As you may already know or at least have realised, the current vocational discernment process in the Church of England is going a little bit differently. Perhaps the biggest change during the lockdown is the final hurdle (er, I mean assessment): the Bishops Advisory Panel, which usually takes the form of a few days away with other potential ordinands, and a host of assessors. Clearly that isn’t going to work at the moment and the CofE have set up an online version of it so as to avoid too many delays to the process, especially for those who may be due to start training in September.
If you’re in the process or perhaps approaching an online BAP yourself you might be wondering what on earth it is like? So today we can read in depth from someone who has just been to an online BAP and sharing their thoughts on it all. This person prefers to remain anonymous but I hope their experiences might provide a useful, and interesting read...
BAP Online: What is it and does it hurt?
There is no way a few hours online will feel as intense nor get all the same information as 48 hours at a residential Bishops Advisory Panel…
These words I would live to regret uttering, as I was in the first group of hopeful candidates to go through the temporary online discernment panel.
Having found out about the cancellation of my original BAP – just ten days before it was due to happen in March – I had been through a lot of emotions. Grief over being so close to the end of an arduous process and having that taken away by a pandemic; worry over whether I would get a new date in enough time to make plans for our family; panic that this could all be for nothing should the answer be a “no”…
I was then given just a few days notice as Ministry Division (gracefully) worked with my DDO, amidst my personal circumstances, to get me as early a date as possible.
The temporary system works with just three, hour long, zoom calls:
- Friday before: a gathering of all those participating in the next week of online discernment – candidates, advisors & DDOs. (1 hour)
- The Following week – 2 x 1 hour zoom interviews looking at the Criteria of Selection:
- Interview One: Leadership & Collaboration, Mission & Evangelism, Quality of Mind and two criterion grouped together: Faith and Spirituality
- Interview Two: Personality & Character, Relationships, Ministry within the Church of England and Vocation.
I came on to the Friday phone call extremely nervous, especially as my screen was filled with candidates all from the same diocese. The majority of candidates will be participating in the same week as those from their area, which I imagine helps bring comfort to participants and creates a great sense of all being on the same journey together, with similar hopes and hesitations. The advisors introduced themselves and gave robust explanation of how the days would pan out (alongside the emailed documentation we were sent). Clearly hours of planning has gone into the process, and it is apparent that although the time spent by candidates is less, the advisors are required for much longer periods than they would be at a typical BAP – what was a four day task for them previously is now pretty much two very full weeks of work.
Friday’s information session also included a time of worship: liturgy, a bible reading, reflection, and a time of prayer. Though I’m not always the most contemplative person, and with extrovert adrenaline running through me, I found it a reflective and peaceful experience, despite occurring online. I felt it became a sacred time of recognising God’s place in the midst of all the online madness, amidst the changed plans and schedules, and a needed reminder that everything is seen by Him and He would be with each one of us in these last stages of discernment.
Over the weekend before the interviews, I found myself surprisingly exhausted and ended up completely switching off to what was starting to feel like an insurmountable task ahead. Saturday was spent relaxing, reading for pleasure, watching some TV, hanging out with the family. Sunday was spent (virtually) in a couple of churches with more rest and limited calls. I feel it’s really beneficial for candidates to relax over the weekend, to not be responsible for anything at church and to be able to allow God to gently speak.
My interviews were Monday 4pm and Tuesday 12noon. The spacing of them worked well for me, but I am aware of multiple people ending up with both interviews on the same day.
In preparation for the interviews I looked through the following documents:
- BAP REGISTRATION FORM: Familiarising myself with what I wrote, and potentially what I could get asked about
- WRITTEN REFLECTION: Again, looking at what I said, anticipating what I could be asked.
- CRITERIA FOR SELECTION: I looked through them in the groups of 4/5 that they are placed in before each interview to help remind myself of what kinds of things would be talked about
- INCUMBENT REFERENCE: There is limited time for assessors to discuss all your forms, but I feel as though if they get to discuss one, it will be your incumbent’s one so this was the only one I spent a long amount of time checking through.
We were specifically told they were looking for the person on the forms to be reflected in the interview, so that’s why I think looking through your own personal written words and thoughts is so key to preparation. Far better preparation than typing up the 39 Articles of Faith because you are scared you will get quizzed on them, or trying at the last minute to get a book on Anglicanism as you fear you don’t know enough about it! I also had looked up some information on the three panel advisors in order to feel I understood them better, knew their backgrounds, and could pull upon that information if I needed in the interview. That helped me be more comfortable with them at the awkward start of the interviews! Another thing that helps you get over awkward starts is that you are given questions in advance that then form the first question of each interview. You have to think through your answers as they are your first chance to give a good impression, but equally, they might provide a point of assurity for you in the interview in that you know what to expect!
Practically I turned our spare room into my interview hub. Upstairs, away from noise of small children. A luxury to be able to do it, but much needed. I also moved an armchair from downstairs into it so I wasn’t on an uncomfortable chair. Your environment can really help you relax, and to be totally yourself, so make sure you are in a space that facilitates this happening.
Despite being seated ten mins before each interview, with my glass of water and everything technological checked, it felt very intense. I would predict most people will naturally feel ease about one interview and nervous about the other. My self prediction was confirmed: I found the first interview I quickly relaxed, was jovial, clear and able to communicate what I wanted, while the second felt it was a tsunami of hard challenging questions about my personal life, relationships and thoughts, with no room to breath between them. I was surprised how quickly I answered some questions, how succinctly I summed up some of my points, and was frustrated at the way I waffled at others. Advisors will remind you to tell them if you don’t hear or understand the question asked, which I did as well as taking a pensive pause while I thought about what I wanted to articulate. I would advise people to not worry if they need to do the same, even if multiple times in interviews. It isn’t the same as being in person and there is so much grace for that.
The process feels so intense for a few reasons:
Firstly even though you are at home, you don’t feel like you turn off because you have a question to prepare an answer to before each interview. I felt like I was away for two days, tucked in a room preparing, praying and speaking to trusted friends and my vicar. Because you aren’t away, you are more likely to get well-meaning texts and calls from family and friends who know, which is lovely but draining and I ended up trying to ignore my phone for most of the week as if I was away.
Secondly, it feels intense because they are trying to elicit everything they would get from meeting you at a BAP. In those two hours they need to discern your call without having meal time chats, presentations, a pastoral exercise, personal inventory, three interviews, how you interact with others around you…and without that all important face-to-face meeting. So there’s no time for chit-chat, the questions come thick and fast and you are straight into deep pertinent issues.
In the same way you are advised to take time off the day after BAP, it’s important to take time to rest after the discernment panel interviews. My husband and young daughters came running into the room with prosecco and a big pack of Haribo saying “Well done! You’ve finished!” to find me crying my eyes out, having been floored by the weight of the last question:
What do you think will be the cost of this call to your family?
I spent the rest of that evening, and most of the two days afterwards wandering my house in jogging bottoms, trying to decompress. After more than two years in the process officially, with months spent pondering prior to that, it was so strange that it was all completely done, out of my hands, left to Father God’s leading of the assessors. I think you do need to give yourself time to reflect upon the process, time to accept that you might have not said everything you had intended, consider the things you said that you are pleased about and the ways you communicated your heart, passions and love of Father God…
For me, the waiting time of eight days felt surprisingly short… until the day I was expecting the answer and I felt life dragged so slowly!
The morning of it, I wrote myself a note to ensure I remembered who I was regardless of the outcome. I wanted to share it here to encourage all those within the process:
God is Good.
- Whatever happens, He is for you, not against you
Nothing is wasted.
- All of the past years have been for a reason, a purpose. Even with a “no”, this process hasn’t been for nothing, even if you can’t see it in the aftermath.
You are valued.
- Your worth isn’t in this process, my discernment, someone else’s validation, a yes for a particular thing. Your worth is found in God alone.
- Your work is important. You have a role to play in the Kingdom. You are loved by God. He cares deeply for you. He is FOR you. You have gifts and talents. They are being used currently, and will continue to be used in the future.
Your family will excel.
- There is a unique call on you and your family regardless of this process. What God has brought together, let no man tear apart.
If you are in the discernment process, or about to go to BAP, I hope that regardless of the answer you get, you will know how true these words are for you not just as a humble participant in the process, but also for each of us as followers of Christ, people who at different points will receive the answers “yes” and “no”.
I was completely overwhelmed to receive a recommendation to training. My words to the DDO were:
I don’t believe it…
It was a surreal end to a surreal process! In September, my family and I will leave jobs, school, family and friends to relocate so I can study full-time at Trinity College in Bristol, where no doubt another rollercoaster of a journey will commence… though hopefully not too much will be online!