Past, present and future

Many of you will be aware that there has been a stoney silence as far as my post-Vicar School plans are concerned. While people may think that the entirety of my life is shared with social media [it really isn’t, ever], there has been a significant absence of information regarding my next steps.

What should have happened was this: in June, I’d have finished Vicar School; said goodbye to St George’s; moved house; gone on an ordination retreat; been ordained a Deacon; and begun work in a brand new parish. I only managed the first two in June and the third happens tomorrow. The ordination bit has been delayed for a year.

As of today, I can officially say what these next steps are. Next month, I’ll be returning to St Mellitus to spend a year studying a MA in Christian Leadership. On the side, I’ll be doing some freelance research type things [if you have research/writing needs, do get in touch!] while at the same time sorting out a curacy for 2015. I’m moving to Forest Gate (just beyond Stratford) tomorrow, living with some Matryoshka Haus friends who happen to need lodgers right now – as they’ve just put in a hot tub, it should be an excellent home for the next 10 months.

That short explanation puts things very simply, but in reality, the last year has been something of a roller coaster. The curacy process was not an easy one – there were No’s, disappointments and doors that stayed firmly shut – and by Easter it really didn’t look as though things would work out in time for June’s ordinations. As most of my classmates had their curacies sorted out by Christmas, I’d endured a long, seemingly never-ending period of not knowing what was happening yet, while all those around me were excitedly making plans for the next three years. Thankfully, I happen to have studied amongst the best people. Friends who wouldn’t ask the dreaded question unless I volunteered information and who regularly pressed tissues into my hands. Tutors who were unbelievably supportive and made lots of time for me to talk and process things. Countless people who checked in to see how I was doing, who prayed, made tea and generally tried to help me see a way through the fog.

When you’ve been working towards a particular outcome for years, it’s incredibly demoralising when it doesn’t seem to be happening. God had called me into ordination training, the end point of this is meant to be ordination and a lifetime of ministry. Why wasn’t it happening for me? [There are lots of possible answers to that, but I’m not dwelling on them here.] Where was God in all of this? Why me? I had a great report, I’d done well at college and in my placement – why couldn’t I find the right curacy? I was left frustrated, disappointed and rather angry.

God is in the details Spotted this in the window of a shop around the corner from my flat back in February. True words. 

Watching my friends – the people I’ve been alongside for the last three years, going through all kinds of joy and trials together – go on to the next stage without me was horrible. Early on in the year it was easy enough to put on a brave face, heading off to the vestments fair (buying a cassock that has gone unworn in the process) moderately cheerfully, for example. Presenting on my current placement  in our final assessment, while everyone else used their new parish was tough (but at least gave me something of a head start). Standing up in front of the whole college on Leavers’ Sunday and admitting that I had no idea what was next took all the guts I could summon up – but the response I received to my prayer requests was staggering and I was so glad I hadn’t bottled it. As for ordination weekend, I didn’t hide away but instead greeted my London friends on the steps of St Paul’s as they emerged from the service. Their delight at seeing me there made it worth it, as did a fabulous drinks party overlooking the city. Combine that with excellent people paying me a flying visit the following day, and actually it was nowhere near as bad I’d feared.

What I’ve had to hold on to is that this isn’t ‘never’, it’s ‘not yet’. I will be ordained. It is what God’s calling me to do. I am going to be a perfectly decent Vicar. Just not this year. And this year won’t be a waste, God’s got plans for it – I’m just still in the process of working out exactly what they might be! I’m back in the curacy process for 2015, so all being well this time next year I’ll be a fresh-faced curate. I’m not the first ordinand this has happened to and I won’t be the last.

Remember why you started I discovered this at a church craft fair before Christmas & it’s sat on my desk ever since. 

So, this year…

I’ve had a long-held plan to do more theological study (there’s a PhD idea in the offing) so a MA would clearly be a good step in that direction. Part of the delay in announcing my plans is thanks to having gone through a process of applying to the Church of England for funding for the course, a process that took forever – I received the result nearly a month after I’d had my interview. This too was a no, but thankfully, an alternative option has come up, one that I’m exceedingly grateful for.

Today, I went into college to talk to my tutor & the person in charge of the MA – just to clarify my thoughts and to make a final decision. Chatting with them reminded me yet again of just how supportive St Mellitus is as a place to train [honestly, best theological college ever!] and that in no way is this a soft option for a year. Having managed to land a First last month, I am going to be stretched and encouraged to realise my fullest theological potential. There were also conversations about other things I might get involved with and general enthusiasm from everyone I met that I’d be back next month. I left the building feeling excited about the next year for the very first time. That is a long time to have not been excited!!

I won’t be working at a church, but I am looking for a new one to belong to (things aren’t that desperate!!) Hopefully I’ll get to preach occasionally [invitations welcome], and I’ll still be part of the college worshipping community (albeit minus a significant number of friends – luckily I have some in others years too). It has the potential to be very exciting – I get to check out the ways different churches work; visit newly ordained pals in their parishes; spend a good chunk of time working on a relationship with God that’s been rather bruised of late; and bury my head in some fascinating theology.

As for what you can do…

  • If you’re a praying person, please pray – for my move; for settling into a household that’s going to be quite a contrast to my quiet 2 bedroom flat (especially as there’s only been me since June); for the new year and adapting to a new way of studying and working; for getting enough work to finance the year; and for the curacy process as its gears start to whir.
  • As the months progress, I’ll keep you posted when I have concrete information. If I’m not saying anything, please don’t ask (unless you’re an in real life friend). Trust me, I’ll be shouting from the hill tops once it’s all sorted! (I know that there are some people on Twitter who love to have discussions about CofE processes there, but I am not one of them!)
  • Be patient. I’ve really struggled with blogging over the last 6 months, because there was this massive part of my life that I couldn’t write about. A new friend of mine gave me some very wise advice last week, suggesting that I write up all that I’ve felt this year out of the public eye, and I’m going to do that, if only for journalling purposes. But when things are tricky in life, writing becomes really hard – which is hugely frustrating! But trust me, I will try and make sure the wit & wisdom continues somehow.

To those who have very much been alongside me on this journey, thank you SO much. Even a verbose blog post can’t say just how grateful I am to you all!

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