Okay, now that the headline is out of the way let me explain to those of you who have no idea what I was talking about what I was talking about. For the last 4/5 years I have been, to varying degrees, exploring my vocation within the Church of England as a vicar. I’ve felt called to this, to varying degrees (of course!), throughout that time and began seeing the ADDO (vicar who journeys with you and assists in continued discernment of vocation) about 18 months ago after I moved up to Chesterfield. I was sent to BAP by the Bishop with his blessing and with the encouraging words of all around me. Friends and family were expectant, they were confident and they were excited about what the future held. As I journeyed to Shallowford House I reflected on what I was about to do. BAP is a 48 hour intensive time in residence where 3 advisors observe and interview you in various settings, assessing you on different exercises and then, at the end of the time there, advise your bishop as to whether or not they should send you for training.
There are three possible outcomes:
1) Recommended. This means the advisors recommended that you are put through training for ordained ministry.
2) Conditional Recommendation. This means the advisors think you can be put through training but on certain conditions. These are generally specific to the individual or to do with something having not quite been completed.
3) Not Recommended. This means the advisors do not think you are suitable for training for ordained ministry.
I got the latter.
I do not intend, in this post, to go into why I think I was not recommended. To some extent that’s by the by and in submitting to attend a BAP I submit to the conclusion of the advisors be they positive or negative, whether I agree with the conclusions to the observations they made or not. This is a post to encourage those of you who have experienced something similar at BAP and also, I suppose, to encourage those of you about to or considering attending one.
As I trawled the internet searching for hope in the wake of the news all I could find were either bitter diatribes about horrible BAP experiences and how a ‘not recommended’ had destroyed someone’s life or stories from people who had attended once, got a ‘not recommended’, returned some years later and been recommended. Neither are encouraging (although the latter is certainly more encouraging than the former!). What I struggled to find were stories of how people had received the news and sought instead to take it how it is intended. I found no encouragement from people who had relatively recently received a ‘not recommended’ at their BAP.
When I found out on the Thursday night I was naturally upset. Something I was sure was my vocation had been suddenly snatched away from me, or so I thought. Over the next couple of days I began to internally process and question my instinctive response, hard though it was to do. Friday morning I went in to the office and sat down to begin my daily rhythm with posting and participating in the Morning Prayer for the Order of the Black Sheep website. As I looked at the screen and waited for the computer to load I must confess I did not want to do it. I wanted to just forget about all this. After all, my spiritual discipline clearly wasn’t good enough so why bother at all! However, that word came back.
What would have been the point of refusing to post and participate? What would I have achieved? At this time I needed the spiritual rhythm of the Daily Offices more than ever, I needed the ancient and I needed the communion of all the saints and the knowledge I was in communion with a truly catholic Church. I participated and it was tough. However I remain steadfast in the promises of God, even when I’m banging my head against a brick wall, I have the promises of God.
The next turning point came just yesterday (Wednesday) when I met with the ADDO to read through the report the advisors had compiled. It was hard reading, however I tried my hardest to not only see the ‘negative’ (I will come back to this in a moment) but also the positive. I read through and jotted some notes down in the margins as was suggested to me and then we came to discuss it. This was tough but I had to remember that in attending BAP I had submitted myself to the decisions and the perceptions of the advisors. I also had to remember (and this is perhaps the most crucial part) that this was not a setback.
It is so easy to see a ‘no’ as a blockade, a barrier or a setback in your journey and it is understandable to feel as though it is. However I must tell you, this is not what the decision should be seen as.
You are a disciple of Christ and you are following His call on your heart as best you can. As you try to discern it you come into contact with different people, you do different things and you make decisions that can go one way or the other. As you go on the journey of life there will be moments when you are certain you can see the road that you’re going on when all of a sudden the road takes a sharp turn to the left or to the right. At that sharp turn (which may have surprised you because that previous road looked like so much fun and you absolutely knew it was the right road for you to be on!) you have a decision to make. You can either stand at the bend staring out into the distance mourning the loss of the previous road or you can skid round the corner, perhaps hitting the dirt or scraping a load of paint off one of the doors or even setting the airbags off but eventually continuing with as much purpose and as much fervour as you did before.
I got a ‘not recommended’ and I feel okay about it. Not because I necessarily agree with the conclusions of the advisors or because I’m uber spiritual and awesome but because the reality of the Christian walk is that unexpected curves in the road appear far more often than we would like. It’s not our responsibility to moan about it, it’s our responsibility to continue to follow Christ’s lead in our lives, whatever road we are on, whether we know where we are going or not.
This is not a time to stop, this is a step on the journey, a reach forward on the monkey bars and a new opportunity to explore the unknown all the while residing in the mystery that is Christ.
May God’s peace guide you
May God’s peace comfort you
May God’s love show you
That God’s heart is with you
images from pastordude.com and Baptist Women in Ministry