Wow, I haven’t blogged in so long! Maybe I need to undertake a repeat of last year’s (failed) Easter exercise. Anyway, it has been a busy (overly busy, perhaps) time since I last blogged, and part of that busy-ness has been because of the process of walking towards ordination. The process of discerning one’s call to ordination in Methodism goes on for the whole of Probation. In March I met with the District Probationers Committee who unanimously recommended me for ordination, and then yesterday the Presbyteral Session of District Synod unanimously agreed to that recommendation, meaning that I will be Received into Full Connexion and Ordained on 29th June. Because of this, I was required to give testimony (a talk on some of my call to ordained ministry in the Church) at Synod Worship yesterday afternoon. What follows is the script I used (and kept to as best as I could!)
By quick way of introduction, the pictures on the screen [Slides shown on left of post] are to look at as visual reflections of what I’m saying, and some people prefer visual reflection over words. The song titles are because I live my life to an on-going soundtrack, a secular soundtrack mainly, and in my life I have found as much of the small still voice of God in such music as I have elsewhere. So listen, look, read, or a combination of all three – and please note, the words and pictures are reflections on my story, they do not necessarily come from the specific time and place they reflect upon.
Because of time constraints I generally want to skip through the first almost 25 years of my total 36. I have no tale of sudden conversion. I grew up in the Church, a son of the Rectory. Baptised as an infant, confirmed as a teenager, a parish church chorister and attendee of the parish’s youth discipleship group. Raised in the faith. Yet also raised to think for myself. Raised in a faith that asked questions as much as gave answers. As I entered my later teenage years I drifted from the institution but I never felt I left the faith. My links were never severed: my university, Liverpool Hope, had a chaplaincy at its very heart, and when I went home, I went home to a Rectory. How could I actually leave, even if I had wanted to?
As I left university I probably looked fairly successful to most people: I walked into an administration post at my university that included accommodation, some meals, and financial support to undertake some postgraduate study, and I was engaged to be married. Eighteen months after graduation things went wrong: in swift succession a change of job within the university left me in a role I was not so well suited to, and my by-then marriage irrevocably broke down. In the midst of all this turmoil I felt a desire to return to a place I hadn’t been to in 4 years, and which had played a significant role in my being raised in the faith: Iona. As I stepped off the ferry onto the jetty I felt two things: that I was home, and that, despite all the chaos and mess in my life, I was loved.
Looking back, I can see the path that runs directly from that moment, and that feeling of home and of being loved, to this moment here. A whole host of things followed: a decision to join the Iona Community as a full Member, rejoining the institutional church as part of that membership joining process, moving down to London, a blossoming relationship with an old friend, the entering into the life of the Methodist Church through my relationship with Lorna, a couple of false-starts work-wise before settling into an ever upwardly mobile series of posts at Croydon College. All this was a healing process, but it was also a process of breaking down past assumptions and resistances, until a still, small voice whispered in my head that I might wish to consider a call to ordination. A further host of things happened: a range of conversations – Lorna, minister, friends, parents, colleagues, all surprisingly supportive; going On Note and then On Trial; ongoing success at work; marrying Lorna; the need to leave Croydon College in the wake of a change of role and related ill health; time as a Circuit Pastoral Worker while candidating – all in that continuing process of both healing and challenging. Then the yeses – Circuit, District, Connexion, and the realisation that we would, in actual fact, be moving on in so many ways.
We thought carefully and prayerfully about where we considered it would be best for me to train and for us to spend 2 years of our lives. We didn’t ask to go to Cambridge. Nonetheless it’s where we were sent. In the end, it was, I think, the right decision. While it was certainly a place which presented me, and us as a family, with challenges, and left us with scars, it was also a place of great freedoms, revelations, encouragements, and friendships. Cambridge’s ecumenism opened me up to worship traditions I had not fully engaged with before, its scholarship reminded me of my love of exploring ideas, including ideas about God, its community life enfolded me and allowed me to ask yet more questions about God and about how mirror God in our lives as Church. The combination of these things cocooned me as I found myself spiritually drawn in directions I would never have expected. Having entered Cambridge as, I think, a fairly middle-of-the-road, mainstream type, I left as a “Man in Black”, a strange hybrid of many things, most of them not your average Methodist and very aware of that fact!
And it was from this position that I was thrown into the maelstrom of not-your-average-Circuit life. What who made of whom would take far longer than we have time for today. Suffice to say I think many of us in the beautiful South Eastern corner of Cornwall were left with many questions, not many answers, and a sense of knowing something wasn’t quite right. For me it was in part so bewildering because certain things felt right: in particular the place, the possibilities, and the presiding at the Eucharist. Yet clearly things were far from perfect. Eventually, the growing shadow revealed itself.
This was not the first time I had encountered the Black Dog. He had reared himself in Croydon, and on reflection since I can see his having played a part in my life at other times too. This time his growing stature engulfed me almost entirely. In the blackness I thankfully encountered the still small voice once again, reminding me that I was loved, this time in the accidental (as it happens) actions of a child. In the time off that followed I was quite seriously blown away by the generous love and support from those in the Circuit, as well as from elsewhere. I knew I had not met expectations (mine or others), yet here were people who were thinking of me and praying for me nonetheless. The time and space I was given in the wake of my depressive crisis allowed me to reflect on many things, and to return to the work I am called to in a different light, shaped by the experience of that darkness.
And the key reflection is that I am still becoming who I am called to be. I am, as we all are, a conundrum still being worked on by God. I am called to be a Presbyter in the Church of God, within the discipline of Methodism and within the Catholic tradition. I am called to be an asker of questions and an explorer of worship. I am called to be someone moved by music and pictures but who is also called to write and speak words. I am called as someone who walks in the shadow of darkness to shine as a light. I am called to love, as prophet, priest and pastor, as I am loved by family and friends, by the faithful and the faithless, by the One who is the very fount of all our beings. Thanks be to God, and to him be the glory.