The alternative priestly post

So after the heartfelt post on Monday, I thought an alternative view of my Priesting might be good too, definitely a sign that God has a sense of humour..

I think it all began a few weeks ago when I randomly met the Bishop’s Chaplain and we bonded in the wine aisle of the local village shop, and then moving swiftly to the rehearsal last week, which involved a lot of humour, and regular interjections of ‘oh bugger’ when things weren’t going quite as planned, and then of course finally on to the retreat itself.

And I have to say that after the busyness of the last few weeks it was actually rather lovely to go to evensong in the cathedral, which is not my usual style as I’m sure you know, but there is something about just sitting and listening and letting the music flow over you. So there I was, just sat with my eyes shut, a thousand voices (maybe a slight exaggeration) singing melodiously and in harmony, when I could have sworn I heard those melodious words singing about a trump…

My eyes snaped open, torn form the stupor of beautiful music as I busily scan the pages to check, and there I read the lines:

“God is gone up with a merry noise and the Lord with the sound of the trump”

focus, focus, do not make eye contact with anyone else, stifle those smirks…

Is it just me but when I go into a super formal environment (like the cathedral) I have to suppress the urge to be silly or irreverent, so you can imagine, then the strength it took to suppress my giggles at the word ‘trump’ on top of anything else. You know what they say, if you can’t laugh at farts then you are too old…

almost liturgical nail varnish…

There followed discussing the merits of nail varnish and diamonds with the Bishop over drinks – as you do – and sometime later, with all of us either in cassocks or collar, sent off in silence to the best prepared and holiest of places for a silent retreat: Chichester Travelodge. As we traipse along at 9.30 in the evening, all in a line, not talking, we pass the nightlife of Chichester, and watch their comedy responses to our appearance like some kind of cross between Father Ted and Harry Potter.

Of course the merits of a silent retreat (which I would say I was honouring and not even watching the news the day after the election – so much was my commitment to silence) were only slightly marred by the stag party residing in the travelodge that were up until 3am and requiring a police presence. It is rather amusing that both our pre ordination silent retreats have been less than silent, with last years before deaconing regularly interspersed with grunts and shouts from the women’s group sharing our accommodation and seemingly having some kind of releasing workshop.

This positive experience was only added to by waking up to the enormous joy that I had my period (getting my period on the day of my Priesting – gee thanks Lord, I mean aren’t you in charge of the universe couldn’t you have rigged that one?) (yes ok perhaps slightly TMI but it’s funny. Well it wasn’t at the time I can tell you…). My kids will tell you I cry at anything, I don’t think that’s quite fair but you can imagine though that my propensity for tears was not exactly helped by the appearance of such hormones in my life. I may or may not have gone through a large amount of mascara.

cassocks-a-go-go

attempting to stay cool…

Finally it was time for the service and we all prepared in the sweltering heat of a British summer that for once is living up to it’s name, as we all don several layers of thick fabric covering us from neck to toe.

As we approached the door of the church someone, (ok it may have been me) instigated a bet on the length of time of the service, which was actually won to the minute at 1 hour 50mins by one of our number.

The service itself was went well, apart from the reappearance of tears, no trump lines this time, but one of the funniest moments was as we turned to process out when I find myself facing the other charmismatic among us and we are both unsure whether to bow before we leave. What followed was a comedy chuckle brothers moment where we half bow, half turn, turn back and end up in hysterics as we finally walk out. Oh how reverent…

So there we are, and perhaps the thing that makes me recognise God’s sense of humour more than anything is that I am a Priest! I keep having sudden moments of clarity and being like ‘flippin heck I am a Priest. Now how on earth did that happen…?!’

 

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