Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
It’s All About You //
Except of course it’s not actually all about you, it’s about God and you’re going to have to trust him. Trust is a word you’re going to hear a lot in this whole crazy journey and you really do need to find a way to trust God in it all. There were so many times when I felt at the end of my tether, completely out of my depth and no idea what to do except trust in Him.
I don’t know about you but I love the passage in Exodus 3 where Moses is called by God. He starts off by saying ‘here I am’ when God calls his name, but that quickly turns to the opposite. You can almost imagine as the conversation went on:
‘Oh no, you want that other Moses, not this one, case of mistaken identity, you see I’m the wrong Moses….’
I have to say I feel some kind of affinity with him in that moment. His evident fear and dislike of God’s plan for him is rather comical really. I mean he seems to come up with every excuse imaginable and yet God has a come back each time, with grace and patience until finally we are told the Lord’s anger burned against Moses. Not surprised to be honest. Anyone with young children or who has experienced how they can go on and on and on, might understand how God felt in that moment:
‘Oh for goodness sake, would you just DO AS YOU ARE TOLD!’
Now I am sure that God has an unending supply of patience, but there is a small part of me that takes encouragement that in this moment God too seems like a frustrated parent. Anyway the point is, that God replies to Moses first excuse with: ‘I will be with you’. And that is all you need to remember, when you are going through the list of reasons why God couldn’t possibly want you to go through this process, and he is patiently counteracting every one. When you are the point of giving in, remember he will always be with you. This might not be an easy process or even a quick one but whatever happens along the way, He will be with you.
I’ve already touched upon the ‘intensive therapy’ side of things and no stone being left unturned but let me say again, your life will be invaded, in all areas! As I’ve also said I see this as a positive, but it was something that I was not prepared for. During my research for this guide, others also highlighted the need to share this, especially if you have difficult things in your past, for example: abuse, relationship breakdown (whether for you, your spouse or in your family), or a difficult upbringing, in fact anything that is likely to be seen as highly emotional or life changing. This will be picked up on and explored in depth. Please, please be aware of this. Hopefully you will have a good advisor who will take you through this sensitively but even if that is the case, it may still bring up memories and in some cases, actual situations from your past that you may not want to revisit. (One candidate was asked to contact a previous partner despite being separated from them for a number of years).
Of course, it might not be tough situations or things from your past that you find hard, it might just be the in depth probing of you, which can be hard on anyone. So, be kind to yourself and make sure you have someone you can talk to, away from the process when you need to.
And on that note – support. Get some. Not of the sports bra variety, but seriously do find someone you can talk to. If you haven’t already you will need to think carefully about who you tell that you are exploring this process. People will (as people do) have opinions on it and on you and it’s worth just considering who you share it with. It would be nice if everyone in the church was the very essence of discretion but in my experience it’s always good to just clarify if you want to keep something confidential, then there can be no misunderstanding about it. I chose a few key people to start with who I could ask to pray and on whose shoulder I could cry if needed. However as I write a rather public blog some of this soon eeked its way into those pages and you can read about that if you like. At some point in this craziness, I wrote a post called 10 reasons not to be a Vicar… of course those in the know laughed and recognised all the denial in me that they had been through, which actually really helped me to start working through it all.
If you enter the process you will undoubtedly be asked to find a Spiritual Director – choose carefully! The diocese can usually advise you on suggested people locally. Find someone who you can get on with and feel happy to talk to about anything (and it will be confidential so don’t worry that they will snitch on you to the Bishop), but also find someone who will challenge you. It’s no good having someone continually telling you how wonderful you are, you need someone who will be honest and get you to think outside of your very carefully constructed box.
You might also find that your diocese has, what was termed locally as, a VEG group – or Vocational Enquirers Group. Some people I have spoken to loved their VEG group and found it a real support to be with others going through the same thing. Personally I didn’t, but then I did have good support network anyway. But do find out if there is one locally and at least give it a go. If nothing else there will be people further on in the process who will be more ‘in the know’ than you and that is always useful.
Hopefully you will also have an Incumbent/Priest/Vicar/significant spiritual other who will support you too. My Vicar was frankly amazing, always suggesting stuff to read, giving advice when needed, allowing me to spout off about the Bishop (shhhh!) and give me a gentle shove when I needed it. Now this isn’t always the case as I touched upon previously, so if you don’t have a supportive Vicar then all the more important to take note of the above.
People will tell you there will be sacrifices along the way. Whilst it’s true I don’t find this especially helpful. For a start you’re probably terrified as it is, you don’t need someone scaremongering too. You (and your family if you have one) will probably need to make some changes and it might take some time to adjust to what those are, but just remember our God is one of love. Jeremiah tells us God has a plan and a purpose for us, to prosper us not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jer 29.11). It’s that same God who is calling you into ministry, so if he’s calling you I don’t think he’s going to make it all a total nightmare. For myself, at this stage, I know that my family is affected by what I’m doing but we’re all in it together. We’ve talked, made decisions together and we’ve prayed together. If you do have to make sacrifices I believe God will prepare you and your family for them, not just dump a heap of stuff on you and leave you to fight it out yourselves.
Ah the wonderful family. If you have anyone around you who could be remotely termed ‘family’ and who is likely to be included in your support network, just bear in mind the impact on them too (see above). If you are married and/or with kids, this will affect them especially. There is so much I could say here, but really you need to work out for yourselves how that will work for you. Just consider these questions:
Is your partner a Christian? Are you children? Whether yes or no, how will they feel about the idea of you being ordained? Will it affect your partner’s job? Will it affect your lifestyle? Don’t forget the implications of moving house and schools for children, possibly several times.
What about your parents or other family? Are you prepared for their reaction? Will it be positive? And if not how will you manage that?
Now of course I am well aware that many people going through this process are not married, but many of the questions of family and support above, still apply to you. One thing I would say, and especially for women (I’m afraid to say) is that you will be questioned on this. Of course it depends where you are and in which diocese but not everyone is on board with the whole ‘political correctness’ thing here. I’m not totally up on current employment law in this respect, but I would suggest that in this profession and bearing in mind how much depth this process goes into, it’s not unreasonable for them to ask about you being single. However what is not ok, is in depth probing about why/if/when/what and about having kids and so on. If you feel uncomfortable with questioning, then do say so.
As above, questions of support apply as much to you if you identify with being gay/bi/transgender, but again, expect more questioning. And by more, I mean, a lot. Needless to say, again, it will vary from diocese to diocese on how they asses you, especially if you are in a ‘practising gay relationship’. I would suggest reading up on the Pilling Report for the latest thoughts and speak to your DDO about how your diocese will handle this.
Now I hope I don’t need to say this, but for goodness sake PRAY! Pray, pray, pray and pray some more. And ask others to pray for you. You will need it. That is all….
The Ministry Enquiry Form //
It is likely that you will come away from your initial meeting with the DDO with a host of paperwork. Don’t be daunted by this, just take some time to review and read through it, ideally with a partner, friend or your incumbent.
One of these bits of paperwork will probably be the ‘The Ministry Enquiry Form’… dun dun derrrr… Yet again it varies from diocese to diocese, but if you haven’t already seen one, be prepared that filling it in will not be a 5 minute job. Mine asked for:
full details of you and your life, including medical history
areas of interest within the church
responsibilities within the church and elsewhere
why you feel called
and one of my all time faves: ‘Please tell us very fully about your family background, upbringing and formative experiences, from childhood through to today…’
So basically they want an autobiography before you can go on. Yeah so, good luck with that one… So definitely not a 5 minute job. My DDO told me when he gave it to me, not to rush it, that he wasn’t in any hurry to have it back, and to think it through prayerfully. This was very helpful as of course the initial excitement meant that I did want to look at it immediately. But you might find you need to go and get details or dates from your past and even just filling in that form made me think about some things from my past that were rather emotional. So give yourself time and don’t rush it. You will also need three referees – your incumbent, a church warden and one other lay person with a position of responsibility in your church. All this means that if you haven’t spoken to anyone else about your calling, you will need to now.
Selection Criteria //
You will probably also have been given a copy of the ‘Selection Criteria’ which you will need to work through with your advisor. These are the criteria under which you are assessed and each section has a list of things which you need to show evidence that you have understood them, experienced them and fit within them. Currently this is an 11 page document and is one of the few things that is the same for all dioceses, hurrah! But I say again, do not be daunted. We’ve already established that this is a very thorough process and the criteria reflect that, and this is why the process can take some time, as you work through the criteria with your advisor. You will undoubtedly find that some areas you can tick off straight away, others you need to go and do some reading, work, research or get some experience. I haven’t listed them all here as the link is above, but the ‘Vocation’ section stands alone as the most important, as candidates will not be recommended for training, under any circumstance if they cannot show a discernible sense of calling/vocation.
What Now? //
Selection Criteria You will be assessed on these 9 criteria. The list is comprehensive and gives various examples of areas to look at. Read, learn and inwardly digest then get on with doing it!
’10 Reasons not to be a Vicar’ and the following comments might provide some light relief as well as strike a chord.
One of the best things I’ve read on Singleness in the church.
CPAS (Church Pastoral Aid Society) has some brilliant sheets which you can download free, covering various aspects of ministry in the church. These go into a bit more detail and really are worth reading through.
Red Moon Rising by Pete Greig & Dave Roberts.
This might seem a strange book to insert here, an account of the start of the 24/7 prayer movement (this edition updated for the 15 year anniversary), but if you need to be assured of the importance of prayer – read this. Plus it might take your mind off the process for a while. I read this and was so inspired to pray more, but in a funny way it also reinforced my calling as I read about another’s calling which just could not be denied.
The Fire & The Clay – Ed. George Guiver – a reflection on what it is to be a priest and priestly formation and recommended by one candidate in particular. Has some emphasis on sacraments too if you need to learn more in this area.