Thursday, 28 June 2012

God's Mixed Messages

Yesterday I wrote about those moments of absolute clarity in one's ministry. Today, I wish to remember those whose moment didn't come as had been hoped, or as had seemed inevitable before. 

Somewhere along the line, when talking about calling and the forms it takes, there are conversations with others and those palpable moments when one senses God pulling. I liken that sense as a fine nylon thread (like fishing wire) - strong yet barely visible. Those of us who have responded to a call will know a little of that nylon thread - that call we cannot see yet are subject to. 

A lot of people feel a sense of calling, and some those people respond affirmatively to it by seeking the process of discernment. That is normally bound up in yet more conversations, meetings, interviews, exercises and tests maybe, and more prayer than you could swing a cat at. Lots of that. Of  that noble army of those seeking discernment, some get to do that thing we refer to as a 'selection conference' which is a gathering of wise and sage clerics of much experience whose task it is to affirm the work of none less than the Holy Spirit in the life of the hapless candidate who sits before them in arduous interviews. Some receive the 'yes' and some do not.

Perhaps the frustrating thing about the whole process of discernment (which doesn't end at ordination, I ought to say), is that it takes an age, demands absolute commitment and is rooted in a fairly solid certainty of the nature of the calling. I doubt that anyone goes off to selection with the sense that God really got it wrong, but that they are there just for the cake. No - to go to selection means that through prayer, conversation and all of the above, a 'yes' seems the only desirable and equitable outcome. 

It is fair to say that from the perspective of us mortal frailings God can send out mixed messages. Why me God? Why now? I thought you meant ... and so on. And so it is that there are people who have to confront a decision that states that discernment finds against their prayerfully and diligently expected pathway to ordination. I am blessed because I received the approval of the selection panel in 2006, but what of those who did not and those who do not as each month passes? The response back at home is likely to be that God 'obviously didn't call you to ordination, so let's consider alternatives'. When it is the person who shared the view with you that ordination was right, and the person who sent you off to have that view affirmed who says that - it must seem impossibly hard to accept. When the process of discernment up to the selection panel can amount to years, I can only imagine how hard it is to be told that the house you felt was built on rock was in fact built on balsa wood. 

I accept that there are many wounded men and women who, in this season of ordination, will feel like God led them up the garden path. At this time, I pray for them - I cannot imagine how I would have coped with a view that suggested that I couldn't be ordained as I believed that I was born for it - as these men and women did before their 'no'. My prayers go to them for some sense of a clearer signal from God so that they may just do the work that He calls them to, whatever it ends up being.

This post is dedicated to my friend Ernie at a difficult time. Peace be with you, brother. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks David for a thoughtful projection of the issues that are faced, like I was a month or so ago, with a NOT Recommended outcome. Three years of dedication, affirmation, prayer and discernment shut down by two words.

    But, someone said straight away, NOT isn't NO, and in fact the BAP report affirmed a strong vocation to Ministry in the Church of England, just not, Ordained Ministry.

    I've gone through the initial devastation that this causes and am now as a quieter, more reflective place. Working to see where the call might be leading. Because the call remains, unchanged and just as strong, just as obscure as it always was.

    I wouldn't say that I was hurt or damaged by the discernment process. It has been a joy, a time of immense growth and formation, which will be ongoing. It has laid the groundwork for whatever God might have in mind, I just wish that he would disseminate his thoughts to me and my Vicar as we seek to look to the future.

    I think that disappointment is the overall feeling that comes out of the BAP experience, disappointment that I had a unique opportunity to allow God's call to be discerned, after all, it had been affirmed by my Parish, the DDO process and a formal diocesan panel, and I flunked it, for whatever reason, and they are probably complex enough to deserve analysis by the Church if they are looking to have better outcomes for potential ordinands.



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