New Year, New Blog

It’s 2017, a new year and time for a new blog.  I’m not very good at blogging!  Sometimes I don’t have much to say.  Sometimes I’m scared of how people might respond to what I do say.  Sometimes I just don’t get round to it!

This year I intend to use this blog to set out my thoughts on same sex relationships in the Church.  I think I’m pretty content to be talking to myself, by definition I’ll offend a number of people what ever I say, but the act of writing helps me process what I think.  No one else is asking me to write about it, so I’m doing it for myself!  Please feel free to read along and tell me where I’m wrong!

Conversation

It’s been well over a year since I’ve blogged. What has encouraged me to write this post is that I’ve been struck by how poor “The Church” is at having conversations about difficult things. This has been clear for a while as we’ve argued about whether or not women can be Bishops. As we continue to debate about equal/same sex marriages and whether the Church of England should offer them, it would be nice to think we’ve learned the lessons. I don’t think we have.

The key problem is that we need to have a conversation, not a debate. We need to listen to each other, not be constantly formulating our next brilliant answer. Being human beings is more important than winning. Twitter is particularly unhelpful in this (in my opinion).

Sadly, I don’t get to set the rules of the conversation, but if I did, these would be them…

1) When debating on Twitter don’t feed the trolls. In particular that means not responding to people who say things like “Homosexuality is wrong”. That is a statement that needs some serious unpacking before it can be engaged with (What, just being homosexual? Or do you mean homosexual sex acts? What do you mean by wrong? How wrong and why?). If someone is tweeting that, responding by name calling, general contradictory statements or ridicule (however much it may be deserved) is unlikely to get you anywhere constructive.

2) Remember that we are all complex human beings. Not everyone who thinks the Church should conduct weddings for same sex couples is a heretic and not everyone who thinks it shouldn’t is a bigot. Some people who think the Church should not solemnise same sex marriages are totally fine with the state offering them. Some gay people aren’t keen on the idea of same sex marriage. There are people who are Guardian reading lefties but who would not like same sex marriages in Church and some Telegraph reading conservatives who are in favour of it. People are complicated and you can’t tell much about them from their views on one topic.

3) Don’t talk what the Bible says or doesn’t say if you can’t back it up. The key issue here is that people often just regurgitate something that someone else has told them and they haven’t gotten to grips with it properly. I’m as guilty as the next person of that (hence you don’t see me on Twitter pretending to be a Bible scholar). Really, it’s not helpful. Again, Twitter is a nightmare for this, there are countless arguments along the lines of

Person 1: “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong”
Person 2: “No, really it doesn’t”
Person 1: “You’re reading a different Bible to me”
Person 2: “No, I’m reading the same Bible, I have a different interpretation to you”
Person 1: “But you’re wrong”
Person 2: “No, you’re wrong”
etc..

Obviously, Person 2 committed a sin by engaging with someone who tweeted “Homosexuality is wrong” – See point 1. But no-one is edified and neither person has any idea what the other person thinks or why they think that. This is not a conversation it’s a totally pointless exchange of views.

In a week when Caroline Farrow got spat on in the car park after speaking out against equal marriage on Question Time and Vicky Beeching got trolled on Twitter for supporting it, I’m not feeling particularly hopeful!

Pilgrimage and Spiritual Direction

Today I’ve been on one of my regular(ish) pilgrimages to Durham. In fact I’m at the railway station waiting for the train home.

It’s a four hour journey to Durham and a four hour journey home to spend one hour chatting to one of my old tutors about how life is and how it might relate to God. You may think I’m mad, but my priestly ministry would fall apart without it.

My spiritual director is a pretty good guy, inspiring to be around and pretty deep. But it’s not him I’ve really come to meet. I’ve put myself out to spend an hour with God.

It’s valuable because my SD is not my best friend, but he is friendly. He does not let me get away with things, but he is gentle. He often tells me things I already know, but he doesn’t present this stuff as new information. He listens but doesn’t pry.

For many years I was put off spiritual direction because I carry enough of my own guilt without someone giving me another list of things to do that wouldn’t get done and would make me feel worse. Instead, God has blessed me with two in a row who listen to me and listen to God and try and bring me a little closer to Him.

So, I’ll keep on making my pilgrimage-by-train until the time comes for the next thing.

Drink Deep

On Thursday I went to Durham to visit my spiritual director. We take an hour to talk about life, what God is saying and how my spiritual life is developing. This time we were talking about dealing with stress. We all have our own ways of getting through the day. When I’m stressed I get headaches and eat rather more than is healthy. If you came to see me, I would tell you to bring your anxieties to God and get his peace. I’ve read Phillipians 4:4-7 so I know the answer.

Yet, knowing the answer is a bit pointless if you don’t follow your own advice (and I often don’t). So how do I change my settings and live out the things I believe to be true? Well, the best way is to develop and deepen my life with God.

In the story of the woman at the well (John 4, read it, it’s good!), Jesus tells the woman that if she asked him, he would give her a spring of water to draw upon, rather than coming back to this well every day. I think that’s a powerful picture for us of our Christian walk.

Think for a minute about a well. Wells are good. There is safe water there and, generally, they don’t run dry. Whenever you need the water, you can let down the bucket and get some. Pretty good really.

But Jesus tells the woman that a well is not good enough. She can instead have a spring. The water just bubbles up. All the time. In fact, springs overflow. More water than you need for the moment, in fact enough to give away, enough to supply the water needs of others. If you’ve got your own personal spring, a well seems pretty poor in comparison.

So how do we get a spring? How do we get enough of God that it overflows from us, that we find ourselves agreeing with the Psalmist, ‘my cup overflows’ (Ps 23). The good news is that the spring is there, we don’t have to build one. Jesus’ promise to the woman at the well holds good for us too. If we follow him, he gives us a spring of life that is never exhausted. What we need to do is make time to notice that it’s there.

Some of us (myself most definitely included) are often thirsty for more of God. But we wait until we’re pretty dehydrated until we start our trek to the well, whether that’s spending some time in prayer and worship, taking a walk somewhere beautiful or going on retreat. The challenge that my spiritual director has left me with is to live like I have access to the spring and to make the most of it each and every day. I know that God is always there and ready to meet me, but does my life reflect that truth?

How to become a vicar

I wrote this as an e-mail for the people at work when I was first going through the discernment process, and some of them found it a really helpful explanation of the steps to becoming the Rev. That was a couple of years ago, but it still basically holds true and relates to the Church of England.

There are three stages to pursuing your dream of wearing a cassock and dog collar.

Discernment
Training and
Curacy (although technically you get your dog collar and cassock after the training stage)

Discernment
Unfortunately, it is not possible simply to speak to your vicar and say “I really think the Lord might be saying I should be a vicar” and that’s that, although that would be the place to start. If your vicar agrees that the Lord might be saying you should join the ranks s/he will start you on the discernment process. What happens next varies from diocese to diocese, but essentially is a process of trying to hear from God and making sure that this is what he wants!

Typically, you have to meet with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (no wonder everyone calls them the ‘DDO’) who is paid to listen to you and God and work out whether it’s right that you are called to ordained ministry. Usually you will be sent to see someone else too, usually not a vicar. In St Albans, for example, they like to make this person someone who is trained in psychotherapy, in Peterborough Dioecese a lay person who has experience of testing vocation. This is to get the perspective of someone who isn’t ordained on the process of listening to God.

Once the DDO is satisfied, they will send you to see the Bishop. The Bishop will chat to you for a while (usually not more than an hour, bishops are busy people!) and have read a report about you by the DDO. It is up to the Bishop to make the final decision as to whether you should be allowed to train for Revdom. If they think you are a likely candidate, they will send you to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel which is a 3 day event where you have 3 interviews, a group exercise and a pastoral letter to write amongst other things. The Bishop’s Advisory Panel then advise the bishop (strangely enough) as to whether you should be trained for a life of vicarage.

The Bishop then decides. He or she can accept the panel’s advice, or  ignore it, it’s their choice. If they say yes, you will then start training. From the first conversation with your vicar to this point can (exceptionally) be a few months, is most often at least a year and some cases longer.

Training
Training takes either 2 or 3 years, depending on your age and whether you have done any formal academic theology in the past. As a rough guide, if you are 32 or older, or you have a degree in theology already you will do 2 years, otherwise it’s 3 [although this is all up in the air again at the moment].  Usually, training takes place at a Theological College (the Church of England does not call them bible colleges!), and is full time. It is possible to do the training part time, but if you’re training to be a full time vicar, it has always seemed sensible to me to do the training full time.  With the latest review of training, it seems like more and more people will train part time.

Curacy
Once you have graduated Theological College or Course you will spend three to four years doing ‘on the job training’ as a ‘Curate’. Your dream of vicardom is close at hand. At the start of the first year you will be ordained by a Bishop in a Cathedral as a ‘deacon’, which allows you to take services, funerals and baptise people.  Technically at this point you can marry people (conduct the service, not get married to them) although this is not generally encouraged.  After you’ve completed your first year you’ll be ordained a second time, but as a ‘priest’ which means you can absolve people of their sins, take a service of holy communion and bless people and things.  Then after the training period is over you can apply for a job running a church of your own!

So, from first thoughts to full on ‘Hi, My name’s Dave and I’m the Vicar’ takes around 6 or more years (it took me 8), it’s not an easy process, but as someone who is now serving as a Vicar, it’s totally worth it!

Edit: This was updated in 2016.  I am now a Vicar, so if you leave a comment it may take a very long time before I reply, sorry about that.  Secondly it’s been updated to reflect that women can now be Bishop’s too (hurrah!).

[Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/korephotos/3397867553/]