Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The rocky road to discernment part 1

A recent post on the revgals site enquired about any roadblocks or confusions along our way to discerning who we really are before God. The post had a wider application than simply for those en route to ordained ministry, and I suspect I’ve blogged some of this before, but the roadblocks I encountered were so utterly devestating for me at the time that it might just be worth recording them once again, for the benefit of anyone else similarly afflicted.

My call to ordination came, with hindsight, very very clearly at a family service on St David’s Day 1991. The guest preacher that day was the diocesan Children’s Officer, Canon Eleanor Powell, who was the first ordained woman I'd then encountered. Towards the end of her talk, a voice spoke so distinctly that I looked around for its source. “You could do that for me”, it said.
Never being one for the obvious interpretation, I decided (having established that none of my neighbours was trying to enlist my help in retrieving a fallen walking stick or glove) that this was a call to children’s work, and spent the next several years training as a Reader for Children’s Ministry, and getting involved in all sorts of diocesan groups designed to nurture the young and support their parents. I loved it. It fitted perfectly round my life with my own young family. If I was running a children’s event for a neighbouring parish or deanery, my children came too and had a ball. I was having my cake and eating it, and it was delicious.
The only trouble was, people kept asking me when I was going on to the next stage.
"Next stage? " I’d laugh, incredulously…”This is the final stage for me. I’m doing quite enough to keep God happy…and anyway, I don’t want to put myself in the position where I might have to move house.”
Thereby hangs another tale. When I was asked as a small child what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was always “To live in a Georgian house in the country, with an apple orchard and a porch full of gum-boots”…so, Lower Farmhouse was literally a dream come true. It had open fires, stone flagged floors, window seats, and roses growing round the front door. It was, quite simply, all I had ever wanted, and as I became ever more involved in the life of the village and the church I would day-dream about the flowers for DarlingDaughter’s wedding (she must have been all of 10 by this point) and wonder if the lawn was big enough for a marquee when the time came. By now, everyone but me could see the next part coming!
The C of E voted to ordain women to the priesthood and the trickle of “When are you going to…?” questions became if not a flood then at least a reasonably healthy river,- and I finally recognised that I would at least have to offer, if only to get some peace. Only, the house was non negotiable. I would offer on the basis of non- stipendiary ministry, which would allow me to continue to serve in my home parish, stay at home, continue with everything exactly before….
The diocese was delighted that I was finally getting around to doing what seemed to be obvious to everyone except me. I sailed through all the local interviews, and was given a date for my national Selection Conference. Suddenly it all began to seem alarmingly real.
My journey to Windsor was dogged by misfortune. My elderly 2CV clearly had no enthusiasm for becoming a clergy car! The final straw came when I stopped for petrol, and, as I indicated to leave the garage afterwards, found the indicator stalk resting lightly in my lap.Faced with the Heathrow perimeter-road at rush hour and no possibility of reliable signals, I was tempted to burst into tears and head straight home. Instead, I pressed on. Probably an error.
To arrive at your selection conference 2 hours after it starts is rarely the best approach.
Nor is it wise to mention the negative impact of the Christian Union during your undergraduate career to a selector who, with hindsight, was on the committee of that very body during the years you were studying there yourself!
Over a 3 day period, I spent a lot of time hammering nails into a coffin I couldn’t recognise as such. But amid all the interviews, group exercises and agonising non- verbal intelligence tests (I have NO spatial awareness….scored well into negative numbers with the utterly logical sequences of patterns and boxes, even as I startled the assessors with my perfect score on all things verbal) something rather wonderful was happening. In the chapel one evening, I realised that I was unmistakeably in the right place. That whereas I had gone to the conference out of a sense of duty, a need to get people off my back, I was now certain beyond any doubt that my calling was indeed to ordained ministry. Returning home, as I drove down the hill into the village, and saw the familiar, beloved fa├žade of Lower Farmhouse, I heard myself saying to God
“Yeah, OK, it’s a nice house, but there are other nice houses. It doesn’t matter in comparison with this. But then, nothing much does. I’ll never be truly me if I don’t do this, will I?"

1 comment:

Mary said...

As to cognitive skills (now mercifully dropped from the selection process, but, sadly, too late for Kathryn and me) my selectors said: "The disparity between the verbal organisation and deductive reasoning scoresmay indicate particularly well developed verbal skills... the content and quality of the arguments may therefore be weaker than they first appear." Ehich could be interpreted as suggesting I'm positively dangerous......