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.
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.
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.
Categories: Christian Vocation