Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training // Guest Post

I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post today from Andrew Avramenko who has just started at Vicar School. It’s great to get a fresh and up to date perspective on the whole process and he’s got some great pointers here from his own experience, for those starting training…

Sarum College

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training…

1. Freaking out is ok!

No matter how well you’ve adjusted to being recommended to train for ordination you may find it hard to fully accept you’re now an Ordinand. I felt like a fraud and expected my college to realise and politely ask me to leave. They didn’t – they knew I should be there but it took me a while to accept it myself – this is not unusual! I still find myself freaking out a little at the sound of ‘Ordinand’ – apparently that’s not unusual either!

 

2. You have been called

The discernment process is rigorous but if you’re starting ordination training you’ll know that. If you are training for Ordination you are doing so because the Church has recognised that God has called you to do that. So if you find yourself doubting your calling remember all those who met and encouraged you on your way to and through your BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel).

 

3. Enjoy yourself

After all the questioning you’ve had up to this point you might find it jarring to be able to simply listen to some teaching, I certainly found it somewhat of a shock but the realisation that I had three years of this ahead of me filled me with joy – the training is a blessing and a gift so enjoy it!

 

4. Come as you are

You have been called as you are, so be who you are. Be aware of how other people’s personalities can affect yours, and vice versa, and take steps to cope: if you recharge by being on your own make time to withdraw to quiet spaces after time with others, but if the quiet moments drive you crazy seek out people to talk to about them.

 

5. We’re one, but we’re not the same

Although you and your fellow Ordinands have gone through a similar process don’t expect to all be alike: prepare for people who believe, think and work differently from you. Learning to get along with those we might find challenging is important but hold onto the shared experiences as you do so.

Salisbury Cathedral

6. Everything in it’s right place

Don’t be afraid to face difficult past experiences, theological college should be a safe place to do so. Your tutors and fellow students will be facing their own challenges and should be supportive of you facing yours – it’s good training for walking alongside those experiencing difficult times now.

 

7. Question your views

We all have opinions and we might be right, but we might not be and your training is a good opportunity to challenge your opinions, preconceptions and accidental prejudices. Having an open mind at theological college also awakens you to receive exciting revelations.

 

8. Question other people’s views

Just as we might be wrong so might even the most established theologians. During my Summer School we were presented with some startling and deliberately provoking thoughts but were encouraged not to take them at face value or as ‘truth’; instead we were asked to question them and even, if we felt so, to disagree and treat them as simply opinions.

 

9. Living in another world

Do your best to avoid living in a bubble whilst training. Keep some non-theological interests and contact with friends and family: it’s is important to stay connected with all that happens away from a theological college, and will help when the training is put into practice.

 

10. It’s a marathon not a sprint

Hopefully you will be eased into your training but don’t be fooled by a quiet start into thinking you have time to take on new task and duties. The course will soon fill your time so enjoy this space at the beginning and use it to reflect on what brought you to it, to settle into your new life and to be excited about what is to come.

 

 

Andrew Avramenko is training for ordination at Sarum College in Salisbury and writes the Pilgrim Explorer blog which documented his experiences whilst exploring his calling to be ordained and, since August 2017, his experiences as an Ordinand.  He lives in Bath and hopes to survive juggling his study with his job and time with his wife and two children over the next three years.

A Priesting prayer. ( Or just some rambling thoughts…)

Chichester Cathedral in glorious sunshine

 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 

I often hear people utter in prayer: ‘less of me and more of you God’.

I don’t know about you but I really can’t stand it. It just makes no sense to me at all. Oh yes I know what the sentiment is, before you all holler: it recognises our own brokenness and the need of a saviour, I get all that, we want to be more like Jesus. But for me, focussing on that phrase just leads us down the path to self denial, to dark and condemning thoughts, it leads us away from the truth that God made us, that he knit us together in our mothers wombs.

Look, of course there are always the few who think the sun shines out of their own derrieres, but there are many many more who question themselves, not fully convinced of their identity in Christ. Lack of self worth and recognition of the talents and characteristics that form us into unique and beautiful individuals, leads us away from God, not to him.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In the same breath that the Psalmist asks God to search him, to sift through his heart, to seek out the specks of offense, to lead him into the light, he notes:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

So wouldn’t a better prayer be: ‘more of the me who you made me to be and more of you God’?

….o0O0o…

I write less than 48 hours after being ordained a Priest in the Church of England. 72 hours ago I was heading off to retreat with my fellow Curates, feeling utterly convinced of my own brokenness, less than prepared and with a host of reasons why God was wrong about sending me to this.

(I know it’s common to feel that way and it was suggested to me over the weekend that if I didn’t feel that way I shouldn’t be doing it anyway).

I was walking towards the retreat and Priesting with my head hung low, making my bed in the depths. And yet over that 24 hours God spoke to me saying:

Where can you go from my Spirit? Where can you flee from my presence? all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.

Gently lifting my head, speaking precious words over me and leading me towards the way everlasting…

….o0O0o…

It all started with a few words: ‘I’ve re-discovered Jesus through you…’

– an unexpected email arriving moments before leaving for retreat gushed with such love and encouragement for my ministry. I believe God sent me those words to break through the wall of condemnation I had built around myself. To remind me that I am doing what he has called me to do. That really it’s not about me, it’s about him, and about the people round me. I’m just the bee busily buzzing round in the middle, hoping to pollinate those I come across with the potential for new life, for transformation and growth. I sobbed as I read that email, knowing that yet again God was peeling back the darkness and revealing his truth.

Then a few hours later, a suggestion from an advisor to focus on Psalm 139. I know it well of course, but an hour spent sat in the gorgeous surroundings of the Bishops Palace Garden, and taking in those words peeled away more. Noticing the beauty in the detail of God’s creation all around me, a robin coming to join me for a snack so close I could see the detail in his tiny feathers, the light glinting in his beady eye fixed on me, seemingly searching my heart. As I sat, prayed, wondered and read, those words spoke warmth and validation into my soul afresh.

And then the words of the Bishop himself, ‘charging’ us afresh for the ministry of a Priest, encouraging us to be ourselves, but ourselves with Christ in us. That people see our face – they want to see our face, our humanity, our reality, our humanness, not a ‘clerical cardboard cut out’.

Then finally the moment arrived, my robes which felt so alien just a year ago, now feel like a faithful friend (though I’ve only worn them a handful of times!) and we process in together, surrounded by those who have taken this journey before us, those who stand and support us now and those who are beside us in the work we are doing.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

We stand and face the congregation as they are asked to affirm their support for us, I am face to face with my Vicar – someone who knows me, has seen me in distress, in anger and in doubt. And as he looks me straight in the eye and tells me he supports me and will pray for me and encourage me, I feel those last bits of self doubt falling away.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

Then one at a time we kneel before the Bishop, again someone who knows me well, who knows my frustrations, my hopes and fears for the church, and in spite of this he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill me, equip me for the office and work of a Priest, gives me a bible and anoints my hands asking for the empowering of God upon me.

We turn and stand before the congregation to rapturous applause and cheering and I am undone.

 

…o0O0o…

Despite my self doubt, despite my failings, my mistakes, my frustrations, this feels right. It seems completely insane, I still wonder why God has called me to this, but I know it’s right and recognsing the gifts God has given me and my characterisitcs, they are there to enable me to fulfill this role. Traits I’ve thought were negatives in me, suddenly become essential tools for ministry; emotions that I find hard to handle, appear as necessary to support others; and my wilfullness and stubborn nature become the backbone I need to survive ministry.

I feel affirmed.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So, Lord, now as I step into this future, I pray :

more of the me who you made me to be, and more of you God.

Amen

Ministerial training in the Church of England: A Round Up

A few years ago, I put together a series of guest blog posts on ministerial training in the Church of England. We are approaching that time of year when decisions need to be made about colleges, so here’s a round up of those posts which might well still be useful and certainly gives a selection of viewpoints from different colleges.

Intro – residential or regional training, full or part time, is one better than the other?
Regional Training at SEITE – a look at regional training from a student’s view point (now St. Augustine’s College)
Residential at Oak Hill – a look at residential training from a student’s view point.
Residential at Cuddesdon- a look at residential training from a student’s view point.
A Mixed view – from someone who has been at both

 

 

Vocation & Discernment in the CofE

A week or so ago I was interviewed by the Church Times about vocations in the Church of England, and to be more specific the discernment process. The lovely people at CT have made the piece available outside their paywall, so if you are interested in what it might be like exploring a call to ordination, do give it a read, here.

And while I’m here, another short plug, if you are looking at the discernment process, I wrote a free guide to it all here on the blog. You can either read it online or download it to enjoy at your own leisure ;) 

JOY // Guest post from Ben Hollebon

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my one word for the year). This month we have a post from a friend of mine – Ben Hollebon.

 

 

I love making films. It’s one of those things I just enjoy in every part of the process. Capturing that clip that you know is going to solidify your story when it comes to the edit is so satisfying.

I love God. Spending time with Him gives me peace. I can’t describe in words the reassurance His everlasting faithfulness brings to my life.

I ask God for stuff in prayers. I know it’s a bit cheeky and they’re not always things that I necessarily need, but I ask anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it works that you ask God for something in a quick prayer, He snaps His fingers and suddenly there’s a fanfare outside as the National Lottery pitch up at your front door with a nice big cheque for a few million. I think God is cleverer than that. He is interested in our hearts desires and giving us gifts; but these gifts are not meant to be held tightly and relished by ourselves alone. Instead, they’re meant to be used to glorify His name, His grace, His mercy and His love.

God gave me a gift last year. It was pretty amazing and I can tell you now – it made me rather joyful. He gave me the gift of a brand new job; one that I didn’t know existed, one that I wasn’t looking for, and in fact one that wasn’t even advertised. My wife saw a job advertised on Twitter (she’s never on Twitter and what are the chances she was on just as this was tweeted?). I went for the interview and didn’t get the job; but they told me there was another job, that wasn’t being advertised yet that they thought I’d be perfect for. So I came back a month later and interviewed successfully for it.

What do I do now? I make films for The Church of England. I work up in Westminster and get to communicate stories of the God I love through the medium that I love. God wants us to be fulfilled through His provision.

This Remembrance video, used in many churches and across Social Media is one of those Ben made.
Pretty cool right? God knows my hearts desires and wants me to be fulfilled in life; but He also challenges me to use the good things He provides to make a difference in this world. This isn’t just a “nice gig” nor is it God giving me a break and moving on. I feel called to work here and with that comes the responsibility that what I am doing is for God’s Kingdom. 

My joy this Christmas is knowing that I have a God who not just knows my every need, but finds ways to meet those needs in ways I could never have imagined. My God can literally find the perfect job for me, where I can use the skills He has blessed me with to communicate His Gospel each and every day.

And my God is your God; is our God; is THE God who loves us all immeasurably more than we could ever imagine.

I wonder what gift He has waiting for you to unwrap…

 

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Ben Hollebon works for The Church of England Communications Team at Church House in Westminster. He makes films and loves all things digital. He even got shortlisted at the Jerusalem Awards this year. He is married to Pollyanna and together, they have a cat called Herbie.

 

THANK YOU!

So this weekend as I sat at home with a horrible cold, coupled with the joy of celebrating my son’s 13th birthday I was also watching the tweets roll in from #PremDAC16 and was absolutely to delighted to see that I was chosen as Runner Up for ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’, woop! (I was also shortlisted for ‘Blogger of the year’ and as with last year when I was runner up in that category I am just so chuffed and surprised!).

You can see all the winners listed in the Premier Digital website here, and huge congrats to all the winners, it was an amazing line up, I feel honoured just to be among them. Especially check out Youth Work Hacks who won this category – a really brilliant blog and resource and not just for those doing Youth work I would say.

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Thank to Bex Lewis for this pic, shamelessly stolen from her Twitter feed :)

So, I also want to say a huge thank you to anyone who nominated me and to all of you who read this blog. Over the last 7 years or so it has changed, grown, had various guest posters, looked at different themes, had many a rant, and also a lot of love. But more than that, it has been an outlet for me to work out what is going in in my head, and to my surprise I have found that has often been helpful to others doing the same. It’s quite humbling when someone sends you a message or an email saying how they have found something you have written, really helpful or encouraging or inspiring. And, so, basically I want to say, ‘right backatcha!’ I love writing but it makes is so much more enjoyable and special when I know it reaches other people and touches them. So thank you all :)

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Last year at the awards dinner above! This year, in PJs and socks at home ;)

Top Tips for starting #VicarSchool

So it’s that time of year, new ordinands are heading off to college to begin theological & ministerial training. I remember heading off to my first evening at college with a huge about of trepidation and a large chip on my shoulder; then just a few months ago I cried at our last service together, knowing I would actually miss everyone. A huge journey in just a few years.

So for anyone about to head off to theological college, here’s some top tips to help you survive your first few weeks. Now I know some of you will be off to residential college, other regional or mixed mode, but take what works for you. And feel free to add suggestions in the comments below! thanks too to those who offered advice via Twitter :)

 

1) Be You

First off, be you. It was you that got you to this point, don’t try to be all ‘vicary’ now you are training, the church needs diversity! Smokers, swearers, ripped jeans and piercings? come on in! You are not supposed to be perfect. And on that, please please please please, and again, please, do not start with the whole ‘Vicar-Voice’ thing. You know exactly what I mean, the monotone drone of reciting liturgy or scripture without a shred of joy or meaning. What is that about? Shoot me if I ever do that. Just be you!

@gerrardus tweeted ‘people at Vicar school are posher than average. Don’t judge them’. Good advice, but works both ways, so posh people don’t judge the less posh ones! and on that…

2) Be open minded and loving

Vicar School should be a place where we can learn on many levels, but also learn to challenge ourselves and each other. We may have differing theological views, but healthy debate is good, when done with grace. In fact I encourage you, to encourage each other, to allow college to be a safe space to discuss tricky issues openly and honestly. This can be difficult, emotional and personal but it might be the only place where you can do this. Make the most of it.

Be kind to and patient with each other, it’s new for everyone, if you are regionally training/mixed mode then you may well have paid work to balance too, let alone kids/family/friends coming to terms with the newness of it all.

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Love this, as purchased in Paperchase :)

3) Secret drinking dens

Ok perhaps not exactly secret but I’d love to hear about any Vicar School dens, anyone?! But there does seem to be a strange quirk of celebrated drinks at theological colleges. At some it’s sherry, others the Malt Club, or perhaps the gin swiggers. No idea how this started but my suggestion is give them all a go, you will almost certainly need a tipple at some points. Me? I’m a Prosecco girl – not sure where that sits in the posh stakes? and court be known to sneak a bottle into my room occasionally. Kim notes on Twitter: ‘…the bar is your friend – even if you’re a teetotal introvert. It’s the place where theology takes place.’ True that.

 

4) Books Mortgage

Yes, so you are actually there to study, not just have deep and meaningful chats whilst supping whisky, there is some work involved. And that means reading. A lot of reading. So on the whole books thing, think very carefully about which ones to buy. If you pick all the ones you like off the reading list you will need to remortgage your house (that’s if you will ever afford a house on a Vicar’s stipend of course…). Best advice given to me was only buy the ones you will use again and again – commentaries for example or those in an area that you want to specialise in. That said, you will still need a trip to ikea for suitable accommodation to house them all when you leave college. Haven’t seen a clergy study yet without it’s own dedicated book wall.

There are lots of places to get free books too including google books – which may not have the whole book but might just have the chapter you need. Amazon often has the ‘look inside’ feature which can be used for the odd page too and Kindle often have books for free or at very low prices – keep your eyes open and share with each other.

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My first book wall, such a pleasing sight!

5) The dreaded ‘Formation’

This is a word you will get to hear a lot. To start with it seems huge, you will feel like you are expected to literally re-form like some Doctor Who style shape-shifter into the ‘Vicar Mould’ – see no.1 on this – being churned out the end like some production line (some people even call it Vicar Factory). By the end it will undoubtedly be a huge joke and anything slightly odd or tough will be deemed ‘formational’. Like the dodgy retreat houses, ancient loos and oh so interesting food you shall be forced to eat (grey soup and salmon bolognaise featured highly in my training) – it’s all formational darling…

It is though a good thing really, of course I can say that now I am out of Vicar School. As Kim says ‘It just means being open to being led & shaped by the Spirit & growing’.

6) Marks Smarks

You may go into this intending to get a 1st in every essay, or you may be paranoid about failing. Just remember you only have to pass. No one is going to care if you finish this course with 45% or 99%, you will be ordained and that’s that. Unless of course you plan to be the next Rowan Williams, in which case, you may need to spend a teensy bit more time in the library.

I, and several of my college friends had an ongoing challenge to see who could pass an essay by just one mark. I’m not sure any of us ever achieved it (we passed by more, not failed thankfully!) but there were times when we all thought this essay was going to be the one. So don’t try to be no.1 all the time, there are other things on your life too. Just get done what needs to be done as best you can, sometimes that will be better than others and that’s fine. Also do talk to tutors if you are struggling, they won’t eat you (well that’s debatable) and usually extensions can be offered. 

7) Just keep on bloody going…

There will probably be times when you want to jack it all in, can’t face the next lecture, or swear that if you ever see another copy of he Book of Common Prayer you will barf… (ok, that one might just be me). It’s all perfectly normal. You can do this, and don’t forget who called you into it all, he isn’t going to abandon you now. 

And anyway if you need to skip a lecture or a worship time because you are knackered, brain dead (or hungover, see no.3) then I really don’t think God will mind. Be kind to yourself. 

8) The Learning circle

Yes lectures, classes and tutorials will fill you with knowledge, but don’t forget your cohort who will all be different and have their own journeys, stories and skills to share. I think I learned as much from my fellow ordinands as I did from the course itself. Talk to each other, share ideas, debate and challenge, ask questions, engage in community life and as noted above, go to the bar! 

Also, don’t revert to school pupil mode, your tutors will recognise that you might actually have some knowledge of your own and in fact on my course several of us did some teaching to our cohort from our own area of expertise, which was really great.

9) Out of the house

Whether residential or regional, at some point you will be in accommodation not chosen by you – might be for a few years or just for a study weekend or two. Enjoy the er, interesting, decor; be refreshed by the often strange food (see no.5); and remember if you want a hot shower to be up by 6am – this rule seems to work anywhere and everywhere (except at Aylesford Priory where there is never ever any hot water).

One of my fave places we went to stay was an ex-NAAFI hotel in Kent. All yellow pine with polystyrene ceilings and plastic plants. But, we were mixing with ‘normal’ folk staying there – potential for great chats in the bar, it was warm, had plenty of plug sockets and wifi that worked. Look for the good stuff and you will find it! If you ever have to stay anywhere old – like a priory or monastery, take a hot water bottle – even in summer, and a 4 way adapter if you want to plug in anything.

10) Bluff

And the last word goes to Margaret who shared on Twitter:

Write somewhere (or tattoo): ‘everyone’s bluffing’. Remind yourself of this every day.

good advice!

 

If you have anything to add to the list, please do let me know and I’ll add it on! Thanks to those who shared via twitter too: Gerrarrdus, Kim, Chris, Margaret, Boris the Bold

Calling, Vocation and Discernment

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A few times recently people have asked me about why I wanted to become a Vicar. Thing is I didn’t want to, it was just I felt God calling me to it. And to be honest I was in denial about the whole thing for quite some time. I wrote about it at various points on the blog so this is just a bit of a round up of those posts that were written when I was wrestling with it all. If you are interested in my journey to ordination, perhaps are seeking your own, or maybe just thinking about vocation and purpose, then these may or may not be interesting!

Purpose – This was written the first time I started to voice something around that sense of calling that was going on inside me. 
A Calling – Actually starting to think about ministry.
The O Word – Finally giving in and thinking about ordination
10 reasons not to be a Vicar – wrestling with it all
Life Changes – admitting defeat and seeing my Parish Priest
Meeting the DDO – approaching seeing the DDO 
Rebelling – being a rebel in the church
DDO Update –  last visit to DDO
Approaching BAP and plenty of doubt
General later post on Vocation/Calling
Lastly this is my free Guide to the Discernment Process in the CofE if you are looking into what it means to be ordained in the CofE, this looks in depth at what you might experience. Useful for other denominations or situations too but it is focussed on the CofE process.

 

 

 

Ember Cards

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If I had £1 for every time someone asked me what an ’ember card’ is in recent weeks, I’d be able to pay for all my clerical wear with the proceeds. And I’ve got to admit, it slightly amuses me that me, a definitely ‘improper Anglican’ to coin a term from a Twitter friend, is doing something quite traditional. So here’s a bit of an explanation…

Firstly, let me admit I only heard about ember cards because fellow ordinands have talked about them, but the short explanation is what it says on the card below, that traditionally those approaching ordination send them out to ask for prayer for them and their parish.  As you know I don’t really do traditional, but I do do prayer and I do love cards and design and nice things like that :) That said, usually they are pretty boring and dull and so I wanted to do something a bit different (no surprise there then) and asked my fab friend Mark at Sublime to design something for me and I love it! Not boring, not traditional, but still what it needs to be.

So ember cards, what? why? who? well it’s interesting that when I decided to get some done I wanted to do a bit of research and find out what they are all about and there seems to be very little info out there, but here’s some basic bits if you want to know…

Ember cards are sent out as part of Ember seasons or weeks, or even days. Ember Days are days set aside by the church for prayer and fasting and have been since the 4th Century AD in ancient Rome. As seasons of prayer and fasting it was considered a good time for ordination of clergy and like many things the Anglican church inherited the idea from Rome.

This Ember Season is between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, i.e: this week. Although the focus on times of prayer for ordination has become more of a focus now, rather than just being seasons of prayer. The CofE says this:

Ember Days should be kept, under the bishop’s directions, in the week before an ordination as days of prayer for those to be made deacon or priest. Ember Days may also be kept even when there is no ordination in the diocese as more general days of prayer for those who serve the Church in its various ministries, both ordained and lay, and for vocations. Traditionally they have been observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays within the weeks before the Third Sunday of Advent, the Second Sunday of Lent and the Sundays nearest to 29 June and 29 September.

(My ordination will be 25th June).

So, at these times of year those being ordained send out cards asking for prayer. I can’t find any information on how the sending of cards started (so if anyone knows more I’d love to know!), but perhaps it was a way of letting people know you were being ordained, at a time when communication was harder and took longer than it does today. Many people went away to train for ministry (many still do) and so would have left behind their original or sending church, friends and often family, so it would have been a nice connection to send back information on the ordination itself and asking for prayer from those who had nurtured them in their faith before training.

Whilst I am naturally a pioneer, looking to do things differently or improve things, I am still part of the Church of England and I embrace that. So in sending the card I feel part of the wider church, whilst also making it a bit different. I chose to put an explanation on the card as most people I send it to won’t have a clue why I’m sending it. Plus traditionally you ask for prayer for the parish you are going to, but I wanted to include the one I am coming from that has seen me through training, nurtured me and loved me in it all. Usually people include a prayer and again, many people I send this to won’t be regular pray-ers, but I wanted to find a way to reach them and I thought the most familiar prayer is The Lord’s Prayer so there is a chance people will have heard of it or may have even prayed it at school. And as I say on the card, it does express so much of what we need daily: to be provided for, to be kept safe from evil and to experience God’s kingdom on earth.

For me also, the realisation of what I am stepping into becomes ever more real each day and I recognise the need for prayer more than ever. This is only something I can with God leading me, so please do pray for me as I approach ordination, and of course beyond…

 

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Liturgy – what are we missing?

Here’s the final post in a series of three, looking at formal liturgy and the charismatic church (these are the first two):

  1. Charismatic or Liturgical Encounter
  2. Praying in Tongues = praying through liturgy

 

So something that came up quite a bit in my foray into formal liturgy and the charismatic church is the question, what are we missing by not using it? – if anything.

And it’s an interesting question, because I think many charismatics would instantly answer that we are not missing anything, in fact not using it gives us greater freedom to worship and encounter God. But here’s a few slightly rambling thoughts that have been raised for me…

Familiarity and Comfort

One Bishop I spoke to was keen to stress the importance of inherited words, the things we remember through repetition (which I have written about here), the words that remain in our unconscious. He cited the example of visiting someone who was nearing the end of their life and how words of liturgy that have been recited over the years or even just been said at school or on other occasions, when said back to that person can bring great comfort. More than that, they might engage a person with failing memory or senses as they bring recognition or familiarity that may be gone in other parts of their life.

Of course this is true, if the person has had some experience of church, or of liturgy, or formal prayer then they truly can bring comfort and more. But it’s more than that isn’t it, because they aren’t just familiar words like the line of a song for example. When I did my hospital placement last year one of the first things I did was go into a dementia ward where we sang to the patients some of the old tunes that were familiar to them. Suddenly those who were seemingly listless and glazed came to life with such joy. In fact it impacted a visitor too who had said no thank you to the song sheet but on seeing her relative come alive, began to join in too.  No, prayer is more than familiarity, we believe it is communication with God, so is it then that in praying in a familiar way we are enabling someone to encounter God who may not to able to do so for themselves any more?

Of course one response to the Bishop could be is the bible not enough? Surely words of scripture can be equally as familiar and as profound or moving as formal liturgy?

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However none of this addresses one obvious flaw in the argument, which is that fewer people are going to church and experiencing the liturgy for themselves, so whilst we have a generation or two who may have gone regularly, this is decreasing and we will find fewer people with any understanding or recognition of the liturgy, so what are we planning for the future? How will we reach people who have no experience of it, even now? That is a big challenge to us as a church. Prayer may be a comfort anyway, regardless of words chosen, even to those who have no faith or little experience of church, but that doesn’t require specific words. Though in a situation which may be difficult or emotional it might be useful for us as ministers to have words to be read when we may find we have none. Again though, do these need to be formal liturgy?

 

Beauty Of Words

I also met David Pytches in my research for this essay (which is where the liturgy fascination came in) who, even as a Charismatic leader, suggested that the church might have lost something in not using formal liturgy. I’m not sure we got to the bottom of what he thought might be missing, but we did talk about the nature and beauty of words. Some of our formal liturgy is written so beautifully (note *some), and I know on the odd occasion I have used a prayer from Common Worship, or once I used the Methodist Covenant Prayer, that people have really responded to the words, asking about the prayer itself and where it was from. Is there something about an almost formal beauty in some of those words that reaches us in a different way? Charismatic worship can sometimes be a bit chaotic – that isn’t to say it isn’t planned, prayed through and well thought out, in my experience it usually is – but I wonder if something more formal can sometimes cut through that in a different way maybe? Of course though that is recognising the use of something more formal as an unusual occurrence, so it becomes smelling special, not just the usual.

 

Something Corporate

Something else that came up was the idea of being part of something bigger, something corporate. When we recite words together that are well known and familiar, we are united together in a very obvious way, and I think there is something really powerful about that. Not just in the physical, in that we stand in a building together saying the same words together, but also if praying by ourselves, for example doing Daily Prayer. For a season I did Morning Prayer every day and was always encouraged and buoyed up by those tweeting about the readings or just noting they were saying it too, making me feel like I was part of something much bigger.

Spiritually too, I think it can unite us with the wider church, just the idea of people across the world saying the same words, the same prayers, particularly on a Sunday, it just feels more powerful!

 

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Lastly, I think there is something about reverence here. I am not a formal liturgy person at all, but the one thing I find hard in a charismatic environment is a lack of reverence when it comes to the Eucharist. I don’t know why, perhaps it is just tradition having been brought up in a more traditional church environment, is it just what I am ‘used to’? I’m not sure how much reverence there would have been at the last supper (& that’s another post), holiness yes, but Jesus was their friend and would have been among that like that. Do we need to create an atmosphere that is more reverential?  I’m not sure but I do find there can be something lacking in the freer environment, with kids running around, people chatting in the queue and after, like we are not taking seriously what we are preparing ourselves to receive.

 

So, what are we missing and is it important anyway? I’m not sure I’ve got to the bottom of what I think about this but I know it will remain something I continue to questions myself over. I think one of the biggest challenges to us as leaders in the church today is for the future. The idea of being with people in times of difficulty and illness, at the end of life perhaps, how do we engage people, how do we pray with them, sit with them, when there may be little left? Perhaps that’s more about trusting in God, perhaps in that case formal liturgy has been a crux for us to lean on, and it will longer be so in many cases. Perhaps then we need to lean more on God and less on our formulas…