Today is the beginning of the third week of lectures this term. (Yes, I know, it’s a Thursday, but that’s the day University of Cambridge lecture weeks begin – I never said Cambridge wasn’t an odd place!) Generally my term has been going reasonably well: I’m pleased with the Papers I’ve chosen to study and the lectures have all seemed worthwhile so far (not perfect, but worthwhile); it’s been good to pick up friendships from last year and be confident that my suspicions regarding some of them being friendships that will continue to sustain us for years to come will be proved right; starting to get to know the new intake has been a joy; I’m enjoying the challenges of leading a Worship Group and being responsible for us reflecting on how we grow as worship leaders and practitioners; I’m excited about the work I’m getting to do in Christian Doctrine as my dissertation moves forward; I’m confident that my Pastoral Portfolio will eventually come together and be ok; I’m loving getting to spend time back in the Fens (though this does remind me of the issue of my back, which seems to be slowly getting better but which still means I can’t have beer on trips to the pub owing to the painkillers and is made worse by the driving I need to do to visit the Fens – if you pray, your prayers would be appreciated!); family life seems far more balanced and manageable this year, thanks in no small part to Mrs Nomad’s choice to work supply and only do so a few days each week.
So, if all is going so well, why the title of this post? Well, it’s a quote. It’s a quote from the Pastoral Prayer of Abbot Aelred, a Cistercian monk of the 12th Century who was Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. I came across it as part of my reading for today’s Life & Service class. You see, Thursday doesn’t just mark the beginning of a new Cambridge University week, it is also “Methodist Day” here at Wesley. By this, I mean that having got together over a shared lunch, we then split into our year groups for what are known as “Life & Service” classes. To give them their full title they are “Life & Service in the Methodist Tradition” classes. Some students will be required to submit assessments at the end that will be counted towards their final degree mark, others of us will be required simply to submit the work to show we have been paying attention and to show that we have done more than simply show up at classes. As you might be able to guess, these classes are those most specifically aimed at rooting us in Methodism and in the roles we have come to Wesley House to train for. In the first year course the focus is very much on getting a grounding in Methodism, in its history, it ecclesiology and polity, its worship and hymnody, its theology, its development from the Wesleys, Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon to today’s worldwide church. And in the second year, known as the Leavers’ Course? Well, we begin the journey of “inhabiting the role”, of either Presbyter or Deacon, depending on which we have been called to. It is in that context that I came across the title quote. In the prayer Aelred is questioning why on earth God would have called him to the role of oversight that he has been given. He feels unworthy of the call. I have always known that I was sent here to Cambridge to prepare for something else, but until now it has not struck me what an awesome thing it is to be called to the role of Presbyter – to be called to be a representative of our faith, a representative in so many ways, to the world, to the Church, to God, on behalf of the world, on behalf of the church, on behalf of God. I find myself asking the same questions as Aelred in the face of the reality that this year’s Life & Service prepares us for – that by this time next year I will be out there, fulfilling the role of Presbyter! It is good to know I am not the only one asking such questions of myself, that even those now considered Saints of our faith (Aelred was named a Saint, and is remembered in the Roman and Anglican calendars on 12th January) faced such internal struggles with their calling.
And it is not just the classes that leave me challenged. While I love being in the Fens, and my supervisor has so far proved very helpful and supportive, it is nonetheless a different feeling being present as a Student Minister than as a Visiting Preacher. Unlike our Anglican and Catholic brothers and sisters, we Methodists are allowed to wear our “dog collars” before ordination (though only when fulfilling the role of Student/Probationer Minister – we have no permanent permission to wear them). I have helped assist at Eucharist before but doing so on Sunday dressed in my black suit and black shirt with white collar felt different (just as it did when I assisted in South Africa). Even stranger is driving while wearing it. I cannot say I drive all that differently, but I certainly feel much more guilty when I get cross at another driver, or when I overtake someone when possibly I could have waited a little longer. This, of course, is the reason we take the class, and undertake the placement, to prepare us for the day when this role will be given to us permanently. I am convinced I am called to this, but that conviction does not stop me echoing Aelred’s centuries old question – why me?
In whatever you are called to do, travel well,