So, you’re going to a BAP…

Well, actually, the chances are you’re not – you’re probably just a regular reader of this blog who has absolutely no intention of ever putting themselves forward for ordination in the Church of England. [Wait, are you confused as to why I’m talking about BAPs? This explains it all.] However, this post is primarily for the benefit of at least four people I’m acquainted with who I know are going to BAPs imminently. Plus, there’s always the chance that the odd candidate might approach Google for help.

Whitby AbbeyThe graveyard at Whitby. This image is becoming my default ‘card to send to BAP candidate’ image…

True, when you’re selected for a BAP, the CofE sends you a helpful booklet entitled ‘Going to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel’, which explains the processes and procedures (if you’re interested, you can find a copy here). But, there are plenty of things that you could do with knowing that neither it nor your DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands, aka the person who you meet with regularly who supervises your progress through the selection process) tells you, so these are some of my tips. One day, I might write an entire book of such hints – I’d like to call it The Irreverent Guide to Becoming a Reverend – or maybe the Church Times would like a new regular columnist…?

My DDO was terribly thorough in her BAP preparation, which was very useful – we even had a helpful clothing chat. [This can be summarised as: no suits; smart-casual; be comfortable. Basically, wear what makes you feel good, but be sensible.] One of her best pieces of advice was that I should take ‘comforting’ things with me – like a Teddy Bear, a favourite book and some nice food. I translated this as:

  • Comfort viewing – specifically Gilmore Girls Season 4. Do not underestimate the power of the box set. BAPs involve long periods of time in your room and it’s nice to have background noise and something to get engrossed in to take your mind off everything else.
  • A cosy cardi – partly in case it was cold, partly so I could curl up in it.
  • Green & Blacks chocolate – self-explanatory.
  • G&T in a can – for emergency situations only. In fact, I ended up drinking it on the train home because I hadn’t needed it.
Beforehand, lots of people will (hopefully) give you advice, pray for you and send you nice (or comedy) cards. If you know someone going to a BAP, look up the address of their centre (it’s either Ely or Shallowford, so not tricky to find) and send a card to them that they’ll get on arrival – it’s a nice touch. Amongst my cards, I had a letter of advice from my Dad which included a few gems:
  • “Do be yourself…” “Do show your humorous side…”
  • “Don’t get into an argument! Do keep calm at all times.”
  • “Don’t dominate a discussion… As Karen was told in Outnumbered, ‘treat everyone with respect – even idiots’.”

[I feel I should clarify that my Dad wasn’t suggesting that I would get into an argument – just that he’d heard of it happening. He was suggesting that I might dominate a discussion and it’s not the first time he’s compared me to Karen from Outnumbered.]

Once you’re actually at the BAP, the important thing to remember is that everyone is in the same boat. Don’t let yourself get psyched out by the people who already seem to be behaving like vicars (unless they’re one of the advisors). It’s a little bit like Freshers Week at uni – everyone will ask you the same questions and you’ll spend a lot of time having the same conversations, and you’ll be offered endless cups of tea.

There will be ice-breakers, they may be cringeworthy, but this is an ideal time to pick up on what your advisors are like – which is always useful, especially when you’re completing your Personal Inventory. This is a peculiar 45 minute exam on you and your calling (top tip: take more than one pen in with you). In mine, I took a risk in the Education section and used Glee as an illustration – having already spotted that my Education Advisor was younger and had teenage children – it worked, she got it. Neither of the others would’ve known what I was talking about!

Your DDO may suggest you don’t become too pally with the other candidates, which is probably wise. But it’s worth finding out who the likely pub people will be (I ended up being the only woman who went for a drink), although there’s also a good chance you’ll be at a venue that’s miles from a pub – but there will be a bar. It’s also worth remembering that you may come across the candidates at a later date – like at the theological college you end up at. You may even have met some of them at open days or diocesan vocation courses – which can be both a help and a hindrance. Hopefully you’ll also find someone you can have a giggle with. A friend of mine at Vicar School found the whole BAP/baps thing hilarious and someone prayed that he’d find someone at his BAP who also found it funny – he did, and as it turns out, both of them ended up at the same college.

It’s a long 48 hours and definitely arduous. You’ll go to more chapel services than you’ll have thought possible [they will say that all but two are optional, but really, you’ve got to go – you’re hoping to become a vicar after all!]; you’ll be watched all the time – especially at meal times [you rotate between tables, which can become a trial to remember]; you’ll get grilled three times; and you’ll be with a bunch of total strangers, several of whom you’ll probably think are utterly insane. There will be people who you’ll think shouldn’t get selected – but you definitely can’t tell them that. There may even be people who seem to think that you shouldn’t be (perhaps because of your gender or age) but ignore them.

You’ll also need people on the outside. If you’re married/in a relationship, then you’ll participate in the mass, post meal, exodus of phone call makers. If you’re single, have people who you can call or text whenever you need to. In both cases, have people at home who are praying. (My church always prayed for BAP people at weekly staff meetings – find out if your church does.) Even better, have someone on hand who’s been through the process themselves. I was lucky enough to have had two friends go to BAPs in the two months before mine, and one was on hand for “I can’t believe how crazy this is!” phone calls. You probably won’t have wifi, and 3G access will probably be patchy – so don’t rely on that kind of communication.

Oh, and your bedroom door may not have a lock. This probably isn’t a big deal, but it does mean that you need to pay attention to your room name – rather than relying upon a number on a key-ring. I was shown to my room, I unpacked and left for a cuppa, realising half-way down the corridor that I had no idea of my room name and only a vague idea of which one it was. Given that none of the doors locked, there was a high chance that if I picked the wrong room, I’d walk in on a fellow candidate! (Or, even worse, an advisor. Or, even worse than that, an interview.)

Ultimately, the best advice is to go and be yourself. If your DDO is worth their salt, you wouldn’t have got to the BAP stage if they didn’t think you were a worthwhile candidate. If it all goes horribly wrong, it isn’t the end of the world (although, if you feel like Nigel from Rev did, then do avoid church roofs) and you can have a second chance at it. Whatever you do though, don’t drink your emergency G&T just before an interview – those bad boys have two and a half shots in them, which could decimate your performance!