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. 

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