God is weird: PART 4

An Ordination Candidate’s Experience of The Discernment Process

Where’s My Pigeon Hole?

Back to the process itself. The DDO assigned me a Vocations Advisor (who has since left and I’ve been assigned a new one) whom I met every couple of months to discuss how my discerning is going. These meetings are like a very long three-way job interview. The church is looking at me and I’m looking at the church and myself and we’re all looking to God and asking “Is this right?”

After my first meeting with the DDO it was apparent I knew pretty much nothing about church. This was also confirmed in my meetings with my first Vocations Advisor. We’d been looking at the 9 criteria, a set of qualities which candidates have to show/possess, in order to be considered for training. I stumbled at the second of nine. Not a great start.

I’d have to show “an understanding of my own tradition within the Church of England, an awareness of the diversity of traditions and practice, and a commitment to learn from and work generously with difference”. Tricky, as I didn’t have a tradition. I didn’t fancy (and still don’t fancy) having to decide what kind of Christian I am.

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I was baffled by the various pigeon holes people occupied and what this meant in terms of theology, worship styles and whether one puts one’s hands in their air while singing or not. I’d be flattered to be described as charismatic, but had no idea this had anything to do with the Holy Spirit. The term Evangelical had, in my limited understanding, been hijacked by aggressive hate preachers in America. Maybe I once watched a documentary about it. Maybe Louis Theyroux was in it.

I now realise this couldn’t be further from the truth, and I now see myself as very aligned with elements of this tradition. Anglo-Catholic still confused me because there was such mystery in it all, but I liked the idea of predictable structure and fancy outfits (the Army in me). Apparently there’s much more to it than that.  Indeed, so much more. I now see myself as very aligned with elements of this tradition too.

Furthermore, B.1 (Candidates should have knowledge and understanding of the Church of England) and B.3 (Candidates should have an understanding of ministry within the Church of England) made me again question why, oh why, a brand new Christian would be put through all of this. There was so much to learn.

Here’s a list of the bizarre church-words and phrases I had to look up  in my first few months as a candidate, because I’d either never heard of them or wasn’t sure of their “church” meaning: chasuble, chancel, vestry, cloisters, slain in the spirit, Brethren, laying on of hands, fellowship, getting alongside, testimony, intercession, eschatology, Emmanuel, Maranatha, Hallelujah, Hosanna, dean, canon, rector, elder, crucifer, anointing, ordinance, ordinand, ecclesiology, episcopal, Episcopalian, epistle, apostle, apostolic, apologetics, missal, canticle, Creed, Calvinist, cincture, liturgy, Pentateuch, 39 articles, Magnificat, matins, Presbyterian, Anglican Communion, Zion, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Luckily I’d served as a linguist and cultural specialist in the Army, so saw this as just another vocabulary to learn.  That said, I feared I’d never be able to convince a panel I knew enough. I could read and read but my veneer of understanding would surely be seen through by even the gentlest of interrogations at BAP. They’d know I was a fraud.

Crash Course on Church at Cranmer Hall

September came around quickly and I’d moved the last of my boxes home, had hung up my uniform, and had enrolled at Cranmer Hall. This exposure was just what I needed. Each day began with Morning Prayer in the chapel which smelled dreamily of incense, where I had to wrestle with a colourfully beribboned book and unfamiliar words, and Tuesday evenings were all about informal worship, heartily sung modern worship songs accompanied by a band, and Communion with real pieces of actual bread. It was all rather mind-blowing. I loved it.

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I was at Cranmer Hall for a year, and in that time I took modules in the Old and New Testaments, Mission and Evangelism (I got sent away on a mystery mission for 24 hours with no money which you can read about later), and preaching. I chose these modules because if I wasn’t recommended at BAP and couldn’t afford to continue my degree, at least I’d have some really useful practical skills to use as a lay person in my local church. This forethought proved worthy, as I’d soon find out.

By the spring term I was quite unwell and for a variety of reasons (I’ve written blogs on this, check the homepage) I had to leave. 

This was traumatic. I loved the community and all the staff. My head was full of new learning and ideas, and I felt I was being stretched in all the right ways. But alas, I couldn’t continue, so I told the Warden, who was very understanding, and I stepped out into a scary world of great uncertainty, wondering what on earth had just happened. What do I do now?

I just didn’t understand it. No job, no money, no more studying. Wasn’t this what God had wanted? 

I was unwell and very sad, and so very confused by my calling. 

God is weird: PART 3

An Ordination Candidate’s Experience of The Discernment Process

Out of My Depth

A few weeks later I was sitting in front of the DDO feeling incredibly nervous. I’d spent hours deliberating over what to wear, for fear of appearing too formal and Army Officer-like, or much worse, too casual. Perhaps those hours would have been better spent reading the Bible. One of the first questions I was asked was whether my conversion experience in Afghanistan felt more like a Road to Emmaus experience or more like a road to Damascus. Hmmm. Jolly good question. If only I knew more about these roads. Damascus is in Syria. What might that have to do with Afghanistan? Was this a trick question?

“Gosh, it’s hard to say really.” I stalled for time. “It wasn’t a very road-y experience at all. It was in a shipping container.” Hadn’t he been listening at all? I’d been very clear about where it’d happened. There were no roads.

Then I was asked about my tradition. “Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic? Up the candle or down? High church or low church?” This man is speaking another language, I thought. I faltered. I desperately wanted to answer correctly. My future could depend on it. But I hadn’t the faintest idea what any of this meant. My first 9 months of being a Christian were spent worshipping in tents and in the back of armoured vehicles in Helmand Province. How should I know if I was an Evangelical? And Anglo-Catholic? No, I was definitely Church of England, I knew that much. It was certainly a trick question.

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I feared the interview wasn’t going well at all, but the warmth and friendliness of the DDO helped a lot, and we carried on for another hour. I told him stories and shared my fears and concerns. He seemed rather excited about having a shiny new Christian to work with, which was a relief. He diagnosed me as very possibly having a case of potential vocation, and prescribed me several months of prayer and further discernment. He handed me several kilos of paperwork to fill in. I was officially a candidate.

Spilling the Beans: Going Public

I still hadn’t told many people about this. In fact, other than Kate from Cranmer Hall, Richard the DDO, Dickie my husband and Justin the Padre, only two others knew (best pals). I was still embarrassed. Why, exactly, took months to work out. Eventually I figured it was pride. Up until this point in my life, I had been very driven by success and achievement. In fact I’d have probably once told you that my biggest fear was not spiders, or death, or War of the Worlds (the new one with Tom Cruise…seriously terrifying). It was failure. I wouldn’t normally put myself in a public situation that was so uncertain. And putting yourself through the vocations process is pretty public and pretty uncertain! At any stage someone may say no. And it can take a long time. Months, years…even decades for some.

I was keeping it to myself because I was so unsure the church would say yes, and I didn’t want to have to face people if I was rejected. And I know that’s really not the right word to use, but in layman’s terms, and certainly in my own mind at the beginning of this process, it felt like the right word. I’ve since learned to say “not recommended.”

So having identified pride as the obstacle, and humility as my aim[2], I decided to come out of the discernment closet. I told my parents, brother and sister-in-law at a family meal on Easter Sunday two years ago. That conversation could have gone better! At first my family, whilst very supportive of anything I do, were rather concerned. It was such a massive departure from my ordinary life; my army career. And leaving the security (relative; financial) of the army to embark on a second degree did appear rather drastic, especially as there were no certainties it would lead to a job, as it were.

My mum was particularly unhappy about it all, and her maternal instincts manifested themselves in interesting ways. She viewed the established church as cold, dusty, old and miserable. She feared it would take the life out of me. None of my family had had much contact with the Church before, and sadly none of them could imagine it as a lively, joy filled, and life-giving environment. I could see why my mum would want to protect me from a life, which she probably thought, would drain away all the energy and happiness that characterised her daughter.

I’d have to help my parents to see the unbridled joy that knowing and worshipping Jesus could bring. But I wouldn’t change their minds overnight. For now, they’d just have to trust me.

I realised my problem with pride was fairly deep rooted, so I took the rather extreme approach of going to the press. Or rather, the press came to me on a totally unrelated issue, which I used to tell the world “Hi, I’m a Christian!”. As a serving female Army Officer, the local newspaper had, over the years, interviewed me as a “local girl” about this or that to fill space on slow news days.

 

It was supposed to be an article about the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I’d recently been serving as been part of a British delegation. In the interview I decided to tell the reporter that I was a new Christian, I was discerning a call to ordained ministry, and would soon leave full-time Army service to start studying theology while I worked it all out.

This excited her. She ran the story on Bosnia, and a few months later got back to me and did one on faith. Whilst reading it in the paper was hugely embarrassing for me, as the reporter hadn’t quite got the exact nuances of the some of the things I’d said (it’s snappier to type “trainee vicar” than “discerning a call to ordained ministry”), it was quite a relief that pretty much everyone I knew would now know about this bizarre change of direction. This article was followed up by one eight weeks later about me doing a faith sharing mission weekend in HMP Durham, alongside about 30 convicts. Again, I cringed at the wording, which didn’t reflect how very unsure I was and am, but at least now all my colleagues, family and friends now knew, which helped me to deal with the problem of pride.

Yes, now people very much know I’m a Christian and that I’m wondering about becoming a priest. They’ll also very much know whether the church decides to recommend me for ordained ministry or not. Taking this risk, and being open and honest really has helped me to accept that my future is no longer in my hands. It is in God’s hands. This verse helps me:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

A second, totally unexpected and totally brilliant side effect has occurred as a result of me going public; conversation starters about Jesus. I couldn’t count the number of times in bars, at dinner parties, or at the gym that I’ve got into a conversation about careers (“So, what do you do?”) and I’ve been able to say, “Well I was doing that and now I’m doing this. Yes, crazy isn’t it? Oh you want to hear how this U-turn came about? Let me tell you about my weird conversion experience in Afghanistan and how knowing Jesus has changed my life”.

Within a couple of sentences we’re totally away from whether or not I may one day wear a dog-collar, and slap bang in the middle of the Gospels and how ace Jesus is. So “coming out” as a candidate in the discernment process was definitely the right thing for me to do. But, what now?

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[2] All of James 4 helped me, but in particular vs 6-7 “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God.”

 

God is weird: PART 2

An Ordination Candidate’s Experience of The Discernment Process

In the car on my way back to the barracks, I turned to my husband and asked if he’d heard what the Bishop had said. He had. Well? Well, what? Hadn’t he heard the Bishop was say I should become a vicar? No, he had not heard that bit. It was a tense journey. The message seemed clear in my mind. And as I’d just promised to live the rest of my life for Jesus, which meant making some big sacrifices and changes, so I decided there and then to leave the army and work out if I really was called to become a priest.

My husband was very understanding. All he asked in the car was, “Where will we live? What will they pay you? Will you get a car?” Our lives might be very different from now on. Our hopes as a newly married couple of a certain lifestyle and combined salaries would need some realigning. I sensed my husband was sad about the holidays we probably wouldn’t have and the new Mercedes he’d definitely never have. I couldn’t answer any of his questions, as I didn’t know any vicars. This thing needed exploring, which he agreed I should do. I thank God for this marvellous man who was and is totally fine with me giving it a go.

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The thing was, I still couldn’t get my head around why God would want me. I just seemed like such an inappropriate choice. One of the earliest stumbling blocks, was that I personally knew a much more sensible candidate and simply couldn’t figure out why she hadn’t been called. She was a fellow Army Officer, a devout Christian, and she had a well-maintained and state of the art moral compass. She was wise and kind, and a competent leader. She really would be the better choice.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that, even if she felt she had a priestly vocation, she couldn’t take it very far, being a Roman Catholic. But still, I thought, if you take anyone Lord, take her!

I looked at my life and thought, wow God is weird. This can’t be right. It can’t be me, God, come on! (I’m told this denial phase is totally normal). I’d done some stupid stuff. Stuff I was embarrassed about. Stuff I was sorry about. What on earth would the Church do with me? A rugby playing, weight lifting, craft gin drinking, potty-mouthed, Army Officer? Aren’t priests supposed to be mild mannered and quiet? Reflective and peaceful? I was more likely to be found on the floor of the Officer’s Mess at 5am, showing off in front of everybody by challenging the Regimental Sergeant Major to a press-up competition, than saying my morning prayers.

Seriously God, you don’t want me leading a church.

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That night in bed, having decided I’d do my very best to follow Jesus, even if it meant exploring ordained ministry, I looked at my life and wondered how much of it I’d have to change. Indeed, would the lot have to go? Part of my discernment process has been trying to filter the bits I think Jesus rather likes about me, which perhaps make Him smile, and the bits that make Him face-palm, and say “No, Rachael, that’s definitely in the redemption pile.” A rather timely moral MOT. And it’s an ongoing process.

Spilling the Beans on a “Need to Know” Basis

I sat on this vicar-secret for what felt like ages. I was pretty embarrassed about it. Firstly because, as I’ve said, it seemed so unlikely, and secondly because it seemed so dreadfully arrogant. What gives me the right to think I could be a Priest, when I’ve only been a Christian for five minutes, when there are others before me that should do it, and, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what being a Priest is all about?

After a few weeks I confided in the man who married me. No not that one, the other one. Padre Justin Bradbury. We’d already spoken quite a bit about my new faith during marriage prep, and I trusted him implicitly. He seemed like a very wise and measured man.

I must admit I was rather hoping he’d say I’d lost my senses. But, alas, he recognised something and suggested my next move. He told me priests needed a degree in theology, so without further ado, I made an enquiry at Cranmer Hall, Durham University. It seemed sensible to move back up North to my home in nearby Darlington while I worked all this lot out.

To my surprise, the Deputy Warden Kate Bruce, who had arranged a meeting with me to listen to my inquiry, offered me a place there and then on the course as an Undergraduate, beginning in the September. I was totally at a loss. It was so very unexpected, and unlikely. But I had agreed to walk through doors if they opened when I pushed them. So, that was that. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to study theology as an undergraduate at Cranmer Hall alongside real trainee priests. This should help me work out if I could imagine myself as one of them.

As I stood to leave, still trying to keep Kate’s Labrador away from my crotch with my briefcase (a futile task), she asked if I’d seen the DDO. What’s a DDO? I wondered, hands covered in saliva. The Diocesan Director of Ordinands interviews and processes everyone exploring a vocation. I needed to book an appointment with him as part of my discernment. This scared me. This would make it official. More official.

Part 3 is out now

God is weird: PART 1

An Ordination Candidate’s Experience of The Discernment Process.

So You Want To Be A Vicar?

I’m a candidate somewhere near the beginning of the formal process where the Church is discerning if God is calling me to ordained ministry. Risky, therefore, to be publishing my experiences and thoughts on the discernment process whilst I’m still in it. But I think it’s worth the risk, because in the very first few weeks and months after I felt “called” I really knew nothing about discernment (more on me knowing nothing later) and wondered if I was completely alone/insane in sensing a calling, so I turned to the internet to read blogs about this well-trodden path, from those wo had gone before me.[1]

Whilst I found blogs detailing what actually happens at BAP (the national selection panel, but don’t call it a selection panel!) there were few, if any from people this side of it. The blogs were from folks on the other side; those who had been recommended. Perhaps it’s too painful to drag up and write about if the panel said no.

So this is a blog from an insider who has no idea where her future will be. I’m inviting you to follow this journey with me over these 5 instalments, through it’s many twists and turns. There are many hoops to jump through, interviews to be had, prayers to be prayed, and ultimately a number of wise clergy and lay people will make a decision. I’ll be recommended to train for ordained ministry, or I won’t… or option three, I’ll be deferred until I’ve worked on whatever it is that’s needs developing further; the “not yet” category.

I write this completely open to the idea that I may have got this wrong and God’s not calling me to ordained ministry after all, but has something else up his sleeve. There’s that option too. In which case, that’s exciting as I have no idea what that could be.

The Conversion Bit

This candid blog about the process, my hopes, fears, anxieties and faith, is titled “God is Weird” because God is really weird. Here are a few reasons why:

I first met God in 2012 in a shipping container in Afghanistan. I was an agnostic, probably, if I’d cared enough to give myself a title, which I didn’t. I wasn’t really bothered one way or the other, but I certainly didn’t believe the universe was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, and that the Gospels and Jesus were true and real respectively. So it was a bit of a shocker being confronted by the awesome and terrifying truth that God exists. I won’t tell the whole story here but you can read it later if you wish.

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So that was weird. And God, it seemed to me, wasn’t going to let me get away with just a feeling of awe and wonder. God, it seemed, wanted me to have a very active, personal and constant relationship with Him… immediately. And like the screaming of a child you just can’t ignore, or an eyelash that’s caught in your eye that you have to attend to right now, God got my full attention. I began exploring everything I could about Jesus, with an insatiable appetite. I was a very hungry caterpillar, eating (metaphorically of course) the Gospels.

I also really felt the need to share. I wanted to tell everyone that I’d just started reading this amazing book and that they should read it too. A real page turner. I didn’t know it at the time (because I hadn’t yet learned the proper church words) but I was evangelising from the offset. I was telling the soldiers I lived and worked with on the front-line in Helmand Province, that I’d just heard that God is real and Jesus is awesome and would they like to hear what I’d learned so far?

And that’s pretty weird. I had no clue about most of the Bible- indeed the version the Padre gave me was just the New Testament and Psalms, so Job and Leviticus would have to wait- and I was in no position to answer tricky questions. Frankly, my friends back home, and indeed most of my colleagues probably thought I was nuts. But what can I say? God made me do it. And what’s weirder is that at least one of the soldiers I told, began exploring faith for herself, and got booked onto a Christianity Explored course. Winner. This was all within the first few months. God is weird.

Drama at Confirmation

And then within two years (2014), and only three weeks after I’d made other life-long promises before God at my wedding, I was at my confirmation service. At my confirmation, as I knelt in my smart army service dress, a uniform which has scarcely changed since the 1940s, I remember feeling so excited and overwhelmed by these huge pledges I was making.

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Yes- I’d firmly decided- yes, I will serve you Jesus and I’ll do whatever you ask of me. I’ll change my life. Right here and right now I am turning away from the old me, and I’m going to live differently. From now on I’m all yours. I squeezed my eyes shut and my hands together, and shed a few tears.

All sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it? Maybe I got a bit caught up in the moment. Maybe this is how you’re supposed to feel at your Confirmation. I don’t know. All I know is that in that moment, surrounded by 11 year olds and their parents and the Bishop and my brand new husband, I totally meant every word.  Twenty minutes later God tested my resolve.

God is so weird. Following the pattern of immediate action that had characterised my new faith, within a matter of minutes of me being in the church, the Bishop was delivering his sermon, which he illustrated with the story of his own calling; his own sense that God was saying he should be ordained. What the…

I sat there sweating, with a dry mouth. A film reel of significant moments of my life flashed in my mind. The good bits, the bad bits, the hard bits. The regretful bits. The choices I hadn’t understood at the time. The stuff I’d always thought was just good luck. The weird way my life had been mapped. The strange sense that I was meant for something but hadn’t yet, perhaps, figured out what.

Was it…? Surely not. The idea that it could be becoming a vicar actually horrified me. What a ridiculous and comical suggestion. It seemed so implausible, so outrageous, so unlikely, so clear and obvious. It was like the Bishop was talking directly to me, though we’d never met. Things slotted into place and made sense, but at the same time it all just seemed so… weird. I was probably getting the wrong end of the stick. My first test. But I’d never felt like this before about anything.

Here I am Lord. Is It I Lord? I’m Not So Sure Lord…

 

There are 4 more chapters and I’ll post one each day this week. To get them direct to your inbox (so you don’t need to faff about finding this site again), just click follow.

[1] I also read Rev. which I highly recommend, even if it isn’t on any official treading lists.

The Generic Wisdom of the Bishop of Berwick

I recently posted an interview I did with professional Aled Jones lookalike, The Rt Revd Mark Tanner, Bishop of Berwick. It was part of a series I’m writing called “Marks of a Generous Church”.

However, there was significant overspill from that interview. Much more than I could fit into one blog. But I didn’t want readers to miss out because his answers were jam-packed with interesting views and teaching.

So I’ve extracted all the non-generosity-specific content and assembled it here under ‘generic wisdom’. For those of you interested in what else the lovely Mark Tanner had to say about the church, obedience, blood biking and wearing purple, read on.

Mark, you were consecrated last October and installed as the Bishop of Berwick on 3rd Dec 16. How did you end up as a priest in the first place? I was conscious of a calling to full time ministry from age 14. I expected I’d teach or be in the police force or something else people-based until I was in my thirties, then I’d explore ministry. I read Maths at University, then considered doing a PGCE but I had profound feeling that this was the wrong thing to do.

I still had this long-term calling to ministry. I went into one of those prayer spirals where you’re asking “Lord what should I do?” And the only other thing I really loved doing was youth work. So I applied for a full-time youth job at a church in Coventry and became a youth pastor. A year into that I recognised that the call that had been hanging around actually was a ‘now’ call.

And we’re very glad it was!  What about your Christian background? I grew up in the Baptist church. I became an Anglican entirely by accident whilst at university. So I often say because I’m an Anglican convert, I’m a really passionate Anglican!

What I love about the Anglican Church is that firstly we are the church for the whole country, not just the church for the church. So as a priest and now as a bishop, I am of course a priest for the people in the churches, but much more than that.

When I was a parish priest, whether you came from the church or not, I was there for you. That’s important. I love that God is not just interested in those who are interested in him, there’s that wonderful generosity of God who’s God for everyone.

So the parish system works? I am a big fan of the parish system, but I understand there has to be a mixed economy because people don’t just hang around in their geographic circles. That’s why we need Fresh Expressions and chaplaincy.

The breadth of the C of E reminds me that I don’t have everything right. I might come from a particular tradition within the church that has great gifts, but actually I need my brothers and sisters who come from different traditions.

God is bigger than any church or tradition, and the fact that the C of E, unlike some of the other denominations, doesn’t have just one way or praying, or doing worship, is that constant living reminder that it’s not about me it’s about God.

God is the one with the resources. God is the one who calls. God is the one who sends.

Being all the same would be a nightmare. It would be a Mark-shaped church or a Rachael-shaped church instead of a Christ-shaped church. So for me it’s about the responsibility for the nation and mission opportunities, and the breadth which draws us back to Christ time and time again.

What’s your own tradition? Mark takes a sip of tea and looks like he’s stalling for time, and about to dodge the question.

I tend not to be too bothered about that as a bishop, and that’s not me trying to dodge the question.

I smile, knowing full well what Mark’s tradition is, but eager to hear the wisdom in his answer. It’s a very good answer. He goes on…

The danger is that if people think the Bishop is only interested in that or that, then we lose the whole truth of what I’m talking about, which is that the C of E is there for the everyone. So I have to say I am rooted in a particular tradition in the church, but I love the breadth of the church.

When I went to Cranmer Hall as Warden, one of the most profound gifts that I had was out of term time, going to choral evensong every night. It was a real life saver for me. That’s not a tradition that I’ve been formed in, but for me, particularly in that period, it was so necessary.

In fact being a bishop, one of the things I miss is being too far away from the cathedral. I genuinely love every type of worship from the informal to the very formal, so long as Jesus is the focus.

What’s more important than the question, “What is your tradition?” is, “Are you focussed on those who don’t yet know the love, the grace, the forgiveness, the hope in Jesus?” The reality is, the vast majority of people in our nation will go to bed tonight, without knowing the things that we, as Christians, just take for granted.

It’s easy to say “Well, why don’t they just come in?” They don’t come in because they don’t actually know that we’re here, that it’s relevant. So in that great missional charge that all clergy get when they are plumbed-in to a parish, is to proclaim afresh in every generation the faith that we have received.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re catholic or liberal or evangelical. Whichever badge you want to stick on, because that’s the key question.

Amen! I couldn’t agree more. Sense and wisdom like that is why Mark is a Bishop. Part of the trick to good interview is to know what questions to ask. They have to allow the interviewee the space to give answers like this. I feel like I’m on a roll, so hit him with another.

Have you always wanted to wear purple and funny hats? No I’ve always not wanted to wear purple and funny hats.

My interview technique needs a little work I think. I remark on how nice the tea is while thinking of something more mature to ask.

Could you tell me what you’re making of your first few months as a bishop? For me this is all about obedience. So if God had called me to be the cleaner of the church toilets, I genuinely hope I’d do that with as much grace and joy as I do being a bishop.

Obviously it’s a huge privilege being a bishop and I’m delighted to do it. But it’s got to be about obedience to a call. I actually don’t think the bishops are the most important people in the church. It’s those who are out doing day jobs or bringing up kids. We all have a unique calling and there is no hierarchy in terms of actual importance.

Of course the church can seem to be structured hierarchically, but the mission of God is the key thing, and therefore the people who are doing the mission of God are the key people, and that’s all of us. The reality is as a bishop, you spend most of your time with folk who are already Christians, so arguably we are the least important people in the church because we’re the furthest away from the mission field.

But do you think being a bishop opens up missional and evangelism opportunities because of the status? Yes absolutely and that for me is a great privilege and joy. It’s what gets me out of bed on a morning.

Are you invited to events that people would attend mainly because they know the bishop’s going to be there? Certainly. And the bishop can say things that other people can’t. One of the really fascinating things about going to a church is, you’ll stand up and say something and people will listen to it, take notice and try to do something about it.

And the vicar will say to you, “It’s really great you saying that. I’ve tried saying that and nobody listens!” and that’s right, you’re a different person with a different voice and different role and people listen.

What was it like when you got the call to be a bishop? It’s a very strange thing.  Obviously a huge privilege and a huge delight. It was hard to leave Cranmer because that’s a rich and wonderful community. I was there for 5 years. My concern was, and is always, am I doing this or that particular thing out of obedience to Christ?

I would often say to the students at Cranmer Hall, when we are praying, there are four key words we need to say to God out of our obedience: ‘anyone, anywhere, anything, and anytime’.

And I really don’t care whether God calls you to the most prestigious place in the world to be with the nicest people you could possibly imagine with all the resources you need, or whether God calls you to be in the back streets and worst place you could imagine. Your task is to be obedient to Christ because Christ is building his church. Our task is to be obedient.

When I was a kid at Sunday school, a hymn that stuck with me that had a catchy tune and goes “trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” It’s a simple children’s song but actually there’s such wisdom in it. The truth is, if we trust Jesus with what we’ve got, fruit comes from that which, actually isn’t surprising as He’s the one who made it to start with.

And obedience isn’t tradition-dependant. It’s not ordination-dependant. It’s for all of us. It doesn’t matter whether somebody became a Christian 10 minutes ago or they’ve been a Christian for 100 years. It doesn’t matter whether they’re the Archbishop of Canterbury, or they’re the person who turns the tea urn on in the morning.

We’re all called to that common task of reaching out to the least, the lowest and the lost. Those who can’t begin to imagine that God could love them. That’s why we’re here.

Who’s your favourite disciple and why? I think you’re the very first person to ever ask me that question. I haven’t really thought about it. My initial reaction is Luke because at the beginning of his Gospel and at the beginning of Acts he basically says, “Others have written about this but I’ve made a really careful investigation so that you might know the truth”. It’s that sense of, “My heart’s already there, but I’m applying my brain because, if this is a fairy-tale I’m not interested. I want to dig down into the truth and now I’ve found the truth I want to share it”.

You’re stranded on a desert island. You get to take three Bible characters with you. Who do you choose? Can I have Jesus? Yes. Well it’s a toss-up between people who would be good for me, and people I’d actually like to spend time with! So maybe one of each. Very very long pause. I think probably Esther because she had that extraordinary balance between basically thinking she wasn’t up for the job and honouring God.

Like Esther, so often I think I can’t do this. Who am I to do this? And so Mordecai says no you are, you’ve been put in this place and this time for this task. So Esther and Jesus and then I’d probably want Paul. He’d be quite interesting. He travelled and had all those experiences. I don’t think I’d like Paul as a person much, but what I love about Paul is that he’s thought and wrestled with tough stuff. He’s not afraid to come out with the really hard stuff.

And finally Mark, when you’re not bishoping, do you have any hobbies? Well when I have time, I’m out riding blood bikes. Mark volunteers for a charity called Northumbria Blood Bikes, which delivers blood and urgent medical supplies, out of hours, between hospitals and healthcare sites and laboratories in North East England. It’s a pretty cool thing for a bishop (or anyone) to do.

There can’t be many bishops who can put this on their CV. No, I’m probably the only blood biking bishop. There are a couple of others who ride motorbikes, but I think I’m the only blood biker.

This seems like a suitable place to end. We can all sleep a little sounder, knowing that if ever we’re critically injured in hospital and it’s a bank holiday, somewhere in the north east, there’ll be a bishop on a motorbike, cassock and mitre flailing in the wind, making his way to our bedside. Or something like that.