When I dream, I like to see myself as ordained as a minister of God and giving the Eucharist to the faithful, exhorting the young and old to faith in Jesus and pastoring to the people. When I wake up, the world is a blur. What was clear in my dream, suddenly makes no sense. I’m not a minister. I’m not a pastor. There is no easy, magic way to ordination. But I am awake... and I have been since the 5th January 2012. You see that was the day when I, after a number of years of sensing a calling to Holy Orders, took the plunge and spoke to my parish priest/minister/pastor/leader (insert clerical title here) about how I could realise my vocation.
I say spoke but being very nervous and conscious of the possibility of rejection I actually sent him a letter. A long winded apologia which I hoped would persuade him that I could do something more than sit in a pew.
Back then I was a layman, a fully fledged armchair theologian, and pretty new to (though knowledgeable of) Anglicanism. I had no primary degree, and had left school at 16 like most working class protestants and don’t play golf. I’m not “happy clappy” nor do I go in for the “we need to be cool to relate to young people” understanding of the Church and well I knew this would all stand against me. Yet in spite of the doubts I took my chance, confident that God’s Will would be done.
After the morning communion for Epiphany I gave him the letter. I outlined my thoughts and ambitions and asked if he was free for a meeting to discuss the same. I was nervous, scared and worried that he would think I was completely mad, and reject my vocation, or that he would read it and then do the old "oh I didn't get a chance to read your letter fully, but I'll talk to you about it next week" before never speaking of it again, or worse still that he would ignore it completely. I had Rev. Ricky Yates, of the excellent ex-pat blog www.rickyyates.com praying for me and quite a few more friends and family offering up prayers like the apocalypse was coming I was confident things would go as I hoped, if God willed.
Thankfully things did go to plan. The Archdeacon (I should say my parish priest/minister was also my Archdeacon) passed my letter onto a Canon, who as Director of Vocations was to schedule a meeting with me to discuss the next stage. Then if he was happy he would schedule a meeting between His Lordship the Bishop and I. A week or so later I was then given a sheet explaining that the Church of Ireland is a Christian Church found throughout Ireland and another one explaining that the Clergy needs to change and become more like business leaders.
I have heard nothing since. Everything had started out as black and white. Somewhere down the road, the line went blurry. The colors started to run, got smudged and gray. Now I simply don’t know what is going on.
The Archdeacon has since retired and been replaced by Robert Millar who blogs over at http://robbloging.blogspot.co.uk/ and who seems to blog as often as I do. The Bishop has got facebook and regularly posts about meeting potential ordinands and the Canon recently posted a nice little poem he wrote on a clergy “away day” but I’m still sitting here... in much the same position I was all that time ago wondering what God’s plan for me is.
Well that’s a lie, I know God is calling me to be a priest, not a deacon, and I know he wants me to live out the Eucharist within my community, encouraging others to come to know Christ more personally and then helping them to live out the giving nature of the Eucharist in the world around them. I know he wants me to teach others about the faith, and indeed about the Church. I know he wants me to care for the old, the sick and dying. I know too that he wants me to care for the young, the cool and even the uncool. I am to show the world God’s love at work in me and how that love impacts them.
Yet I cannot figure out for the life of me how I can ever do that to the extent to which I am called as long as the Church pretends I don’t exist... sure I can be a good Christian, show others God love and become a Sunday school teacher as a layman, but can I give the gift of Holy Communion? Can I look after and tend to the flock of Christ?
So at present I’m in purgatory, suffering torment and not knowing what’s happening. Actually at least with the concept of purgatory you know you’re going to heaven at the end... I’m stuck in more of a limbo of the damned type place, something very similar to C.S. Lewis’ Grey Town in the “Great Divorce”. It’s rubbish and I just want direction one way or the other but well it looks like I’m doomed to stare endlessly at this wall of silence that has been erected around me.
I am now considered a relic, and a bit of a High Churchman because I advocate the Prayer Book and see nothing wrong with the clergy wearing coloured stoles. My new minister on the other hand feels that vestments (White surplice and black preaching scarf) are now outdated and a tad pointless and so I am witnessing them being phased out in my parish, so too is the prayer book and it’s not looking good for any music written before the 1980’s. Evening Prayer has been replaced with Compline, or our new “Songs 4 Praise” service where a worship band blocks the view of the altar and begins playing “modern worship songs”. No one else notices these changes, those who do love them. Yet for me it’s really hurtful. I pray the daily office, morning and evening and my lectionary was based around that Sunday’s Eucharistic reading... my spiritual life revolved around communion with God and his Church. Now Communion is no longer celebrated on Saint’s Days (saint’s are an uncool bunch apparently) and it has been dropped from the Sunday Evening service which I usually attend (my parents attend their own Church in the morning) and I feel a bit lost and a bit left out. Celebrating Compline at 6 o’clock on a Sunday when I do it every other evening just before bed just feels wrong but it doesn’t matter because apparently I’m the only person who actually bothers to recite the daily office... apart from monks... and as I’m not a monk then I must of course be either:
a) A Crazed fanatic
b) A “holier than thou” type
I feel like a traditionalist Roman Catholic does about Vatican II, I feel like the Church I knew has gone and the Church I now find doesn't want me... which worries me because I am a convert and to be blunt I am wondering if the Church I converted to actually exists anymore.
I know of course that God brought me into the Church of Ireland for a reason and I believe it was to bring into his service as part of Holy Orders but I realise that I like many others will have to face the possibility of moving across the water to England and attempting to “start again” as one friend, who has also felt called to Holy Orders and like myself has faced “the wall”, described it. The Additional Curates Society, which is significantly “higher up the candle” than me, is holding a conference for young men considering vocation later this year at Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford.
They have offered me a grant to fly me over, cover the costs of my food and accommodation and I've even been offered a lift from Birmingham to Oxford with one of the speakers. Sounds wonderful... and only a small part of me feels like a refugee fleeing to a more welcoming land (even if it is only for a weekend).
I think I shall go, just to experience again the strange beast that is the Church of England, and really just to have the opportunity to be heard by someone who wants to listen to a young fool like myself. Yet there is a part of me that wonders why I should have to go all the way to England just to speak to someone about vocation but I suppose it is not for mere mortals like me to understand such a mysterium fidei.
On another note, just last night I stood with my fiancee at the ruins of Saint Colman’s monastery on the shores of Lough Neagh and looked at the High Cross of Ardboe. It was a nice night, sunny though a tad cold and I was just listening to the birds and to the waters crashing onto the shore as I looked out towards Counties Antrim and Down, as no doubt the monks must have done centuries before. As I stood there, for the first time in what has seemed like an eternity, I felt God’s presence in a very real way... no gimmicks or miracles, just a sense that he was close to me. Then as we stood there, I turned and kissed Julie, and I knew that everything would be alright.