Breaking up

It’s hit me pretty hard this year, in a way it didn’t really last time round, that for many of the people I train with, this will be the last time they celebrate the mysteries of Holy Week as lay people. I wonder, selfishly, how I’ll feel this time next year, with term finished and Palm Sunday approaching fast.

For many of us, this will be an especially difficult Holy Week, with the Church of England still recovering from many of its self inflicted wounds. So not only am I unsettled for the future of my confreres and me, I’m also worried about the state of the church. Times like this lead me to question my own road – and that always leads me to think of this quote from Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

If you’ve read this today, please pray for all who are currently training for the sacred priesthood. Even at college, it’s sometimes easy to get lost.

It’s been…

…an interesting time to be part of the Church of England. The beginning of the year was dominated by the conversations around sexuality, and the last few weeks have involved various opinions about the nomination to the vacant see of Sheffield.

It’s interesting to see how this effects people at theological college. Some people seem like they haven’t the foggiest idea about what’s going on, or that these things don’t concern them. Others dive in with both feet, spouting opinions on social media and writing letters to people. Most talk about it amongst their friends and fellow students.

Sometimes I think it can be hard to see where God is in all this. When did we stop talking to each other and start mudslinging? And how on earth can we be trying to win souls for Christ if we’re showing signs of division so blatantly to the outside world?

 

Advent

Apologies for such a long break between entries – I’ve only just had time to catch my breath after an insanely busy few months. Finally home for Christmass break.

In all the preparation that we associate with Lent, and the rush to Christmass that seems to occur at the beginning of October (!) it’s sometimes easy to overlook the essential penitential nature of Advent.  But that is to forget the reason for this time of the year – preparation for the arrival of Our Lord and Saviour means facing inward and self-examination as well as preparing to spread the Good News of the coming of the kingdom. After all, we must make sure we’re temples meet for The Lord.

On top of that, there are some excellent saints to celebrate in Advent. Andrew, Lucy, John of the Cross, all important in their own witness to Christ.

All of this adds up to a fantastic time of year, which we should not rush through, eager though we may be to welcome the Infant King. This year we’ve been encouraged to really look deeply at what the coming of Christ means for all of us as trainee priests and deacons: how does this season affect us in a ministerial way? How do we translate the imminent arrival of Christ to our day to day ministry?

One of the readings which always affects me in this season is Matthew 25:13. “Therefore keep watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Truly our faith is one in which, like the Apostles at Gethsemane, we must urge ourselves to be disciplined and watch with Christ. Pray constantly.

At this time, please remember to pray for your priests, and for those in training. They’re praying for you.

Placements

Well the summer is nearly over, and placement time with it. I had such an amazing time in a parish setting I’d never really experienced before. And it’s actually given me a huge perspective on what the parish priest does – and indeed what he does not do.

It’s a rare thing to see a community like the one I experienced, but everybody did their best to pull together. And church was such an important part of that. There was a regular daily mass attendance and the parish conducted many trips together. Most importantly, there was a real mix of ages in the congregation on a Sunday.

It brought home where parish ministry is going though. The congregation, though mixed, was not filled with young people. We have so much work to do.

It’s been good to hear about my fellow students’ experiences too. The church is lucky to have some fine ordinands coming through. Pray God it continues.

One of those conversations

A friend of mine, who professes not to believe in any god, recently asked me how he should deal with bad news when it came his way. His assumption was that because of my faith, I would take, for example, the death of a loved one, or a diagnosis of serious illness, a lot easier than someone who had no belief in God.

“Because, you know, you think everything will be OK, even after death, right?”

Well, yes and no.

Explaining concepts of heaven, hell and purgatory to someone else is something every Christian should try – and then read about so that next time they make a better fist of it. Trying to talk about the afterlife to somebody who flatly refuses to acknowledge its possible existence is a proper test. And great training for ordinands.

In the past 12 months, my mates have been much more willing to share their own questions, and some of their own answers – rather than just asking me what I believe. It’s gratifying to see that things which might seem insignificant to some are still being pondered.

Summer plans

This time last year I was looking forward to a summer of planning and reading, tying up loose ends and moving to a new place. This summer I’ll be moving around, but it’ll mainly be to ordinations, hopefully a holiday, and in the middle of all that, my placement.

I’m delighted to be going to an area of the country I don’t really know very well. One of the things I’ve been lucky to pick up over the years is that no two parishes are alike. But also, no two regions of the country have identical flavours when it comes to the faith.

But I’ve never seen the church in the area of the country I’ll be visiting. I’m intrigued to see how different is is from my home diocese, or what I’ve got used to whilst training. And I’m looking forward to some genuine community work

One of the great joys of this time of year, as I’m learning, is hearing about people you know who were going to conferences and who have got through. I’m pleased that the number this year is climbing still.

Please also pray for those who are going to be ordained over the next month and a bit.

A year on

It seems to have flown by, but it’s about a year since I found out that I’d been recommended to train for the priesthood. What’s changed in that time?

So much.

It feels odd to see a strange face in our community and realise it’s someone coming to look around and see if they want to train here if they get through. That was me this time last year. But more than that, it brings a realisation that this is now home for me. I’ve invested so much of my life into this place already, so it’s actually lovely to welcome people here and explain to them about what they can expect. It’ll be a wrench to leave in the summer. This time last year, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be so taken by the life in theological college.

Reflecting now, one realises that it does go by quickly. Some people in my year are already starting to think about where they’re going for curacy. And there really isn’t long to go until the end of term. One year has raced by!

Vocations Sunday

Today was a strange day. Vocations Sunday.

Strange because as I sat listening to a sermon calling on the congregation to pray for more priests and vocations to the religious life, I realised that this was the kind of sermon which had been pivotal to my own calling to discernment. And because for the first time hearing this sort of sermon, I had already done what was necessary to be recommended for training.

But hearing it made me realise that we can’t sit still. Being called to train for ordination is a truly wonderful thing. As Christians, we all have vocations to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And priesthood is a very singular expression of that. We are desperately short of people in the ordained life in the Church of England. But I firmly believe that we shouldn’t take this to mean a lowering of standards across the people we decide to train just in order to put people in parishes. Better teaching and reaching those with the gifts is key.

And above all, a humility from our priests. The clergy today must be approachable, never on a pedestal, but they should also be unimpeachable. That might seem a lofty aspiration for any potential ordinand. But apostolic ministry means following the path of the unimpeachable one.

Please pray for those in training, those who select the next generation of clergy, those who train them, and those considering taking the plunge. To the greater glory of God!

Aftermath

The week following Easter is always a tough one. There’s an immense comedown following the emotional roller-coaster of the Triduum. And suddenly, despite the odd “Alleluia” being thrown into the Mass, you’re back to where you were. Say your daily prayers and keep going until Advent.

But of course there’s so much more to it than that.

The post-Easter season is one for us to glorify and exult in. This is something we’re not good at as Anglicans, especially not as diffident English Anglicans. We tend to think celebrating is awfully gauche and not in the Spirit of things. Yet of course, the Spirit is rejoicing with us as we remember that Christ rose from the dead and burst the gates of hell. Isn’t that something for us to celebrate loud and long?

The words of the hymn echo in my mind: “Yet who am I, that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die.” Easter helps us to put Christmass into perspective, just as during the Nativity we see the Lord born in a manger with the shadow of the Cross already over him. Easter should always remind us that this is exactly why this man came into the world. The agony of Mary tempered with the fact that it had to be like this. It was always going to be this.

This is something for us to think upon during the following weeks. The glorious mystery that what we have just celebrated was destined to happen. Without the birth of Christ, there is no road to Calvary. Without the pain of the Cross, there is no resurrection. And without that there is no eternal life. The sacrifice is what matters. That is why Good Friday is so called. That is why it needs to happen. That is why we venerate that instrument of death. That is why Christ embraced his Cross. It is why it remains the most potent of Christian symbols. And remembering that all these things are linked is the only way to the true faith. Being a Christian is not all sweetness and light. We celebrate because of suffering. But it should be as much for our own suffering as that of Our Lord. Following in his footsteps means understanding that our own crosses are there for us.

That’s what has kept me going since the end of the Triduum. The fact that the Cross impacts us all and never goes away. And we should be grateful for that fact.

Holy Week

And so we come to it: the climax of the faith. Three months ago we were celebrating the birth of a child. A child born in a manger with the shadow of his instrument of death already over him.

The Triduum is an especially thought provoking time for those training for the Priesthood. There’s little doubt in my mind that many a vocation is tested, proved, and wobbled by these three days. How on earth can we hope to follow a man who gave so much and died in such agony? How can we be better disciples than those who abandoned him at the last? What sacrifices do we need to make in order to be Christians?

The good thing is, we ask these questions knowing we can’t live up to Christ, or to the Apostles. But we know that it matters not. God loves us all, in our frailty and our weakness. And his Son dying for us is a reminder of that. We are called. We have no choice but to respond.