“A new generation of vicars…”

One of the more random moments of this week took place yesterday morning, at my friend’s flat in Hemel, barely an hour into a day off with some of my favourite friends. My phone rang, and having already seen an email that had suggested this call was imminent, I went off into the next room to take it.

As suspected, the withheld number turned out to be a journalist from The Independent, who wanted to interview me about being a ‘young’ trainee vicar. Recent statistics released by the Church of England had shown that the number of under-30’s entering ministry is at a 20 year high (23%),  [I count as ‘young’ because I was under 30 when I was selected – no rude comments please!] and The Independent had been keen to write an article featuring the experiences of a few of the people who made up this statistic. When preparing the press release on this news, the Church of England media team had collated a few case studies, so I was already prepped for such an eventuality.

The journalist and I had a pleasant conversation, but all the while I could hear raucous noise from the next room where my friends were getting stuck into some seriously good brunch. Occassionally, I heard snatches of conversation about me –
“It’s Wednesday, this is normally a working day for her, maybe something’s come up…”
“You don’t think it’s that interview with The Independent she mentioned? I thought she was joking! No, I’m sure it’s not…” *More raucous laughter*

Miraculously, I got through the call without too much distraction and rejoined the throng keen to make up for lost time (and lost pastries). Upon hearing what the call was about, the girls collapsed into even more laughter – of excitement, rather than derision – and asked questions about photos and the like.

So now it’s online (and will be in print tomorrow) and it seems to have turned out ok – I hope the other youthful ordinands and clergy feel it has too.

A new generation of vicars Personally, I’m very glad that the chosen photo is of the curate from Call the Midwife. An interesting choice, as it also harks back to the last era in which those in their 20’s were regularly selected for ordination. 

However, I do have a few clarifications. (Always the way, when talking to journalists, especially on the phone while there’s noise in the background!):

1. Not ‘all’ my lecturers are on Twitter. The vast majority are, and there is theological banter (looking at you Lincoln Harvey, in particular!), but there are also Twitter refuseniks. [It’s my own fault, I probably forgot to say ‘most of…’]
2. I did not help to run a young women’s vocations day – I helped out at it. An important distinction that I think the true organisers of the day would appreciate. There is a huge difference between months of planning, and simply creating a few prayer stations; pouring tea; and talking to a lot of people!

Such are the joys of journalism, I suppose!

Also, anyone else baffled by the reference to ‘wing tips’ in the headline? My brief Google suggests that it’s a footwear reference, but it’s definitely not one I’ve come across in my forays into clerical wear catalogues…

Merville Reflections

Merville, reflected Merville, reflected. (It rained, nearly perpetually.) 

Ah Merville. I had mixed feelings as our coach departed. On the one hand, I was keen to return to normal life (with freely-chosen food, more friends, and consistent internet); but on the other, I was sad to leave a place that I’ve now spent 3 weeks of my life in. It seems St Mellitus will return to Merville next year (despite much room-sharing), but as a soon to be ordained ordinand, I will not be among them.

St Mellitus is virtually the only theological college in the Church of England to provide full-time ordination training in a non-residential context. It’s therefore slightly ironic that the highlight of the year for many students is the week we spend in a monastery, being as much like a residential college as is possible in rural France. Chapel every morning before breakfast and every evening before dinner; eating meals together; eating one meal in silence (while the sermons of St Augustine were read aloud); living alongside one another on corridors with fire doors that bang really loudly; awakening each morning to the sound of your neighbour’s footsteps echoing really loudly; and having the kind of fun in the evenings that only trainee vicars letting their hair down can have…

DeanoThis screen-grab is from the only video of my only appearance at St Mellitus open-mic night. It’s a private video so I can’t share it, plus it didn’t manage to capture the whole song. (I’m hoping we might repeat it at some point, so we can get the whole thing.) The above crew worked together to produce a parody of The Lumineers ‘Ho Hey’, that became a ballad of how our Assistant Dean was plotting to overthrow the Dean – who we affectionally call ‘Deano’, which would be the word we’re all singing at this particular moment. (Assistant Dean is now known as Ass. Dean, which is unfortunate.) 

In actual fact, our residential week is probably a lot more intense than a typical week in a residential college. For a start, there is next to no free time (apart from after dinner and one free afternoon), whereas you’d usually have time to do things like write essays, prepare sermons and visit churches. Secondly, even the married students are onsite. (This is a good thing, as otherwise all but two of my friends wouldn’t be around.) Thirdly, so are the tutors. (This is an especially good thing when one of your tutors brings with them an excellent card game that you become practically undefeated in.)

It’s a good job it only lasts a week! I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but it has got to be said that the level of exhaustion after 7 days of continuous vicar school is on another level. Not to mention just how peopled-out this introvert gets when the amount of time she can spend by herself is strictly limited. Although, one element of the exhaustion would be my own fault – given my commitment to rising at 6.30am (an hour before non-compulsory pre-morning prayer eucharist) in order to run; have early breakfast so that work could be completed; or walk to the boulangerie for croissants. I saw a lot of Merville in the dark and as dawn broke…

Before and during the dawn, Merville The church and civic hall before dawn (which finally broke at 7.30); the cemetery and canal as light began to appear.

Talking of the boulangerie, my reconnaissance mission to check its opening times and quality led me to have possibly the most appropriate pastry treat anyone at vicar school in a monastery could have:

Une Religiose GBBO fans will obviously recognise this as une religieuse – the pastry shaped like a nun. (Coffee flavour.) Recipe here.

Finally, I inadvertently began a Merville tradition in my first year. While out on a reflective prayer walk, I took a seat on a peculiar concrete manhole and started taking photos. Inevitably, I wound up doing a Liz. The next year, I found myself in the same spot wearing the same jumper and so took another. This year, I took the same jumper with me for the sole purpose of completing the trio. And thus, I now have proof of how much two years of vicar school has aged me:

Merville self-portraits 2011-13(2012 was clearly a little windy.) I think the answer is, I’ve not aged that much & I’ve certainly got happier! 

Une semaine à l’école vicaire en France

Apologies for the light posting of late – there have been deadlines for other writing projects, sermons, exciting weddings and general life-admin. [Tickets for Christmas have been purchased, the dentist has been visited, various cards have been renewed, grandparents have had a visitation – I’ve been on fire!] Now, I’ll be in an internet black hole for a week as vicar school decamps to an old monastery in France.

Merville

This is my third and final trip (in fact, the college has grown so much that it’s the final trip for everyone) and I’d like to think I know exactly what to expect. Thanks to my grandparents, I have a travel kettle with which to boil water for tea (3 varieties) or hot chocolate (myriad sachets) and my hot water bottle. I’m sure that I will be able to provide comfort for many! [My response, on receiving the kettle yesterday, was: “Yay! Now my room will be party central!” With one accord my mother and sister rolled their eyes and despaired.]

Party central will probably be the poker players (yes, that’s what trainee vicars do for fun). On previous trips it was the Spoons collective, but so many of our number got ordained last year that it seems an insult to their memory to play it again (plus, there are pregnant people who can’t risk getting injured). So I may simply channel my inner Victoria Coren, forget my Methodist roots and put my efforts into finally understanding poker! I’m sure that’s a more worthwhile goal than understanding the books of Hosea & Amos?

It’s not all fun, the final year students will (in addition to studying the prophets) get some practical lessons in baptism, marriage, funerals, burn-out (well, not burning-out), preaching and the joys of the Anglican Communion. Personally, I’m hoping they need volunteers to wear a wedding dress.

I’ll be back in a week, no doubt with plenty of blog fodder. Until then, adieu!

 

More French vicar week posts here.

July Bucket List

Tomorrow is July 1st.
Tomorrow is also the last day of class for this academic year. (I know it sounds odd to be finishing on a Monday, but that’s what happens when you only have classes on a Monday.)

It could not come soon enough. This term has been insane as far as deadlines go – a whole four of them, three before half-term. The last essay went in on Friday and gosh, it felt good! [What felt a little less good was the reaction to an email from college asking why so many of us had handed in that essay when they weren’t expecting it till September… We were just obeying the deadline schedule, but if we’ve got another 2 months, I’ll happily re-write it!]

What I am currently in great need of is some freedom from the library, some space to read non-theological books, ample time for guilt-free tennis watching and a chance to catch up with some neglected friends.

So, being the organised person that I am, I made  a list. A bucket list, if you will, of activities that could do with being completed before the church decamps to Mablethorpe in late July. Some are downright tedious – like cleaning my room and filing notes that have not been filed since 2011 – others are utterly frivolous and are on the list to sweeten it.

July bucket listYes, that’s ‘West Wing’. No, I haven’t. Yes, I should have. 

One item that I’ve just had to add to the list, as I’ve realised I’d missed it off, is writing. I’m behind on this blog and I’m behind on  articles for two other publications and I don’t like being tardy.

In essence what I’m saying is: “Hello life, I’ve missed you. Please welcome me back with open arms!”

Formation

In the world of theological colleges, it is farewell season. The final weekend of June (‘Petertide’ in the CofE calendar) is ordination of deacons weekend, the moment that marks the end of life as an ‘ordinand’ and the beginning of the next stage of training – the curacy. (For the uninitiated, it takes almost as long to become a fully-fledged incumbent vicar as it does to become a Doctor.)

This past weekend was our final Vicar Weekend of the year. As was the case last year, we gathered on the lawn of High Leigh for photos, farewells and Pimm’s. On the Sunday morning, we heard each leaver share their next destination, along with their hopes, challenges and prayer requests – 90 minutes of inspiring stories that should encourage the Church of England. It’s also a peculiar moment, because you know that at some point, it will be you up there. It seems to go a little like this:

First year: “It’s so sad I haven’t had longer to get to know these guys… I’m so glad I’ve got another two years before I have to do this!”

Second year: “I can’t believe that we’ll be without all these amazing people next year! How has time gone so quickly? I wonder what I’ll be saying when it’s my turn?” [Meanwhile, every single 1st year will say to a 2nd year at some point “this time next year it’ll be your turn!” with a gleeful smirk on their face.]

St Mellitus Leavers, 2013This year’s 45 leavers pose for a photo. Yes, that’s 45 soon-to-be curates – an impressive total for any theological college. (Not that it’s a competition, obviously.) 

However, that doesn’t account for the many ordinands who only undertake two years of training instead of three. At St Mellitus, everyone does 3 years unless they have a previous theology degree (unlike everywhere else, where you do 2 years if you’re over 32) and in my cohort of 28 ordinands, 12 fell into that category. That’s a lot of people to bond with and then lose 12 months before you’re really ready to!

It just so happens that my formation group (aka ‘officially the best formation group ever’) is particularly hard hit by this state of affairs. This month, 5 of our 12 members will be ordained – that’s a lot of people to lose from a group that’s been a literal Godsend to every single one of us. (Personally, I blame Alex and Phil for being promoted to 2 year students having begun as 3…) Life at Vicar School will be very different next year, and quite possibly, a lot quieter.

Formation Group funThanks Tonia for this – though I’m impressed that despite yells for everyone to move into the photo, Rich & Phil are still obscured!  (Incidentally, I was violently ill minutes after this was taken, you almost wouldn’t know…)

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to think about how ‘formed’ we felt – in relation to how we felt at the start of training and how close we were to finishing. Theoretically, those of us at the end of two out of three years should feel approximately two-thirds formed. But did those who had only had two years feel fully formed? Does anyone ever feel fully formed? What am I going to get in the next year that they won’t? Are the departing 2nd years leaving partially formed?

The short answers to the first and last questions would be: no and no. The departing second years are brilliant people who, like all new curates, will continue to be formed in their post-ordination training. In fact, like all clergy (if not all Christians) who should continue being formed throughout their lives. And as for me, I’m grateful I’ve got another year in the comparative security of Vicar School!