Start of something new…

Just started at college!! woop! Much more news to follow and stuff to write about but for now, I am doing an email update every now and then for friends & family etc, so thought I’d just share that…


Jules’ email update // September 2013
 
Dear lovely friends, family, supporters and general
hangers-on ;)
Welcome to my first email update! If you are receiving this
it’s either because a) you signed up or, b) I thought you might like it, or c)
you don’t have a choice – eg: Mum and Dad. Some of you I have just sent this
first one to, because you have been massively instrumental in getting me to
this point, so if you would like to receive this regularly and haven’t already
told me (it will probably be once a month but by the time I finish it may well
be once a year…) then just reply saying ‘yes’ and I’ll add you to the list…
Also before I start:
disclaimer (!)
It may be a surprise to you, but I am a Christian, so these
updates will be unashamedly littered with references to God, Jesus, the Holy
Spirit and plenty of general Church nonsense, so… if you don’t understand
/don’t get it / would like to know more / want to generally argue with me etc,
then please ask! I am more than happy to convert, er, I mean chat to any of you
about all of this so whatever your beliefs, background or viewpoint you are
welcome!
So, what am I doing? //
A 3 year part-time BA in Theology for Ministry, at SEITE
(watch that pronunciation…) otherwise known as The South East Institute for
Theological Education. SEITE covers the south east of England, including, in
CofE speak, the dioceses of: Chichester, Canterbury, Southwark and Rochester.
There are students doing the same as me, some FT some PT, there are those doing
lay courses – ie: they won’t get ordained at the end, there are those hoping
for paid jobs at the end like me (stipendiary ministry) or those who will be
self supporting (NSM or SSM). There are also independent students who are just
studying because they want to or are slightly mad. Some students are doing the course
in a year, some 2 years and some 3. There are people from very ‘high’ churches
– ie: smells and bells, those from ‘low’ or charismatic churches ie: not much
liturgy and a band, and even a student from the Lutheran church (no idea before
you ask, but basically not much different…) so we are a completely mixed bunch.
The course is part time and includes one evening a week in Southwark and many
weekends away (3 a term roughly). I have just been on my first weekend, which
was at Aylesford Priory in Kent.
The weekend //
So at this stage all I have to report on is this, the
‘induction weekend’ (By the way if you are at all interested in how I got here
you can look at my blog which has many posts on the whole process… pickingapplesofgold.blogspot.com
So, it’s fair to say it was a complete roller coaster.
Friday evening I arrived having been under the weather, had a filling (for the
first time in 20 years) in the pouring rain and our journey had been a
nightmare.  We went straight in to supper
(which was interesting to say the least) with – to all intents and purposes – a
bunch of strangers, in a hall that would not look out of place in the world of
Harry Potter, which was then followed by an act of worship – in this case a
said service from the book of Common Worship – including saying a Psalm with
deep breaths and 3 second pauses between lines which went on forever! Seriously
someone tell me what that is all about…? actually don’t…
This was followed by our first session, in which one of the ‘get
to know you’ exercises was to choose an animal to represent your thoughts on
how ministers should be in the Church of England and then find others with the
same animal, without talking. Even for a confident person like me, at 9pm on a
Friday evening, with no alcohol involved, this was a stretch I can tell you.
Really felt for the person who had chosen an octopus as their animal…  So I’ve got to admit I went to bed on Friday
feeling ‘what the *** am I doing here…?’ 
Thankfully it got a lot better…
Some good bits //
Aylesford Priory
Our study weekends away will be in various places but this
one was at the beautiful Aylesford Priory, an 800 year old priory, still
inhabited by monks (although they are rather sparse, I only saw 2 in my whole
time there), right next to the river Medway. The walls are thick and stone, the
rooms basic but there is something holy about this place, something serene and
restful. One could be quite spooked staying somewhere like this, dark
corridors, chapels and thick black beams, but I found the opposite, I felt
comforted, protected and part of something bigger. Loved it!
So Saturday was much better.  I snuck out for an early run and had a good
rant at God about why I was there, really hope there weren’t any early morning
dog walkers out in the fields to hear me… Also met a lady more bonkers than
me in spiritual terms, who audibly hears the voice of God and has fought demons
in Africa – she’s going to be fun! and so glad I don’t feel like the only one
who believes in this stuff!  And if you
are reading this wondering what on earth that’s all about well, that’s how I
felt the first evening… that’s the funny thing about the Church of England
though (love it as I do) that it is so diverse… there are people on the course
from fairly ‘high’ churches who would be happier with incense and bells, but
also those who like me, haven’t got a clue where to look in the daily prayer
book for the services (and I thank God for helpful tutors who have so far
pointed out the relevant pages we need!), but we are all united in Jesus.
We also found out about our mission project, which we will
work on for the next few terms, which is right up my street. On top of which I
have a nice group to work with, most of who do not live too far away and we
agreed that by some stroke of divine genius my house is mid-way between them all
so we’ll meet at mine. Hurrah J
Rough
stuff //
: An ancient priory doesn’t really lend itself to the 21st
Century. So no wi-fi . What?? Yes, no

Laptop becomes lamp…

wi-fi or phone signal, except for a
small square in the courtyard in which I had to stand like an idiot with my
phone in the air to get even a hint of twitter, or speak to anyone at home, not
in that order obvs…

: On the same note, just one plug socket in my room. Just
one. So in the eves, I had the choice of a) the lamp b) the heater c) charge my
phone or, d) use the laptop. Now if only my laptop could have straightened my
hair I could have got them all in one…
Some other bits //
: I had been warned about the food at Aylesford and even the
tutors referred to it as ‘curious’, and it was. Got to say I’m grateful they
could feed me at all with the various dietary nonsense I have, but let’s just
say I ate a lot of beans this weekend (good thing I wasn’t sharing a room…) and
when I say a lot, I mean at every meal except breakfast (although come to think
of it they were on offer there too…)
: There was a bar J
Although the thing about being a bit under par, tired and generally brain dead
is that one glass of wine and it goes straight to your head. Thankfully managed
to get to bed before being embarrassing or falling asleep in the pringles…
: So the ‘will.i.am moment’ of the weekend (ie: a good bit)
was having Phil & 2 of the kids come up on Sunday and Phil leading worship
in our course service. After a lot of liturgy – ie; the generally repetitive
prayers/words you get in church services, it was so nice to have a slightly
‘lower’ service on Sunday and have my family with me – I really missed them
this weekend.
The ‘Simon Cowell let down’ (or the pants bit) would be just
generally realising this is going to a long slog and I have a lot of work ahead
of me.
Prayer Stuff //
If you are a praying type then please do. I’ll try and include
some prayer points in each email but for now:
: For good time management – I’m really going to need it
: For Phil & the kids – there will be many weekends when
they will be at home without me and are going to have to fend a bit more for
themselves hopefully without the aid of too much tech and oodles of baked
beans…
: For good relationships with my fellow students and that we
would be open and loving with each other despite some of our differences.
So for now, that’s it, hopefully by next time I will
actually have learned something new and will have some nugget of theological
wisdom to pass on…. But in the meantime thanks so much for all your support and
prayers, I really do appreciate it. And to all of you who helped me to get
here, who put up with a lot of snot and tears, encouraged me, hugged me when I
needed it, told me I’d be a good Vicar, or just listened to me when I thought I
was going round the twist (you know who you are), a massive massive thank you…
Love & blessings,
Jules x

Start of a new season…

© Jules Middleton

So, in just under 2 weeks time I will officially become a student again as I head off to theological college to study to become a Priest in the Church of England. Which is all a bit crazy really. If someone had told me a few years back this is what I would be doing I would definitely have laughed in their face. Then run away. Possibly followed by a few glasses of red… 

However it seems these are the plans God has for me and so I trust in him. Which, it’s fair to say is not always easy, but I am trying and so far so good. Although as I say, it’s all a bit bonkers if you ask me.

As someone who really found their relationship with God in a more contemporary or charismatic church (i.e: we have a band and don’t have lots of long repetitive prayers for those who don’t know) going to a college that is distinctly traditional is going be to tough. Don’t get me wrong, I love the CofE otherwise I would not be taking this route, and I did spend many years in parish churches so I know the drill as it were, but it would not be (and wasn’t in fact) my first choice. I feel very peaceful about that and I know I am in the place where God wants me to be, but I know it won’t be easy.

Last week I had a total wobble about the whole thing. I got a ream of paperwork from college about what, where, when, what I will be studying, weekends away and I freaked. Totally. Almost to the point of phoning the DDO (My contact in the diocese who has got me this far) to say ‘help, I can’t do this’…

But last weekend I went to an event called ‘Davids Tent’ – bascially it’s a mini Christian Festival solely about worshipping God for 3 days. I couldn’t do the whole thing but what I did experience was amazing and God really spoke to me, or perhaps chided me (!)  about not trusting him. And this whole journey for me has been about trusting him. You’d have thought by now I would have got it. Because I am naturally a planner and organiser, I like to have things mapped out, know what I am doing and when and yet the last 4 years or so have been the total opposite to that! Every time I think I know where I’m going, it gets turned on it’s head. Every time I think I find something stable, it changes. It’s been frustrating, yet eye opening. It’s been painful and yet so rewarding. It’s been a struggle and yet so easy. And as I look back at the crazy rollercoaster of the last few years I would not have wanted it any other way. I have fallen in love with Jesus, I have grown in my faith, I have learned to love others, I have experienced so much more than I ever could have dreamed and above all I just know that I am on the right path. I just can’t imagine now what life would be like without Jesus, and I don’t want to either.

So this craziness has really only just begun, in a way. The next 3 years at college, who knows what that will bring. Who knows where we will end up after I’ve finished. But I know God knows and I choose to trust him…