|Garret Walker - 'The Sower'|
It's a funny time. In the same day I was signing forms that 'assessed' my curacy I was also visiting my new parish to sort out some things there. The drive to Whitton gave me time to ponder where I had come in my ministry and how I had got there.
The first sermon that I preached after ordination was based on the parable of the sower, and in the church quickly became known as the "So What" sermon. In that sermon, I expressed my view that being a deacon involved being at the thorny/rocky/choked soil to attend to the needs of the seed that was apt to perish when cast upon them.
Curacies - those periods of 'on the job' clerical training are wonderful things in most circumstances. However, my mind is taken to my first Aylesbury sermon and how my perception has changed. In many ways, I thought my job was to tend poor soils, when in fact my job was to be the seed.
It is possibly a fruitless comment, but I wonder if a seed knows what it will grow into. I am of the view that it is simply a ball of potential, poised to receive the first drop of water and the first mote of sunlight. In the earliest stages of discernment it is a little like being in the 'refining process' of selection and theological education. If those called to ordained ministry are like seed, then those years before ordination are about grading and judging, receiving their coating to make them deliver the greatest yield. Receiving our curacy is not unlike being a sack of grain simply delivered, ready for our Training Incumbents to sow us.
A seed, in most circumstances, will grow into the herb, bush or tree that it was created to do. In the process of training, the soil in which we will plunge our first ministerial roots is that chosen by the priest who oversees our development and training. Then we are sown, or (as it feels at times) thrown in at the deep end and encouraged to do as seed does, and work it out by our own instincts. Seed gets no more of a course of lessons in how to grow than curates do. Training is not about that sort of direction, it is about being given the richest opportunities and left to do the work, in a controlled and 'safe' environment often.
The early days of curacy are like those tense days of germination. Will the seed send forth leaves like flags of victory into the light? Will that specific seed wither and die? Curates are not one seed of course, but many. Some are 'sown' into work with children, others into the liturgies of our lives, others into pastoral encounters never previously experienced. Some seeds do not and will not ever grow. That is the wrong soil. However, there will be other seeds that will send forth their seed-leaves, those tentatives specks of green that suggests that life is about to explode. The early days are hard and seem to last an age, but very quickly those seed leaves are superseded by the shaped and familiar leaves of a growing and developing plant, ready to yield fruit in due season.
Our training incumbents are not just there to sow in soil judged to be right. They have to assess their own choices in that, especially when those seeds die. I am blessed that I cannot think of such a soil, but I know friends for whom much effort was spent in quite the wrong places. Our mentors are called to support our new stems, prune our more exuberant branches. After the germination days when we seedlings dream of becoming mighty oak trees, our incumbents are busy reminding us that a sparrow may yet flatten us!
I look back on three years and I am not the priest I had expected to be. If I had written down the description of the priest I thought I would or should have been, and then offered my description now, the two would have few overlaps. I marvel at what my training incumbent has achieved with me. I do things now in ministry that I would never have dreamed of before (and that would have caused me to blanch and shudder). I have discovered weaknesses in things that I would have portrayed as natural strengths before. In the end, I am the plant that God had intended. What we have never been is a graft, a seedling or a young plant - not at the start. We were just little balls of potential that, in the right training incumbents hands, with a little Grace from God and a following wind, have grown into fruit-bearing little plants. What a precious gift to one called by God to do a job that I have never believed is within my capability.