Tag Archives: Uncertainty

Time for a re-think?

I spent the weekend on retreat with a group from GCN at Buckfast Abbey, which is near Totnes in Devon. It’s only the third GCN event I’d been to, and I was nervous that I would be stuck spending my weekend with deeply irritating camp blokes or people all too like some folks I’ve known in Durham who aren’t very comfortable with their sexuality and act like jerks to hide the fact. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong about it!

The first evening we had a lovely meal, much wine and a talk about 1 Peter from the priest leading the weekend. On the Saturday, TractorGirl and I led a session looking at the prologue to St John’s Gospel in the morning. As a couple of people requested it, I’ve added the text of my talks. We had a nice lunch at the Abbey’s cafe, which does extremely tasty-but-bad-for-you puddings. In the afternoon, one of our members talked about his experience of the ex-gay movement and we had a good discussion about being gay in the church. That evening saw us decant to the pub for a lovely meal (or at least it was when my food finally got there!) and I spent the Sunday morning chilling while TractorGirl went to mass.

For the most part, the weekend gave me much-needed space to relax, to catch up with people (though some all too briefly – methinks some travel might be in order) and make new friends. It did me good to get out of Durham for a while, and I got to spend some quality time with TractorGirl which I really appreciated and was lovely.

So far, so good. However, God was also doing his thing of unsettling things. One of the people on the retreat was an Anglican priest and after hearing me preach, told me he thinks I am a natural preacher, teacher and pastor and that in his belief, I am called to some sort of ministry within the church. This wasn’t the first time someone has told me that – it has happened several times after preaching and when getting to know people in the church – but what scared me a bit was his certainty.

Now, since I left the ordination process in Durham Diocese, for what I think was a sensible and principled reason, I’ve been doing a certain amount of re-assessment of my faith and place within the church. I had initially concluded that Anglican ordained ministry was not for me and that I would be better giving up altogether or looking at switching denominations. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve been wrestling with all of this and the jolt over the weekend confirms my initial thoughts:

  • Within my remaining time in Durham, I would like to keep worshipping at the Methodist Church that has become ‘church family’ and who have loved and accepted me unconditionally. The Cathedral is lovely and I will still go there sometimes, but I’ve had enough.
  • Joint Anglican-Methodist membership is something I would like to do purely for its own sake, because it does express my journey and theological roots. However, I don’t think I’d pursue local preaching unless after the move I end up in a Methodist church. First and foremost, I am an Anglican. The Church of England, despite its many faults, is my home and I love it very much. I feel deep down that it’s where God wants me to be, and after all, it won’t change if everyone who struggles in it flees.
  • Leaving the process hasn’t lessened my desire to serve God in the church as well as the world of work. I don’t think full-time parish ministry is for me, but NSM or reader training do appeal, and I need to stop running away and look at them.

In short, the conclusion I’ve come to is that God doesn’t seem to want to give up on me in ministry in the church of some form. The task now is to discern the right expression for that. This means dealing once again with the thorny issue of sexuality and after the weekend and sharing my story and, far more interestingly, hearing from others, I just about feel in a position to do that. I will have to get better at ‘playing the game’, but I think stepping back for a while and talking to so many encouraging people has helped me see how that might work.

I think, through all the ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ of the last few weeks, what has emerged through much prayer, thought, wrestling and tears, is a sense of the need to step out, take risks and use my gifts to serve God. I can’t really talk about the other part of my life where the need to take a leap of faith and just live with the uncertainties has become apparent and I hope I’m responding appropriately, but in both cases, I’ve realised that I can either carry on running away, or take the risk of love. It’s very scary, but I honestly believe I’m doing the right thing in both cases.

There’s a clip from one of the best films of all time, in my humble opinion, ‘Good Will Hunting’, about taking risks. I couldn’t find the specific clip I wanted, but the end of this illustrates my point about safety nets and the need to risk getting hurt to find love:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAF8zRUdp18&feature=related[/youtube]

A brief update on life…

I’ve had a mad three weeks or so and therefore just haven’t found the time to blog, so here’s an update on life at the moment:

I am now Dr TOH, as of 8th June. I have just minor corrections and thankfully not many of them, so the thesis should be all done soon. However, I doubt I’ll make July congregation because of the rest of life…

I have been up and down the country looking for work. Had a few interviews since I last wrote anything. One will take a fortnight to get back to me and I’m not convinced I want the job anyway. One would have been great but turned me down – since when has talking through in detail the planning of the final two chapters (representing a year’s work) of a PhD thesis been an insufficiently strong example of planning an activity? The interview I had in Manchester today seemed to go well and I’ll hear tomorrow. The company seemed great so I’d really like to progress to the next stage. All in all, with job applications, life has been hectic.

I had my first experience of the dismalness of benefit claiming this month. One now has to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit by phone, and they want to know one’s entire life story. Then I had to go for an interview with Jo, an advisor who slavishly followed her computer system (which couldn’t cope with the concept of a graduate looking for graduate jobs) and talked to me as if I am a particularly stupid monkey with a particular reason to be stupid. She refused to listen to me and the system couldn’t cope with the types of jobs I’m applying for – management consultant wasn’t on the list, so such jobs can’t exist… I’ve promised to be a good girl and look on the Jobcentreplus (plus what, exactly?) website twice a week, which I intend to use to find the most bizarre jobs going and blog about. I have to go back Monday for my fortnightly humiliation. Prayer please – felt very down after the last time.

TractorGirl has been on a pioneer missioner adventure. Whatever comes of it, I hope it gives her the confidence to explore the Diaconate when the time comes. Can’t deny it hurts, though, watching her being encouraged when the Church of England gives one no room to pursue ministry with integrity.

We have had some sunshine at last, and I now have a tan of sorts. In other news, Prince Phillip is still alive. Oh yes, I may have solved my impending housing issue and last week I bought a new tie 🙂

Grey night of the soul

There has been a lot of change in my life of late. In the last few months:

  • I have submitted my PhD and am waiting for the viva (and working hard to prepare, honest!)
  • I have left the C of E ordination process (which I’m pleased about)
  • I’ve done some serious re-thinking of career plans
  • I could well have joint Anglican-Methodist membership soon

On top of that, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be (in particular in relation to TractorGirl) and maybe how I’ll put food on the table (though that is almost certainly me panicking) in a few weeks’ time.

All this and a conversation today with a friend on a similar topic has got me thinking. Where is God in all of this change? I suppose because I’d been thinking about ordination for so long (and still feel a deep sense of call, though am glad to be out of the process) it’s shaped how I see and understand my faith. Now that’s not on the agenda, how do I tell my story, and what is God doing? I must admit as well to a deep sense of boredom with a lot of church stuff, which feels increasingly pointless, and a degree of apathy about prayer. When you’ve prayed for guidance, made a real effort to listen to God, prayed about and discussed it through with others who’ve encouraged you to follow a given path, you think you have some idea of what God wants. The failure of that has left me wondering just what my faith is about and the point of prayer.

It taps into a major theological issue I really struggle with anyway – in what sense can we speak of God’s action in the world? To hear some people talk, God micro-manages their lives. I can see that it can be comforting to believe that God is in charge, and I’m not knocking anyone who has a really deep sense of that, but I can’t help but ask about the problems God seems incapable of resolving. On the other hand, belief in a distant God who just stands back (like the Deism of Locke, for instance, or the only sort of ‘God’ Dawkins can deal with) is just not the Christian God. A solid doctrine of creation tells us that God is moment by moment creating, sustaining and redeeming the world, so that if his attention lapsed for a moment, there wouldn’t be a creation. Moreover, God’s desire for that creation is to have life in all its fullness, which is why he sent Jesus. Grace is a constant reaching out to what is not God in love to draw it into the life, the very heart, of the Trinity (think Rublev’s ikon) which is made possible through salvation history culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I know the various answers such as the free-will defence and the need for the creation to be free and open to risk in order to have any integrity. I like Rowan Williams‘ idea of a sort of ‘membrane’ between us and God that can be thinned out by prayer, a holy life, a combination of events, so something new can break through. I’d use this sort of reasoning to reconcile the resurrection with science – a deeper level of reality, of truth (indeed truth his very self) has broken through. But, however satisfying such explanations might be intellectually, they don’t cut it emotionally. I know some (one person in particular) would find it hard to accept that more than rationality is needed, but we are inherently emotional beings (indeed, there is evidence that without emotions, we find it nigh on impossible to put decisions into action – such is the case with some folks with brain damage) and if God takes all we are seriously, the emotions matter to him as well as our ideas.

Last night, at the Cathedral, I went to a service for the Venerable Bede’s saint day, and found the sermon very moving. It’s the most down-to-earth thing I’ve heard for ages, and I wanted to give the preacher a big hug. God felt present in that service in such a powerful way. I can’t say I’m experiencing a sort of dark night of the soul, because God is there, but nor can I say that last night is the norm and keeping faith feels like a real effort, though I’d never abandon it because I really do believe Christ is risen. That’s why I’d call it a ‘grey night’ of the soul; I need a re-think about what is at the heart of my faith. Applying for jobs has shown me that use of my gifts to serve others has to be at the heart of career choices, but the rest is all a bit vague…