Becoming a Revd…

13521914_157417874674703_3952221613253765668_n

Selfie with my fellow trainees from SEITE as we head off to the cathedral

So. That’s it. No going back. I am now Revd. Jules Middleton… arghhh!!!!

Wow even typing that makes me start to well up!

How did this happen I ask myself? Why did this happen? What on earth was God thinking?! I am still having those moments of ‘why would he call someone like me?’

However, it is also completely amazing. I am so excited, proud, overjoyed and delighted to be doing what I am doing. A few days ago I was officially introduced at my new church at 4 different services and met so many lovely people (whose names I have probably forgotten already), and I just feel so ready for this and so excited for this new season.

…o0O0o…

So back up a bit, and a quick recap on last week.

So, last Wednesday we went off on silent retreat, 15 of us ordinands together, some of us had met before, not others. We were thrown in together at a wonderfully quirky retreat centre in West Sussex, run by four little old Indian nuns who were as lovely as you would imagine, with seemingly permanent serene smiles on their faces.

Our few days were mostly in silence, although in the end even the most serious of us were laughing out loud at the farting noises of the tea machine. Days were punctuated with the regularity of daily prayer and addresses from our lovely retreat leader, Jane Charman, encouraging us to reflect on what it means to be a deacon.

Got to admit I was a bit anxious in advance and feeling like, I just want to get on with the job, but it was exactly what I, if not all of us, needed. Right at the start we nearly all expressed a desire to rest, to be still, to read our bibles, pray and prepare as we had all come from manic schedules, house moves, assignment finishing and in my case last minute clerical wear fine tuning.

I am the kind of person who needs to have a purpose to things, so I set out with a list of things to ‘do’ on the retreat, like researching women of the bible or reading one of the 4 books I had brought with me, and initially I found it hard to settle, not wanting to waste the time I had. However God clearly had other ideas and in our first evening prayer our Psalm was 91 which some of you might remember was so important to me last summer when I was going through my back injury and surgery

 

And it was under his wing that I felt I was, I didn’t need to ‘do’ anything, just to be there, to rest and to focus on him. As you probably know by now, I’m not a formal liturgy person but at almost every session of daily prayer there was something that God highlighted to me, a line of scripture, a word, phrase or encouragement, so that I just knew he was with me every step of the way.

And as it turned out, it was exactly what we all needed as we hit the ground running on Saturday, arriving at the cathedral to be ushered from rehearsal, to meeting with the Bishop, to prayer, to saying our oaths, to finally the service itself.

13558806_1204306562935459_6284460685747212246_o

Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden

And the service was amazingly wonderful, with it’s endless formal liturgy, singing of prayers and massive amounts of clerical wear and I surprised myself that I flippin’ loved it all! Though I had to remember where to be and when to kneel and got lost during the peace and missed my queue to go up the the high altar and sobbed during administering communion and looked like a bright white tent and was so out of my comfort zone, I absolutely loved it. God is so good :)

So, the next chapter starts here…

13502599_1204467992919316_1163711938712066294_o

Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden

 

Vicar School Update // Summer 2015

Jeremiah_callingJPG

2 years down, one to go.

So, it’s about time I did an update and here it is, this time via the blog, because, well just because it’s easier. And if you didn’t know I wrote a blog, well you do now…

11427923_10152805086210303_3548102555395748633_o

Post Op…

So I have successfully completed 2 years of my ministerial training, if there was ever a miracle, this is it. It means that God (and the Church of England, which are of course almost interchangeable) hasn’t yet changed his mind about me being a Vicar, which is somewhat encouraging (but also completely terrifying and requires wine, medicinal of course). Completing this year was certainly a marathon having suffered a back injury around Easter which a few week later became a prolapsed disk. To be honest if there was ever a ‘good’ time for this to happen it was then, I missed a minimal amount of college and should be fit enough to start back again in September; and in terms of work it is perhaps the quietest time of year. Right before Christmas or Easter would have been pretty disastrous… It basically has meant weeks lying on the floor on painkillers that turn you into someone with the mind of a jellyfish, and about as much coordination too (especially when coupled with the aforementioned wine). This was followed by surgery which was as you may imagine, not much fun, but has so far been successful and some 8 weeks post-op I am driving again and a lot more mobile.

So I definitely limped over the finish line this year and was completing my last essay under the influence of severe back pain and a cocktail of drugs. I sent it off with a note to my tutor suggesting it would either be brilliantly insightful as a result, or a load of pants. Amazingly I did rather well with it, so it does rather make me wonder about about the benefits of drug taking whilst writing essays ;)

All that said it has been an utterly amazing experience, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change it, as I have just felt an amazing closeness of God that I will always cherish. If you’d like to know more, I preached a few weeks ago on all that, and you can watch it here:

 

'So... you want to be a Priest do you...?'

‘So… you want to be a Priest do you…?’

I’ve been off work for 12 weeks now (eek, what will my inbox be like!?) but have spent the time off wisely by watching Suits and Youtube… ahem… I mean by being very studious… Actually I have loved having time to be creative again and lots of that has been blogged on here too, as well as finally finishing my ‘short guide to the discernment process‘ which will mean nothing to you if you’re not in it or ordained already. It’s basically the process by which the church selects people for training. It is, well, lets just say you need more than wine to get through it… Phil says it’s a ridiculous name and makes him think of old men in a room smoking pipes and stroking their beards saying ‘hmm’ a lot, which may not actually be all that far from the truth…

I started writing about it right when I started college but of course time and priorities meant it never quite made it to the top of the ‘to do’ list. But with hours on my hands I finally completed it and it’s now out there for all to see… well for the 7 people currently going through it all… ok maybe 8…

creation1_SMALL2

Getting creative again…

So anyway, this is supposed to be a college update…. as I write we shall shortly begin discussions about my ‘title post’, aka The Curacy (cue dramatic music, dun dun derrrrr…). This will almost certainly mean a house move, and possibly schools for the kids too. It is with some trepidation we approach this but also with total trust in God. Phil and I have always felt that He would show us the way forward and guide us into His plans for us, so we continue to trust Him for our future.

But before then I still have a year to go at college, with a church placement – delayed due to my injury – which entails spending 8 weeks or so in another church, gaining experience and then writing a number of reflections on it. Then more modules, New Testament this term, plenty more essays and heaps of things from our ‘check list’ including visiting yes, more churches, and various tasks. There are frankly not enough hours in the day! This year will definitely be a challenge especially when I now have to add into it, regular physio and gym visits and walking twice a day too.

11137113_1636434699922295_7284095428527933887_n

Beautiful Canterbury Cathedral at dawn

Looking back this year has been great, despite the ending. We had a fantastic week at Canterbury again at Easter, with some beautiful worship in the cathedral crypt. Some great teaching, and a fab day on preaching with a visiting speaker Rev Dr Sam Wells, which won’t mean anything to most of you but those in the church might recognise his name. He was incredibly inspiring and it was great to chat to him at lunch too, over a rather soggy omelette (’tis the CofE you know, no expense spared…). For me, possibly a highlight of the year, was along with a few friends, successfully lobbying (and yes it felt like lobbying) for a more charismatic service during our study weekends. Despite not being able to lead it because of my back, it was a wonderful service, led fantastically at the last min by my friend Jeremy and I hope enabled people to see what good charismatic evangelical worship can be like. (Charismatic means different things to different people but in this case meant a more informal service, modern songs, less boring stuff – sorry guys, but it’s my blog so I’ll say what I think ;) – and more importantly some space for the Holy Spirit to move. In this case we had time for people to pray out as they felt led and some prayer ministry – time where people could be prayed for by a team of people with some privacy. Apparently it was the first time in years the college had included this kind of worship which felt like an achievement! And we had some great feedback after too, at a college like mine people come from all different parts of the church and it was never going to be everyones cup of tea, so it was lovely that people felt able to worship and meet with God, for many in a style they are not used to. For me, as the weekend where my back first started to go, it was an emotional roller coaster, but at the same time felt significant in more than one way.

As we took communion we included a wonderful song by the band Leeland, which is below. I just love this song, it expresses so much of what Jesus did for us…


I listen to this and think, yes I am seated where I don’t belong. Many people have said to me things like ‘you don’t deserve this’ of my back injury, but the truth is we all deserve a heap more than this. Sorry to get all deep, I know this newsletter is a bit more melancholy than others have been (and no bean jokes other, there’s a first) but I guess being incapacitated or poorly makes you reflect more and I’ve done my fair share of that recently. I can’t begin to describe the blessings I have felt in all the pain and I can only say that is down to God. Others go through far worse than this and suffer terribly and yet I can look back and say it has been a blessing. Why? I think it’s the goodness of God. And no I can’t say why I get to have a good time in it all and others don’t, but I just know I wouldn’t have got through this without Him…

 

Ok I’ve probably gone on enough, promise to be more jokey next time! and there might be some curacy news too :) In the meantime here’s some prayer points…

: For healing – well derr…. this is a slow old process but any prayer for helping in my back would be very much appreciated!

: As we approach curacy discussions, please pray for God to guide us to the right place.

: and in that, for peace for us all and particularly the kids

: A level results on Thursday, need I say more! Uni beckons…

: For me as I get back to work, for the time that I need to fit everything in!

 

 Thank You!

As always with love and blessings

 

Jules xx

 

 

Vicar School Update // Jan 2015


Jan 2015 / Jules Newsletter
 
So, I’ve made it through another term and
in just a few weeks I’ll be exactly half way through my course. Where on earth has that gone? To be honest at times it has felt like 3 years will take 30, at others it has flown by way too quick (usually when an essay deadline is approaching…) The second year has definitely felt like we’ve gone up a gear, and I almost long for the naivety of the first year. Still it’s actually really nice to know what’s expected of me now, I’ve done everything once, been to each of our venues and completed a year of academic work. SEITE (my college) has actually been going through lots of changes, as like most colleges that offer training for ministry in the Church of England, we are now under a new scheme ‘Common Awards’. This means all courses will now be validated by Durham University. Pretty cool to get a qualification from Durham but also has meant various changes, possibly the most important of which
has meant I have not got a student card this year, so no 10% discount at Top Shop and Apple… This is of course a travesty that I hope will be addressed very
soon.
This (below) arrived for me recently, slightly
premature and frankly freaked me out entirely…
 
Hopsital Placement / Sept 2014
 

Anyway… what else has happened in the last few months? Well September began with a Pastoral Placement, which for me meant 30
hours spent shadowing the Chaplains at local hospitals. This was an eye-opening time having had no experience of hospital chaplains previously. Naively I thought they just visited people, prayed with them and took communion to patients. Boy was I wrong! Of course there is some of that, but there is soooo much more. Where I was, the Chaplains get involved in staff training, helping to build policy, and my first day was spent at a conference that brought together Brighton organisations in social and health care areas, to help create networks and relationships. Of course it’s not the same at every hospital, and having heard from some of my fellow students experiences it made me all the more impressed and inspired by the Chaplains I spent time with. On the pastoral, visiting patients side of things, I was touched by the loneliness of many patients.

 
The current system in hospitals of ‘centres of excellence’ means that although the medical care might be better, patients are often in hospital miles from where they live, which really limits those who can visit them regularly. For the elderly this is really exacerbated as it is much harder for them to travel. To these patients, some of whom are in for weeks at a time, time spent with the Chaplain is worth an enormous amount.

family homework time. To be honest, my theology is easier than year 6 maths…

Aylesford Priory (Again)
 Last term’s module was good old Ethics and Doctrine. Just as mind blowing as last years Ethics module, we covered such delights as ‘The Trinity’ in just 2 hours (for those who don’t really care, The Trinity is the idea of God as three persons: Father, Son & Holy Spirit). This and other matters of doctrine have kept theologians and writers in the money for possibly thousands of years,so 2 hours to cover it? well, let’s just say I just about got the title down…

Ashburnham at Christmas

This term we are looking at the Old Testament which is just amazing and I think I’ve written more notes in the first few weeks of this term than in the whole first year! I just love going deeper into God’s word and really getting into the details, the context, the history, it is fascinating. 
As I write Phil & I have just come back from a SEITE weekend. Yes, Phil too, he was, I can tell you, delighted when he heard that there was an ‘AlongSEITErs’ Weekend, where other halves were invited to come and  join us. “Delighted” or not, he actually came for the whole weekend and, well, survived! Probably 2 hours spent in the bar on the first night, helped :)

Asburnham by Twilight

We were staying at the oddity that is Aylesford Priory. You may remember from my previous updates, references to the food, awash with beans, and including such delicacies as lasagna ala Cauliflower, Peptobismol Pudding, grey soup and, oh yes, more beans. Luckily Phil eats like a dustbin so he loved it. A work colleague once described him as a fat bloke trapped in a thin blokes body, which just about sums up his love of food! 
 
 From my point of view it was lovely to have Phil with me for one of these weekends and aside from the talks and sessions we found some time to just hang out together, including time to just worship and pray together which was really lovely, especially in the little chapel at Aylesford.

The rather disturbing ‘Infant of Prague’. Well obviously not the real one, the CofE budget doesn’t stretch to sending us to Eastern Europe. This is  simply a scary copy…

 
So. Sometime later this term we get to start talking about…     *whispers*
 ‘curacy’. That’s what happens next,  I finish the studying
and then get let loose (almost) on some unsuspecting Anglicans. Although it is 18 months away, negotiations start this year. To say this is a scary thought would be a complete understatement and frankly I’d rather not think about it. Effectively this will mean for us a church move, house move and most likely, a school move for the younger two as well.  Of course we knew this was coming but as it approaches it’s hard not to start rocking gently and talking to myself in hushed tones! Of course we are trusting in God entirely for this. After all he got us into this and he will get us out of it , errrr… I mean … find the perfect place for us.

Worshipping with Phil at Aylesford

 
 
So with that in mind, here’s some prayer points. Please do pray for us if you can spare the time. If you’re not the praying type, maybe give it  a go – you never know when God might speak…!
In the meantime thanks again for your support. With love and blessings…
 

Jules
x

PRAYER
If you are a praying person we’d love
some prayer! Here are a few things…
 
: For wisdom, especially in essay writing!
: For peace as we start to think about curacy
: For us as a family with lots of new things ahead

Residential vs Regional: Training in the Church of England // A Mixed view!

This is the fifth post in a series on Ministerial Training in the Church Of England. To see the intro to it all click here. I have asked a selection of people to write on their own experiences of training, in different environments.Today we hear from Simon Archer who has spent time training at both regional and residential college.

Simon says of himself:

About to hit the big 4 oh! I am an ordinand (trainee vicar) living and studying on campus at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. I’m sharing this surreal experience with my wife, four children and 2 cats. I have a feeling the legend of Marmite the Cat with live long after the memory of Simon the Ordinand has faded and that is as it should be.

A Tale of Two Modes //

I had been exploring my calling to ministry for some time, dragging my feet which seems to be the norm. After meeting with with a Vocations Advisor and voicing some concerns over my ability to deal with the academic demands of training it was suggested I speak to SEITE, the South East Institute for Theological Education. I did and signed up for a year with an option to continue if I wished to on a part-time course as an associate student. I would do all the work, write the essays but as I wasn’t an Ordinand so would not attend the weekend or weekly retreats.
Travel forward in time a few years and I have been recommended for training and am just coming to the end of my first term of full-time residential training at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. So the question that might be asked is why did I choose this mode over part-time? What was the difference?
Well let me be clear, my choice was largely practical. My full-time employment was linked to retail and this meant working weekends and being busiest at exactly the times when retreats would be happening. Training part-time was simply not possible without quitting my job and joining another industry. I am happy to say although the option of part-time training with SEITE was discussed I was supported in a decision to train full-time.
So what about the differences? Both modes are challenging. The rigour of the academic lectures and the expectations of the essays and work are equal. The lecturers themselves are all incredibly gifted in both their fields of particular expertise and their abilities in imparting their knowledge. I do not think the quality of the academic training is therefore that different.
Formation is perhaps an area that is worth looking at. It’s an odd term that many speak of at colleges whilst rolling their eyes but in fairly simple term it’s about preparation for public ministry and the transition and changes you go through. At SEITE there were the retreats, church placements and the like but at Cuddesdon there is a great deal more attention paid to this. In
a single term I have been and am continuing a placement at a local hospital, I have a church placement on Sundays, I have spent two weeks as Chapel Assistant and then Duty Sacristan, a preaching themed study week. I am in a worship group whose responsibilities change weekly from preparing and leading worship corporately or individually to serving dinner to the college or running the bar. There are the Daily Offices and Eucharist as well as supplementary groups
offering Ignatian Spirituality or Rosary Prayer and meditation. There are guest theologian speakers both at the college and in Oxford who are leaders in contemporary thought. In January I will be spending a week in L’Arche community, something I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to do. This formational experience is something I could never have imagined or managed part-time.
Which is harder? I think this is an important question because I think actually the answer is part-time. With everything I do now I have immense support, academic staff on tap and my days, although full, are planned to be able to incorporate family time alongside all the work and experience. We have a part-time and mixed-mode students here and if I am absolutely honest I don’t know how they cope and I do know that many struggle. Many are holding down full-time work with all it’s demands, family responsibilities, travel and their training. And I know a few are pleading to move to full-time as soon as possible.
If it was my decision to make it would be that as many as possible are encouraged to train full-time but nobody should be prevented from responding to God’s calling so we certainly need the different modes. How we support the formation of those in other modes by offering the depth of experience seen in full-time training may be the area we need to focus on in the future.

 

Residential vs Regional: Ministerial Training in the Church of England: A Regional View

This is the second post in a series on Ministerial Training in the Church Of England. To see the intro to it all click here. I have asked a selection of people to write on their own experiences of training, in different environments.

Today Stacey Rand, gives us her experience of training part time at a regional college. Stacey is a
second year Ordinand at the South East Institute for Theological Education
(SEITE). She lives in Canterbury and works as a researcher in the field of
social care policy.  

The phone rang. It was the call I’d been waiting for, and
the answer was a yes…  I’d been
recommended for training! Once the feeling of shock passed (really, me?!), then
came the difficult choice of where to do my pre-ordination training. There were two options – either residential training (‘theological college’), or non-residential training (‘course’). After much thought and prayer, I felt that non-residential training would be a better fit for me.
Why? Well, first of all, I don’t really have a particular ‘tradition’ that I feel I belong to. I’ve worshipped in Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and ‘middle-of-the-road’ churches. Theological colleges tended to focus on a particular church tradition or style of worship. Instead, I was looking for somewhere where the diversity in the Church of England was reflected and celebrated.
Also, I’d only recently moved from Cambridge to Canterbury. My husband had been studying for his PhD and we had been very involved in Cambridge college life. It felt quite important at this stage to move on into the next phase of our life together as a married couple ‘in the real world’,
outside of the sheltered environment of a college (which feels at times a bit like a boarding school for adults!)
Asburnham Place, taken at a
recent residential weekend

So I chose to study non-residentially at SEITE – and I’ve
not regretted this decision for one moment. I really value the diversity of the students, in age, background and church tradition. There is a real sense of unity in the love of God, as well as our shared purpose for coming together. And I haven’t felt ‘de-skilled’ like I’d expected to. Instead, I’ve felt the freedom to bring prior learning to integrate into what is being
taught. It feels less like being broken and re-made in conformity with a particular image of a ‘vicar’, and more like a gentle re-shaping that allows space for individual diversity.

Importantly, the course emphasises that it isn’t about teaching us everything we’ll ever need to know, but to equip us with the tools for lifelong learning. The regular residential weekends have been an opportunity for an extended time of learning in community – both in the classroom and the bar!
Finally, there’s an emphasis on learning by experience. My home church and placements have offered space to explore important issues and to learn through real life situations. Placement supervisors have been generous in sharing both the joys and challenges of their ministry, for which I am very grateful.
Ashburnham Place

There have, however, been some compromises. I would have
really liked to have studied for a full degree, but that has not been possible. Instead, I am self-supporting through my work as a researcher to study part-time for an undergraduate diploma. My ‘day job’ is fulfilling, stimulating and interesting. My work colleagues have been really supportive. And there are aspects of my work that I would describe as part of my vocation. That said, it can still sometimes be challenging to balance the demands of employment and part-time study.

It might be said that the monastic spirituality in the community rhythm of residential training is essential to prepare the future leaders of the Church for the challenges ahead. However, this route may not be right for everyone. A strength of the current system is that there are a diversity
of routes to allow for the diversity of people who are training for lay or
ordained ministry.
Non-residential courses may also equally offer a ‘spiritually-grounded’ model of training – in the mendicant rather than monastic tradition. Unlike monastics (monks, nuns) who live in a monastery, mendicants (friars, sisters) go out and live among the people. The mendicant
tradition is a call to be outward-looking and working to seek God in all things and all situations – to have the ‘bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other’.
My experience so far of training has been both challenging, rewarding, confusing, exasperating, exhausting, joyful, humbling (especially to know the love and support of the people around me), and full of blessings – and it has really made me know what it is to trust God in all things. Hopefully, a good preparation for a lifetime of ministry?

Residential vs Regional: Training in the Church of England

Southwark Cathedral, where some of the
SEITE training takes place

So if you are a regular reader of this blog, it cannot have escaped your notice that I am training for Ordination in the CofE. Throughout the last few years as I have explored this and now in my training, I have regularly thought about the various types of training available. There are essentially 3 modes of training: residential (full time), regional (part or full time) and mixed mode. For a long time, residential training was the only option available and requires someone training to up sticks and move to their college for two years while they train, a bit like going off to uni. In many cases this means partners and families move too.  I’ve got to be honest I’m not entirely sure why the option for regional training was brought in, so please feel free to comment if you can point me to this info! However I am based at SEITE, whose website says the following about regional training there:

SEITE was founded in 1994 to serve the churches of the South East of England in training people for Christian ministry but its roots go back much further. In 1959, the Bishop of Southwark had a vision for training Christians to take ministry from the church out into society. In doing so, he broke with the normal pattern of ministerial training in which ministers are taken away from their everyday situations to study theology in a college community. Instead he set up the Southwark Ordination Course which trained people for ministry whilst they remained firmly rooted in their everyday lives and local communities. This way, people learn to make connections between Christian theology and the world in which they live. This vision remains central to SEITE.

In addition to being rooted in their own communities it does mean people have the option to study part time, and continue in their current paid jobs, but it also means those studying at regional colleges can stay in their homes and not have to uproot their lives and families at this stage (whether training full or part time).

So then why am I writing about this? Well, ever since this process began for me, I have come up against the view that regional training is the poorer second cousin to residential. Many Bishops encourage their Ordinands to go to residential colleges, and students have to have very good reasons for not taking this path. In addition, a widely held view across the church seems to be that those at regional colleges do not get as good an eduction as those training residentially and that they are therefore unprepared for ministry life. Here’s a prime example from a comment on a recent blog. (You can read the full comments and post at his blog, so I won’t repeat it all here but as an example….)

. does it make a difference that there is usually less study time, and always less contact time, on [regional] courses?

 . what is the impact of having less qualified staff (as they usually are, in terms of higher degrees) who are more often teaching outside their area of first expertise?

. what is the logic of training people who will be in full-time stipendiary ministry on a part-time non-stipendiary course?

. is it pastorally responsible to put such pressure on people early in their training?

On the last question, a friend of mine who was principal of both a course and a college admitted that on the course, people often either did not do the hours expected, or if they did, whilst holding down a full-time job, ended up with intolerable pressures on their marriages and family life.

This comes from someone with much experience in residential training, but as I responded to him in the comments of his own blog, it does not seem to be based on fact. For example, where is the evidence? which I did ask for; actually at my college (can’t speak for others) our tutors are teaching in their area of expertise and it’s something I wouldn’t even question as the standard of teaching has been so high; and that diversity amongst students as at SEITE actually is hugely beneficial as we learn from each other; lastly that there are pressures on all students, they just differ from college to college.

(I should just say that this post was not just about modes of training, it was written after the anouncement that a well known college, St Johns, Nottingham, will no longer be offering residential training, and he does make some very good points in the piece around the subject of training in general.)

So to be honest I am a bit fed up with this view that regional training is not as good as residential. The Church of England allows training for ministry in a number of ways, all of which are overseen by Ministry Division. Colleges are inspected and standards must be reached. I have tried to find out if there is any official research done on the differences between the forms of training but as yet I haven’t found any, so again if anyone can point me to some that would be great. However what this does mean is that people’s opinion is largely formed on hearsay, tradition and personal experience rather than any factual evidence. Now I’m not about to start down that route myself but I have asked a few people to write about their own experiences of training in different environments to give a personal and perhaps more balanced view of the different forms of training currently. So in the coming few days we will hear from people at various colleges in guest posts here on my blog. Please do join in the discussion in the comments, I would love to hear from others of their own experiences…

Vicar School Update // June 2014

The latest of my college updates… Those of you on email will have had this already, I’m a bit behind on the blog front!

Jules’ College Update // June 2014

So here
we are in June and I am 3 weeks away from finishing the first year of my course
at Vicar School, which is rather exciting I can tell you (doesn’t take much
these days). So, yes, applause and cheers are required. Thank you. Although
that’s perhaps slightly premature as I still have an essay to finish and one
more study weekend, but then the champers will be very definitely opened, I
tell you.
So what on earth has been going on in the last few months? Well, I’ve studied Ethics – which effectively means you come out of each class knowing less than when you went in; and now Biblical studies, which makes me realise how little I know. Ah well, it’s all about the learning….
So, I began writing this update at Aylesford Priory (yet another study weekend) which you may remember I spent my very first SEITE weekend at, back in September. We arrived then in the pouring rain, I was feeling grim, I didn’t know anyone and by Friday evening I was ready to jack it all in. So it was funny to come back to Aylesford in a totally different frame of mind: I know my fellow students much better, I have made friends, I have done 4 essays and passed them all (even done rather well in a couple, goodness knows how – must be all that prayer!), I have undertaken a mission placement and I am now organising my pastoral placement for next year. I have also signed myself up to be deputy student rep (don’t even ask me why, but basically it was that or making the tea).
The beautiful Aylesford Priory, without goose…

Aylesford was still as bizarre as it was the first time although my room was a bit better and the sun was shining which helped! Highlights of the weekend included: encountering a rather cross goose that sounded exactly like a trumpet (exactly like it – uncanny I tell you), I had beans for lunch again (I won’t miss those), and managed to escape a worship session thanks to a friend with a rather violent allergy to incense (you know who you are!). This weekend was particularly strange as there was a pilgrimage going on at the same time, which meant there were 1000 Catholics milling around and gathering occasionally to sing and worship. Rather strange to be mid pastoral theology class when just outside 1000 people suddenly burst into ‘Tell out my soul’. On top of that we had an exercise to do involving drawing a bus which made me burst into tears (it really was as simple as drawing a bus). It’s that place I tell you, something funny going on there…

Canterbury Cathedral
At Easter we spent a whole week away studying together in Canterbury. People keep asking me about this and whether I enjoyed it, the honest answer is I don’t know. It was much better than I expected but it was still a week away from the family, it was exhausting with so much to take in, and by the end of the week I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t take any more of the rather traditional worship. In a bible study a friend played a song by Matt Redman (a well known Christian musician) at which both myself and my equally charismatic friend burst into tears, realising how desperate we were to be free and worship in the way we feel happiest. And yes it occurs to me, there do seem to be tears at most of these things. Either it’s the pressure or God is really doing something!

Along with a team of students one thing I had to do during the week was lead an act of worship in the style of ‘Taize’. If you don’t know what Taize is, it basically involves a lot of singing and chanting. Only one thing, no music allowed in the cathedral during morning worship. We used a lot of silence instead… And then got in trouble with the cathedral police for using candles on the ancient marble (oops).

Some good bits…

So, some highlights (apart from the goose obvs)…
·        well I have to say I am really loving my course. I love the academic stuff (well, mostly) and really using my brain – which does creak at times I do admit, especially in ethics classes…
·        Leading worship in Canterbury cathedral, despite the challenges, was pretty cool. It was only in the crypt but there was something rather special about that place. Arriving just after the sun was up each day, heading into the dark crypt, in some places just lit by candlelight, in a place where people have worshipped for centuries and pilgrims have travelled across the world to come there. It’s pretty special…
·        And lastly, getting to the end of my first year! Whilst I have loved it, it has been very hard work at times and a definite sacrifice, especially in terms of my time with the family. It feels like a real achievement to have got to this point. I am now 1/3 of the way through the whole thing!
 Thank You!
So I
wanted to finish by saying a big thank you to you all. If you have read my
ramblings, or prayed for me, or offered a supporting word, or a shoulder to cry
on, or generally encouraged me, then a massive thank you. Please do carry on!
It’s amazing the number of times I have had a kind word spoken to me at exactly
the right moment, or a hug when I really needed it. I really feel covered in
prayer too, so please carry on praying for me and for Phil & the kids, we
really appreciate it. And if we can pray for you, do let us know, we’d love to
return the favour!
With love
and blessings,
jules xx

College Update // October 2013

Southwark Cathedral & Education centre
So I’ve made it to half term and am
grabbing some time to write the next update before the chaos starts again.
Actually I say that, but so far it has not been too chaotic, we seem to have
fallen into a rhythm that works for us as a family and whilst there will
undoubtedly be weeks when deadlines fall where things may not run so smoothly,
so far so good!
This
term I have 2 modules to study, one for evenings at Southwark, which is ‘Church
in Practice’ and one for the weekends, which is focusing on Mission. Church in
Practice (or CiP) covers the history of the Christian church, how patterns of
worship formed, ie: why we do what we do in our churches. Also looking at the
Christian calendar: events that are celebrated annually in the church – Easter
and Christmas being the obvious but there are loads more. We started this
module looking at liturgy which is the way services are formed – the wording,
the various components that are included in each service and so on. Got to
admit I thought this was going to be a pretty dull module to start on, but I
have actually found it fascinating. So, for example did you know that early
Bishops in the church were chosen according to how well they could lead
services by listening to the Holy Spirit and being guided by him (I think the
technical term for this might be ‘winging it’ !). Seriously, I loved reading
this because this is how I try and live my life, just being guided by God not
according to some set pattern.
The
module on Mission which we are taught on over the weekends is just amazing.
It’s an area that I feel passionate about anyway but the teaching has been so
inspiring. Mission is basically taking the message of Jesus out into the world,
not just by telling people about him, but by showing them. So it can include things as diverse as community
projects, praying for people on the street, events and more. We have had a guy
called Ian Mosby to come and tutor us who runs a project in London called
‘Moot’, which basically allows people to explore spirituality within a
Christian context. He shared some startling statistics that showed that in a
survey of non-Christians in the UK, over 75% would agree that they have some
sort of belief in a force of good, possibly God, and accept that humans are
spiritual; but of those less than 10%
would look to the church for answers. That is exactly what Moot is addressing –
helping people ask those kind of spiritual questions in a non traditional
church format. Very inspiring.
As
part of this module we also get to do a mission placement project and our group
will be going to St Peter’s church in Henfield, which is very local to us here.
We’ll be helping to put on a nativity festival in the church which I’m really
excited about. If you’re local, it will be starting over the weekend of 7/8 December
so do pop along.
I’ve
also just finished my first assignment (just in time to enjoy half term!). It
was a 2000 word essay entitled; ‘To what extent has observance of the Christian
year been a unifying factor in the history of Christian worship?’. Which is
probably enough to send anyone to sleep and anyone who I have mentioned it to
seems to glaze over within seconds, but I have found the research really
interesting.
Our second study weekend was
at an ex-army hotel in Gillingham, which let’s face it, is not the nicest town
in the world, but compared to the stone cell I had on the previous weekend was
actually pretty luxurious. And of course it had actually hit the 21st
century, I mean I even had a teasmaid in the room this time… I think like most
of our venues there are little quirks, like the fact that we had to use one big
room for most of the things we did, so while we were holding times of worship,
the staff would often be setting up for dinner in the other half of the room, or
clearing away from breakfast. Needless to say there were several bouts of
stifled giggles when odd clanking noises occurred in particularly reverential
parts of the services (maturity doesn’t come along with being a Christian
clearly…).
Some
good bits //
Well
lots really, after the low of the first weekend it has all been pretty much
uphill. Plus a trip to Disneyland, Paris last week which has nothing whatsoever
to do with college but it was amazing!
Rough
stuff //
:
Getting lost in a park in Gillingham – decided on an early morning run and got
hopelessly lost in a park near our hotel and ended up running twice as far as I
wanted and nearly missing breakfast. Thankful for a random dog walker who
pointed me in the right direction!
:
Two weekends away within the space of a few weeks – this is a one off as we had
an induction weekend as an extra this term. Pretty rough on us all to be
honest, but thankfully the next one isn’t until the end of November now.
Prayer
Stuff //
:
I’m approaching a very busy few weeks with 3 family birthdays, a new project at
work hopefully getting off the ground, Christmas preparation, planning the
Mission Project and another assignment due. So prayer for peace, no stress and
good time management would be great.
:
For Phil & the family, for good quality family time, for continued ease in
general organisation, and for understanding all round when I am snowed under!
So,
that’s all for now, thanks for your continued support,
Blessings
Jules x

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…