How did I get here? (Part 2)

25 Jul

For part one of this story, follow this link.  The second part of my story will focus on the formal discernment process and the dreaded BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel).

We left the story at a point where Jenny and I had made the decision that we would be fully open to God’s call on our lives, whatever that may be.  As such, David Newsome encouraged me to meet with one of the Diocesan Vocations Advisors.  His task was to help me work my way through the selection criteria for ordained ministry that are laid down by the Church of England, in order to help me determine if I fulfilled those criteria.

The criteria include such things as
● Vocation (does this person have a true calling to ordained ministry?)
● Spirituality (looking at prayer life and commitment to Bible study/worship)
● Leadership & Collaboration

Where I noted areas of weakness, my advisor helped me to think of how I might gain experience.

One criterion (Ministry within the Church of England) says that candidates “should be able to speak of the distinctiveness of ordained ministry within the Church of England”.  I asked my vocations advisor whether it meant “what’s the difference between ordained ministry and lay ministry (e.g. that of a Reader) or “why ordination in the C of E rather than another denomination?”  Unsurprisingly, he answered “Both!”  However, he then challenged me by phrasing the question differently – “Why fish from this boat?”  Feeling a bit daft because I didn’t have a wordy reasoning to offer, I replied with the only answer that I could honestly give – “Because I believe it is what God is asking me to do”.  The vocations advisor gave a resounding “YES!”  I felt a whole lot better after that.

Whilst meeting with my vocations advisor, I was also busy reading books aplenty.  Some had been selected for me by David Newsome, off the recommended reading list. Others were chosen for me by the advisor, following our discussions.

Of all the books, I was most struck by John Pritchard’s “The Life and Work of a Priest”Pritchard

John Pritchard is the Bishop of Oxford and has written an offering that I would consider essential reading for all people who are considering ordained ministry.  He paints a picture that is daunting, challenging and exciting, all at the same time.  Organising the issues of concern under three main headings (the glory of God, the pain of the world and the renewal of the Church), Bishop John realistically maps out the duties of a priest.  These are not limited to tasked in the church or community, but also include family life and one’s own spiritual development.  Even if you are not considering getting ordained yourself, his book is an excellent read, especially if you have ever found yourself wondering what your vicar does between one Sunday service and the next!

As I progressed with the vocations meetings, my advisor helped me to make more sense of the jumbled thoughts about ordained ministry that had been bouncing around my head.  This allowed me to form a (somewhat) clearer vision of what God was calling me to do.  From an initial position of reluctance to follow that path that seemed ordained for me (yes, pun intended), I was starting to reach a point where I actually welcomed it.  My reasoning – “If it’s what God wants, it’s what I want.”

My change of attitude had an unexpected effect, however – having generally enjoyed my career as a dentist, I found the work was becoming more and more of a mental struggle.  Later on (especially in the last few months before the BAP, when I was also dealing with being a new father), this would hit hard and I will admit that my intercessions during Morning Prayer on weekdays almost invariably started with “Please God, just help me to survive another day at work without walking out.”

After a few months of meetings with my Vocations Advisor, he informed me that he felt I was ready to return to meet with David Newsome.  In some ways, my discussions with David were much the same as with the advisor (going over the same material), but in other ways it was much more intense.  The advisor had helped to determine that there was a calling to ordained ministry; David was now noticeably assessing whether I was ready to follow that calling and begin training.

Between meetings, I was encouraged to continue reading (by no means a chore) and provide written responses to questions David set for me.  I particularly enjoyed the questions on the five marks of mission  (With which of these do you most identify?  Which, if any, do you struggle with?  Do all of these five belong here?).

In November 2012, David informed me that he was ready to recommend me to the Bishop of Lichfield as a candidate for a Bishops’ Advisory Panel (commonly known as a BAP – insert your own joke here).  Why do we need BAPs?  To put it simply, once you’ve been ordained priest, it’s almost impossible to get fired.  As such, the Church of England is (rightly) cautious about who to recommend for training.  Also, because the ordained priest can work anywhere within the Church of England (and other parts of the Anglican Communion), a national selection process is required.  Incidentally, a positive recommendation from a BAP does not guarantee you will become a priest – it solely means you are recommended for training.  To be priested, you must still complete your training and receive positive reports during your time at college and your curacy.

We agreed to book a place on a Panel.  BAPs are held throughout the year at two venues – Shallowford House in Staffordshire and Bishop Woodford House in Ely.  Shallowford was a no-brainer for me.  I’d been there before, for my Reader selection conference and for modules during my Reader training.  It’s also in my home Diocese, about 45 minutes’ drive away.

When the BAP was to be was another matter.  By this time, we knew that Jenny was pregnant and her due date was mid-March.  There’s a lot of paperwork to complete before a BAP and I didn’t want to leave Jenny struggling to look after our new arrival early on, so we agreed 7-9th March.  This date would allow me to find out the result before the end of May and therefore give the required 3 months’ notice to my place of work if successful, allowing me to leave my dental post in time to start at theological college in September.

Of course, to go to theological college, I needed to choose a theological college!  Based on his knowledge of me and our discussions, David recommended that I consider four colleges.  I won’t insult the other three by naming them, but it’s fair to say that we ruled one out on distance from our families and then I visited the other three.  Of those, St John’s just ‘felt right’.  Jenny joined me on my second visit to Nottingham and, happily, agreed.  An offer of a place at St John’s (conditional on recommendation for training by a BAP) was duly accepted.

In February came the small matter of Nathan’s arrival.  He was two weeks early.  Fortunately, I had already completed my BAP paperwork, just in case.  Helping Jenny to look after Nathan helped to take my mind off the upcoming BAP… a little!

Eventually, May rolled around and I attended my BAP.  Each panel is a three day process, which is well-documented by other bloggers, (e.g. Bryony Taylor  and Hannah the trainee vicar) but, in short, it includes:
● times of worship;
● a personal inventory (36 questions that have to be answered in 40 minutes – looking for instant responses, rather than well-structured arguments);
● a five minute presentation which has to be prepared beforehand, followed by a 13 minute discussion about your presentation with the other candidates, which you have to chair;
● three interviews (vocational, pastoral and educational), each lasting 45 minutes (or one hour, as my pastoral interview turned out to be);
● a pastoral exercise, where you are asked to write a letter to respond to a particular situation (I am forbidden from revealing more information about the pastoral exercise I did because they get recycled for subsequent BAPs).

In addition, the Advisors use the written material you have supplied beforehand plus four written references (church, educational, work and vicar).

During the Panel, there was time to meet with the other candidates, including in the bar in the evenings – apart from our bedrooms, this was the only place from which the Advisors/Assessors/Interviewers/Dementors(!) were  barred!  For some reason on our BAP, a number of us decided that elements of the process were like TV game shows, so various catchphrases kept popping up in conversation – “Just say what you see” was a favourite.  Perhaps predictably, someone also piped up with the immortal line from Father Ted – “That would be an ecumenical matter.”  Despite some jovial egging on, we all wisely decided NOT to use that phrase in our interviews!
The whole process of a BAP is exhausting (almost as tiring as caring for a newborn baby), but it is nice to know that the other candidates on your panel are not in competition with you – it’s not like you are all applying for the same post.  There’s not even a quota of people who get recommended per BAP.  You are simply assessed on your own merits.

Once I’d recovered from the BAP, the wait began.  In my case it took 8 days from the end of the panel until I was contacted by David to tell me I’d been recommended for training.  I received a phone call at the end of my working day on a Friday – a fantastic way to end what had been an excruciating week!

Since then, it has been a case of finding a house to rent in Nottingham (organised through the amazing Admissions team at St John’s), putting our own house on the market and filling in forms galore (for Ministry Division, the Diocese and St John’s).  Oh, and I still have three weeks of work left.

My journey from the first meeting with David to BAP recommendation was probably quicker than average, but it is still hard to believe that our family will be moving to Nottingham in less than a month.  Exciting times!

If you think God might be calling you to ordained ministry, you might be interested in the following web sites:

www.callwaiting.org.uk
www.itmightbegod.org (a site designed for younger candidates)

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One Response to “How did I get here? (Part 2)”

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  1. A blessing in disguise? | The Pilgrim Explorer - August 12, 2013

    […] How did I get here? (Part 2) (jeremiah29adventure.wordpress.com) […]

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