutions/organisations (as well as return to studying), and done 11 different jobs (a couple have over-lapped), almost every change having been deliberately sought out and/or chosen. Nonetheless, it has also been a surprising year – while I felt “the call” a few years ago, and have been working towards this point for something like 4 and a bit years, I was never certain I’d heard correctly. I was certain in my commitment, certain I wanted to do it, but uncertain I’d heard correctly: more than 2 decades of certainty about not doing something is difficult to completely overcome! I love being where I am, and the joys it brings me despite the occasional (or possibly frequent!) challenge.
Yet, there is also need to look forward. And my looking forward takes in not just the coming year (with its church and social context placements, its essays and exams, its form-filling and waiting) but the year after that. Or more to the point, this day in one year’s time! Today my friends who are approaching the end of their time here at Wesley and who are training to be Methodist Presbyters will find out where they are to be stationed as Probationers. Each of them will, this evening, be informed where the Connexion feels they should serve the first 5 years of their ministry as a Presbyter (including the first two as a Probationer). Before that happens we will gather for a short service and then those of us who are here will gather together to offer our support and encouragement, to share in their joy and possibly (though hopefully not) upset, over drinks and nibbles in the Common Room. And because of this my thoughts (and I am sure the thoughts of those at the same point in the process as me) are jumping forward to this time next year, when it will be our turn to be told.
I was quite clear in my Connexional forms prior to allocation as a Student Minister, and will continue to be in future forms, that for family reasons it is highly desirable, indeed possibly necessary, that my first stationing take us to the Westcountry. Our most recent move, while it did not take us as far north as we had originally anticipated, has taken us further away from our own families, especially the wee one’s dad and his family. While her dad is currently in West London it is quite possible that he will shortly move back along the M4 to be nearer his family just outside Bath and we are keen that the wee one spend the last of her formative years (she will almost be an adult by the time I complete my first stationing – depending on circumstances too far in the future to firmly expect it is possible she will even have passed her 18th birthday before we make a further move) within easy reach of her dad and his family. I have been quite broad in my definition of the West Country – south of Gloucester, south and west of Oxford, east of Exeter (I know, the Westcountry reaches further west but West Devon and Cornwall are, because of the roads with the M5 stopping at Exeter, a long drive from Bath). But still, I know from experience that the Connexion must take many factors into account when stationing people and our needs and desires as a family are only one of those factors. I have, because it’s the kind of person I am, been checking out the websites of the appropriate Districts and Circuits – and even within that geographic area there’s a fair number. Yet, if I have to make one New Year Resolution, it should, in matters related to the Connexion, be not to get too far ahead of myself – there’s a lot of time to go between now and next year, and the decision will not be mine to make, as my friends in their final year are fully aware.
So, for now, as we sit on the edge between two calendar years, as we all reflect on what has been and consider what may come, as we resolve to do new things or stop doing old things, my thoughts and prayers are not for myself and what is to come for me, but for my friends and for all those out there who today, or in the coming days, will discover where the next step in their life and faith journey will take them.
Whether you know the next step or not, travel well,