Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1: 4-9
Jumping Through Hoops //
Often DP feels like you are on a bit of a treadmill, going through a list of things that need to be ticked off in order to allow you to progress to the next stage. In fact one very well known Vicar’s son said to me of the process ‘you just have to jump through their hoops’ so that you can get to the end of it and then get on with what you are called to. To a large extent this is true but that isn’t to take away from the value of the process. At the time I had this conversation I was feeling very much like I was just jumping through hoops so I decided to get some encouragement by meeting up with people doing the kind of ministry I felt called to. I spent some time doing a bit of research and either met up with, emailed or spoke to people doing a whole variety of different things both in the CofE and elsewhere. I met with Vicars, Lay preachers, ministers, chaplains, pioneers, you name it I met them. I found this hugely beneficial and would thoroughly recommend it, especially if you feel called to something slightly unusual or outside the bounds of ‘traditional parish ministry’. It gave me something to aim for and something to focus on outside of the ‘tick list’.
Plus it’s important to remember who is calling you in to all this. When you feel like you are on a treadmill it’s so easy to be swayed from trusting in The One, to worrying about oneself. Jeremiah’s calling (above) was pretty heavy duty and whilst I’ve yet to meet someone who had God put his hand to their lips, something got you into this in the first place, so just hang on to that, ok? A.W.Tozer said this:
Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.
So if we can take that attitude whilst doing all these things that are asked of us, we can be sure of God’s accompaniment with us.
However… depending on your diocese there may well be a lot of things you need to tick off your list. From the endless reading, to a placement, to meeting with various people and of course the timing may not be of your choice either. There are a host of reasons why you might be asked to visit someone, read a particular book or do a placement and it has to be said that largely these may be down to the whim of your advisor or DDO. As a charismatic I was told to visit a range of churches and priests in the more traditional or anglo-catholic part of the church. Whilst this was hugely valuable and I didn’t mind doing it as I learned a lot along the way, it did grate rather that those in the DP of the more anglo-catholic persuasion were not asked to visit more charismatic churches. I am delighted that with some new input in the vocations process here that has changed, and in fact recently we had someone from an anglo-catholic church spending time with us at our Fresh Expression for a 10 week placement.
Either way, whatever you are asked to do my advice is to try and do it with good grace and humility however hard that might be at any particular time! I tried to learn from all that I was asked to do and although at times some of it was hard, dull, and irritating, I did learn from it all. And ultimately that’s what ‘they’ want to see – that you are open and willing to learn. If you can go back to your advisor and report that you learned something new or had your eyes opened to something that will undoubtedly get you extra brownie points!
Now then. Hoops. There are several more official hoops, which might require more than a bit of reading to get your tick. I’ve tried to list the obvious ones below but if I’ve missed something I apologise, please let me know and I can add it in.
If you or your partner has ever been divorced you will need to apply for a C4 faculty. Good old Church of England speak there, which means effectively you will be scrutinised to within an inch of your life over the divorce. Or in other words you need a bit of paper signed by both Archbishops saying you can go ahead in the process. The relevant canon says this:
No person shall be admitted into holy orders who has re-married and, the other party to that marriage being alive, has a former spouse still living; or who is married to a person who has been previously married and whose former spouse is still living.
which means that if this applies to you, you need a faculty and it needs to be complete before you go to BAP. It can take some time so this is usually flagged up early on to get the ball rolling, but if it hasn’t then do bring it the attention of your DDO to save delays later.
Seemingly this regulation is to make sure there was no hint of impropriety or scandal that might come out at a later date and damage you, the church, or those around you. This is understandable of course, but I should warn you that if C4 applies to you, do be prepared, it is not to be undertaken lightly. Whilst the DP examines us as candidates in great detail, this process necessarily draws in others, including your spouse and where applicable the previous partner. Of all those who have spoken to me about the C4 process, almost all have found it extremely emotional and hard going. It saddens me that a church based on the love of God can undertake such a process with what often seems to be a lack of compassion and love, and I hope that will change. I write this here not to criticise the church but simply, as everything else in this guide, to prepare you for what may be ahead. Several candidates reported feeling that they needed to prove their innocence, or that they were being accused, often many years after the event. In my research candidates used phrases like:
Feeling like a suspect under interrogation, not a spouse supporting her husband seeking ordination; one of the worst experiences of my life; we were treated as criminals; get your story straight…
So as you can see I’m not exaggerating, it is tough going.
After various discussions and meetings, the C4 process usually ends with a panel where 3 or 4 people will talk to you and question you about your divorce. Several people reported that it took quite some time to hear back after the panel whether the C4 would be approved or not. Whichever way you look at it, if you or your partner have been divorced, then you need to be prepared that this will almost certainly be painful and intrusive. Far more so than the rest of the process.
Let’s face it whatever I write here is going to be difficult reading for some, so with that in mind I shall try to stay away from opinions and simply put the facts as they stand within the CofE. At the end of the chapter is a list of suggested reading material if you would like to look at this further.
So, as I understand it the position of the CofE is as the 1987 General Synod Higton Motion, stating that homosexuality (or active sexual acts of this nature) fall short of the biblical ideal of personal relationships as a response to God’s love for us. Subsequent reports have debated this at length, and looked at the issue as far as clergy are concerned, but nothing has officially overturned or adapted this motion.
In 1991 there was a report published called ‘Issues In Human Sexuality’ which all candidates are required to read, and agree to abide by its guidelines. This report states this:
There are occasions when a candidate’s personal life, such as their sexual orientation, civil partnerships, marriage breakdown or divorce, reflects sensitive issues in the life of the Church and which are a matter of current debate. The House of Bishops’ statement Issues in Human Sexuality (GS Misc 382, 1991) embodies the criteria which the House would wish to apply to ordinands and makes clear that all Christians are called to chastity and fidelity and to respect the will of the Church on matters of sexual morality (see Criterion E (Relationships). This requirement is even clearer for ministers since they are called not only to live the Gospel but also be acceptable and accessible as pastors. In relation to the specific issue of homosexuality this means that: ‘clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships’ (Issues in Human Sexuality para 5.17).
This said, there is actually nothing to prevent someone in a Civil Partnership or same-gender relationship being ordained, provided that they agree to abide by the discipline laid out in this report.
However the issue of same gender marriage is more complicated. After the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed, the House of Bishops produced a statement in Feb 2014 addressing a number of areas. It states that they (The House of Bishops) are not willing to ordain anyone in a same sex marriage. You can read the full report online via the Church of England Website. I would also suggest looking at both the Changing Attitude and Accepting Evangelicals sites for more info or advice.
The ‘Issues In Human Sexuality’ report also suggested that Bisexuality was not acceptable, on the grounds that it suggests infidelity. However it is true that Christian thinking on bisexuality has changed a lot since this report and it would be both unfair and incorrect to assume that someone who identifies as bisexual will be prone to infidelity any more than anyone else. If you’d like to read more on this a helpful and interesting post is here by Benny Hazlehurst.
There is very little written on transgender and ordination. The DDO handbook suggests that Bishops will be required to make individual decisions on any transgender candidates in their diocese, based on whether they would be happy to sponsor them for ordination and subsequently find them a job, should they be successful in the process. There is therefore no official reason why a trans person cannot be ordained. For more advice on this I suggest contacting ‘The Sibyls’, a UK Christian group for transgender people, partners and supporters.
The Pilling Report was published in 2013 and further looked at all these questions in the light of cultural attitudes. It is well worth a read for anyone going through the process but still stands simply as a report. At the time of writing there are ‘facilitated conversations’ on this subject happening as a result of the Pilling recommendations, but where this will lead is unclear at the moment. For more info see the shared conversations site.
So what does all this actually mean? Well it just means that if any of this applies to you the process will almost certainly be even more complicated than it already is. However any questions around sexuality are resolved with your DDO during the discernment process, and well before you get to BAP. The advisors do not make any enquiries around sexuality at the BAP, it is up to the DDO to state that any issues have been addressed prior to this point.
I would also say that it is not unknown that there are quite a number of existing ordained clergy who are in gay relationships. Like everything else the response to this seems to vary according to your diocese or Bishop.
The Ministry Enquiry Form requires you to flag up any previous or existing medical conditions. In some cases you may be required to take a medical before you can move forward. I had to do this and it was simply a case of filling in more forms (!) and getting a letter from my GP before meeting an approved CofE doctor locally who went through my notes and discussed with me how my condition might affect my future ministry. It was fairly simple and, although a bit of a pain as it was yet another thing to sort out, it really wasn’t that difficult and in fact he confirmed that he thought my condition wouldn’t be a barrier to training or ministry which was very affirming.
One candidate told me that they were required to see a psychotherapist, which was standard for candidates in their diocese, sadly their experience was not entirely positive. However this certainly doesn’t seem to be a standard procedure.
I would like to say something here on mental health. Depression and other mental health conditions are incredibly common but sadly do still carry a stigma. Having seen people close to me struggle with depression, it is with personal delight that I see organisations working hard to change society’s attitude. And of course attitudes in the church are probably on a par with the rest of society, some people will be sympathetic, others the opposite.
Within this process though, like everything else I encourage you to be honest and open. One candidate told me she was very encouraged by the reaction of her ADDO and was even asked what support she might need. She was required to have a medical assessment but found this both helpful and encouraging.
Ages and stages
Age does remain an interesting factor here. If you are under about 23 you may still face some objections to your age. In the past younger people were told to go away and get some life experience! Thankfully that doesn’t happen so much and the CofE has a great project particularly encouraging those between 18-30 called ‘Call Waiting’. However there are some different guidelines for those who will be under 23 at the point of Ordination and Bishops and your DDOs can advise on that. Of course you might still find the odd stick in the mud who thinks you are way too young and wet behind the ears. If that’s the case, don’t give up, get a second opinion or get some advice elsewhere!
If you are over about 55 you might have a bit more trouble and you are undoubtedly going to face some questions around your age. The age question is being debated and various suggestions being made but for the time being, just be warned it might be tricky. Again this varies from diocese to diocese (sorry, that old chestnut again) and the guidance from Min Div is that the upper age limit is at the discretion of the sponsoring Bishop. It does seem a shame that someone who potentially still has many years ahead of them and much life experience, can be treated in some cases with concern. Obviously if you are older you may have commitments such as family and job that could curtail your time to input into the process and training, but equally you may not. Many people going through this process over the age of 55 are only given the opportunity to be a SSM (Self-Supporting Minister) and to train regionally rather than residentially. Just be prepared for this, if it happens to you it’s unlikely to be about you or your ability, just your age. And again, nothing seems to be set in stone, so if you feel you are being unfairly treated then do chat further to your DDO or Bishop.
So the Church of England is a funny old place isn’t it…? And none more so than in the discernment process. For some people it can take years for others, months. Don’t attempt to put any kind of time scale on it, you will just frustrate yourself, there seem to be so many different factors in the whole thing it’s impossible to say. They do generally give a guideline of at least 2 years to get from the initial DDO visit to BAP, but it varies enormously. I learned very early on not to get too stressed about it but to take it as it comes. For me I had zoomed through seeing my VC within about 7 months but then had to wait another 3 months just to see the Bishop and then several more to get a BAP date. If you are a natural planner or organiser (as I am) this will be hugely difficult and unsettling, but my advice is you might as well get used to it, or at least try to.
It also means that if you are not sure about the whole thing, actually getting into the process is a great way of exploring further. As one candidate wisely said ‘you can put the brakes on whenever you like but you can’t speed it up’. My DDO said to me right at the start that if you need a break or want a bit of time out that’s fine, if not even expected at some point, but my friend was right, there’s no speeding it up.
Well, I say that, it’s just very unlikely, but if there are extenuating circumstances you can try. One candidate I know was ready for BAP and was making major decisions about his employment future, so they made an effort to get him to an earlier BAP in order to start college the same year. In another case, the DDO was, shall we say, not as efficient as some, and chasing emails or phone calls actually helped to keep things going. Of course, there is a balance and in most cases it’s just that the process can be quite slow, but if you think things are being delayed unnecessarily, do chase up your DDO. I did hear of someone deliberately collaring their DDO at a vocations day so you never know, maybe tactics like that do work!
What now ? //
Call waiting – CofE inititiative for young vocation
The Issues in Human Sexuality Report – all candidates are required to read this and agree to abide with it.
Changing Attitude – Changing Attitude England, is a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual members of the Church of England. Their goal is to seek an Anglican church that fully accepts, welcomes and offers equality of opportunity to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Masses of links and articles on a range of themes including transgender.
Accepting Evangelicals – is an open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Their website has a number of docs and links on the subject of homosexuality within the church.
‘Bisexual or Just Greedy’ blog post by Benny Hazlehurst
The Sibyls – is a UK-based confidential Christian spirituality group for transgender people, their partners and supporters. It seeks to fulfil the two great commandments of Jesus: To love God and love one another.
Pilling Report Nov 2013 – The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality. Well worth a read.