An Ordination Candidate’s Experience of The Discernment Process
Into the Great Unknown
Should it be this hard? Should I leave it alone? Why won’t this strong sense of purpose and calling just go away?
Two days later my prayers were answered (many of them at least) and I was told about a job being advertised at the Diocese of Durham. It was to do with stewardship.
To say I was reluctant and lacking in faith is an understatement. I had to look up the word stewardship for a start. I had no expectations of success but, God is weird. God is so weird that the timing was perfect, the actual job description (words like stewardship aside) was perfect and the panel said yes.
I had a job, I could patch up my finances, I was going to be serving the church full-time and I could use those aforementioned practical skills as a lay person. Hurrah!
So for the last 18 months I’ve been leading The Generous Giving Project, which bizarrely has helped me develop in my worst area of the 9 criteria; knowing about church and stuff.
After I’d only been a practising Christian for a couple of years, I’m chuffed to bits that I was given the opportunity to work as a Diocesan Officer, advising local churches on developing disciples to be more generous, and writing materials on God’s generosity. I get to present at Chapter meetings, at Deanery Synod meeting, at Bishop’s Leadership Team meetings and I preach most Sundays (sometimes up to three sermons a week!) It’s crazy.
I’ve worked in churches with big worship bands and PowerPoint, where children and adults wave coloured flags and join in with prayer whenever they like. And in churches with bells and incense. And in churches where we hand each other bread and wine in a circle. And in churches who are Forward in Faith and have alternative oversight from a different Bishop.
Until recently I didn’t know most of this stuff even existed. I didn’t even know I was part of a Deanery.
I’ve learned loads, but the more I learn the more I realise I have yet to learn. Each new experience reminds me how inexperienced I am. But that’s OK. It’s not a race (I keep telling myself). What’s really helped is all I’ve learned about the breadth of the Church of England, and how I understand my own tradition. And I still maintain I don’t have one!
Not really. Whilst this might irk the BAP (if I actually get that far) I can’t comfortably say I’m one thing or another, even though when people meet me they think I give off a whiff of evangelical. I think it’s my brogues.
My weird pathway through faith in my first few years has exposed me to so many different theologies and ways of worshipping that I can’t honestly say there’s one I’m more drawn to above another. I’m a Eucharist loving, modern worship song adoring evangelist, who loves liturgy, saying Morning Prayer, and preaching the Gospel. And I know I’m not alone. I’m told it’s not that rare a condition after all.
But has any of this helped me to discern whether or not I really am called to be an ordained minister? Certainly. Do I have an answer? No. I’m still just muddling through. In this job, at times, I’ve felt so content and fulfilled in my work that I’ve wondered if a future in lay leadership may be exactly what I’m called to do, and that I’d misunderstood that first message in my confirmation service.
Maybe what I’m called to do doesn’t require me to wear a dog collar. I’ve given this possibility much thought, and have talked about what this might mean with my husband, who had just about resigned himself to being married to a vicar.
I may never become a priest, either because I feel I’m called to lay ministry after all and I withdraw from the process, or the church decides that for me, because it discerns God’s calling me elsewhere. There are no certainties here. A few years ago that would have felt enormously stressful; all this not knowing. But I rather like it. I have no idea if/when I’ll go to panel or what they’ll say. It’s all in God’s hands.
And yes, I’m really getting better with the pride thing. If I get as far as BAP and they don’t recommend me, I’ll be devastated for sure, but not because I’ll think of myself as a failure. I’d be upset because by then, if I get as far as BAP it’s because I’m as sure as I can be that I desperately want to serve the church as a priest for the rest of my days. So a no at that point would still be heart-breaking, but not because of pride. Just because I’ll need to re-evaluate what I think God’s calling me to.
And this whole process of trusting God will hopefully help me to see that if it’s not ordained ministry, then God has planned something else equally weird (and I’ve come to expect equally exciting) around the corner. Let’s wait and see.
Advice For Fellow Candidates
If I had one bit of advice for anyone reading this who is just on the edge of the process, or like me, right in the middle of the storm, then it would be to trust God in whom He calls, and what He calls them to. Time and again I’ve been told that it’s OK that I’m nothing like the model of a “normal” priest, and that if I am ever ordained, I’ll be a Rachael-shaped priest, not any other kind of priest. It’s OK to be different.
I’m told the church actually really wants diversity in its leaders. Phew!
As candidates, we don’t know for sure what will come of our future, we just have to trust that we, our Bishops, and the rest of the folk we meet along the way, can wisely discern God’s call, which is not an easy job, and it’s not always to ordained ministry. God is weird. He calls weird people to do weird things. Thank God.