“forward planning”

One isn’t supposed to do forward planning, one ought really just to plan, because what other direction might one plan, backwards-ly?  We tend to call that regret or hindsight!  But the thinking I am doing at the moment feels like very forward planning.  I have started to consider where I want to be and what I want to be doing in 13months’ time.  My chaplain at uni (I suppose now he’s not my uni chaplain he’s my colleague -oooh!) sent me an E-mail semi-seriously suggesting that I consider applying to stand as the Methodist Youth President.  I am tossing up whether to stand for a different representative position from 3Generate; the Methodist Children and Youth Assembly (which, by the way people should book onto!) and am mulling over standing in the election to go to Methodist Conference to represent Wales Synod.  All of which need decisions soon, but won’t take effect for nearly a year.

I’m not sure I like making plans for after a post that I haven’t even started yet!

If anyone who thinks I might value their opinion has pearls of wisdom they would be accepted!

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silence is broken

The long silence over here has been mainly down to a lack of things to say, and in part a lack of time even if there were things to be said.  But now, fortuitously I have both time and news!

The circuit has secured enough funding to fund a part-time lay worker for next year.  This is exciting, and if my application is successful gives me a bit of financial security for staying in Bangor next year, and also could be the resolution of the sense of call to stick around and do studenty, participatory stuff here.

More details as and when I have them!

Application Update

I went to bed last night, having written about Palm Sunday with thoughts on a blog post about next year.  And then this morning I got a phone-call from my Minister with some big OPP news, so I shall now try and merge the two together.

The news, drum roll …

The central pot of money we’d hoped would fund the project won’t be.  They had 24 applications and enough funding for 10 projects; I really don’t envy the people making the decision, and if I am honest, think I would have decided not the fund Bangor either, given Cardiff has had a project before.  Obviously this is a blow for the wider church recognising how different North and South Walian life can be, but I do see where they are coming from.

I am not actually too disappointed, this is very much a period of exploring and figuring out.  The next step is to see if the District fancy finding some money to run the project, so the dream isn’t totally dead yet.  A bit more wait and see!

Even if District can’t find the money then I am still looking forward to next year (this is what I was thinking about last night).

I am looking forward to having my own place, to myself, where I can have my rules.  I can have a fruit bowl, my washing up might slide a bit, I can be ueber-spontaneous!

I am looking forward to still having friends; relationships which I have grown to cherish over the last year I can continue.

I am looking forward to scary grown up things like council tax, because that is all part of moving forward in life.

I am currently enjoy knocking around ideas on community, and safe space, and refuge and hospitality and things, and having accomodation which is solely my own features predominantly in this.

So even if I spend all my time working in McDonalds I am very much looking forward to the post-graduation life!

Application Sent

It’s gone!  The Application for our Circuit to host a One Programme Project has been sent off.  This is the bit that I am most nervous about, as in all of life it all revolves around funding.  This is the application for the funding. If we get it, whilst it is not guaranteed that I will be an OPP because the post has to be openly advertised there is a good chance I will be the best candidate who applies.  If we don’t get the funding then that counts as a major hiccough in the plan.  It might also be a good sign that this is not what God wants from me.

Ch,ch,ch changes!

Meetings and changes seem to be defining the run up to submitting a project application, so to catch you up there has been another meeting and lo! Another change.

Any idea of working across a large area and living itinerantly are ancient history now.  I am surprisingly OK about this.  Maybe it was the gradual and winding path that got me here that made it so.  A lot of people would say that it was God getting me where he wanted me, he had to start me there and grow me.  Maybe that it is true.  Maybe it is God reigning me in from some far of fantasy I had.  Maybe this is what happens when a bunch of different people all try and have a stab at what God wants.  Maybe this isn’t how God works at all. (My zealously Arminian theology is exceedingly comfortable with that, if it messes with people’s idea of a God who controls the puppet strings then they’re welcome to sulk!)

The project is now going to be student work entirely.  We’re dropping the Youth Group element completely. This pleases me, I wasn’t sure paying me to support the establishment of a youth group was the best use of connexional funds.  The churches involved are quite competent and have some good people who can do it themselves.  So I feel far more comfortable with this proposed project!  (Hopefully it won’t change again, but I wouldn’t stake too much on it! I wouldn’t gamble at all but were I to, then I wouldn’t stake too much on it!)

So the application we are writing up is for someone to support the Methsoc here in Bangor. By no means run it, or interfere, there is an excellent system set up for electing the future committee and a Chaplain (who also doesn’t interfere; Methsoc does self-governance better than any other Christian society I know of here!), mainly to deal with some of the things that it would be nice to do but we never have time of effort for along with the day-to-day and important stuff.  So things like looking at how me advertise ourselves and looking at bridging the gap between those who express interest in Freshers’ Week and those who make it to meetings.  There will always be a drop off, but it seems we can do more to decrease it.  (When I was Pres of Methsoc we were E-mail in excess of 60 people each week but had 3 regular attenders at meetings and 10 registered members for most of the year!).  So if the application goes through it will be to employ someone to work in that gap, and also to network with other Methsocs, see how they do recruitment and see if we can all learn from each other.

The project sounds really good.  Something I think will work, is worthwhile and something I am interested in, so that is all good!  And the meeting, between me, Alf, our Chaplain and Lynne, the Project Participation Manager (PPM) who covers Wales, was positive and felt optimistic so that is good.

The next joy I need to deal with, pretty much now, is accommodation for next year.  House-hunting should have started for me, it hasn’t quite yet!  Living on my own is seriously on the cards.  I want the experience before progressing onto other things but at the moment most of my thinking is up in the air and it all seems a bit daunting!

So at the moment the future both excites and scares me. Which seems about OK!

Rev.

I have just watched Episode 6 of the BBC’s Rev.  For the time being it is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018jmkb/Rev._Series_2_Episode_6/.  For a general review of Rev. check out http://therecognitionscene.com/2011/12/17/what-rev-is-doing-right/ (cheers for @Sarah_Richards) for tweeting about it I love Rev, it is funny, so funny a laugh my way through most of it. It is also honest, those of us who’ve hung around churches long enough have been in most of the situations depicted.  I thought the series couldn’t do much better than Adam’s assembly at the end of Episode 5, until I saw episode 6! The Christmas Special was pretty good too!  Hopefully we’re now well enough past the airing date most who want to see it have done so, therefore I want to look at this lovely episode through a series of “snap shots”.

Alex leaves for the weekendAlex goes away for the weekend to reconsider her life with Adam

Alex, the Rev’s wife is desperate for kids with him, but time to make this happen is scarce; Adam is very busy!  As with all of us, he is also far from perfect; forgetting things she tells him, not spending enough quality time with her, focussing on the things he thinks he needs to do not the things she thinks he does, etc. etc. I am not married, nor am I ordained, nor am I an Anglican. But Adam is a London vicar in response to a call on his life, by God.  I believe each person has a calling that each person must respond to.  But that calling, my calling (whatever that/they might be) does not exist in a vacuum.  Being obedient to God in my life has an impact on the people around, the people who love me and the people whom I love.  We need to be aware of this and consider how our calling affects other people, and also, I would argue, those most affected should be included in the decision making process. Finally from this image, I would say that following our callings is not a valid excuse for neglecting those around us and other responsibilities we have.

CoffeeHaving a natter over coffee after the service

 The particular situations of this episode bring us a scene where everyone is chatting over coffee, aspirations to “greater things” and some juicy gossip seems to bring them together, but nevertheless I felt a real sense on camaraderie and “fellowship”.  A genuine bond between these people and interest in each others lives.  Churches should be so much more than a social club, but I do feel that sense of connectedness and of being in a loving community is vital, and it is something that I really love about the church I go to.  I felt the BBC captured it quite well.

Adam and Archdeacon Robert discuss gay bishops

Adam and Archdeacon Robert discuss gay bishops

 

This is a key scene in the episode, it confirms Archdeacon Robert’s supposed partner is his actual partner and succinctly highlights the Anglican position on homosexual bishops.  It also reveals Robert’s concerns about how sexuality and his private life might affect him being appointed a bishop and how it might be seen/used by elements of the church. All denominations have groupings of similarly-minded people in them.  Some people use the word “factions” but this seems a bit harsh to me, Methodism included.  I am sure I belong in some (I don’t like re-affirmation of baptism and I support the principle of allowing lay people to preside over communion far more freely to name two!).  It is sad, but inevitable that in uneasy ground people’s lives become case-studies and test points. This chat in the back of a cab is a reminder to always consider the humans affected by our deliberations and our decisions.

The heart-stopping momentThe heart stopping moment. The Archdeacon is asked is he is in an active gay relationship

Which leads to this.  Robert is before the panel interviewing him to decide whether he should be appointed as a Bishop.  The tension, aided by some glorious choral music (the music in this episode has been utterly delightful!) is almost palpable, and I felt nervous and sorry for him.  What a terrible position to be in.  Does he deny the truth about his partner, lying about a significant element of his life, allowing him to pursue the path he might believe God has put him on, or does he tell the truth about his relationship, being true to his feelings, his partner, his private life and deny himself the opportunity to become a bishop.  What a terrible situation to face.  One that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and that make me glad that the Methodist Church fully accepts practising gay ministers in all roles. It is also a situation that I doubt I will ever understand.  I have yet to have a long-term partner, and I have yet to fancy a guy but if heterosexual couples were asked these sorts of questions I am sure they would talk far greater offence at the situation than they do when their gay counterparts are put under this scrutiny.

Nigel rejected by the BAPNigel after he has been rejected to train for the priesthood by the Bishops Advisory Panel

Two “themes” stand out to me at this point, but the dialogue surrounding this still is worth writing out in full: A: Nigel? N: I got my letter. A: From the Bishops Advisory Panel? N: How can they say I wouldn’t be a good priest? How can they say that? they know!  How can they say that they know what God wants?  (sounding more hurt) how dare they pretend that? A: You won’t feel this now … but I bet in time you’ll feel relieved you haven’t been accepted for ordination because … God wants you to do other things. N: I want to be a priest; that is all I want!!  And those B*s*a*ds are telling me that’s not who I am.  But … that’s who I am. A: I’m sorry Nigel N: If I can’t do what I want to do, then what  do I do? A: Many are called, but few are chosen. N: sobs A: come on, may I buy you a drink. The first theme seems to be a recurring one for me, and that is the role of personal experience in discerning God’s call.  Nigel is convinced of his call to the priesthood.  He thinks he can do nothing else (despite being in invaluable assistant to Adam), it is his highest aim.  The line “How can they know what God wants” is very telling to me, the implication being that Nigel does know what God wants for himself.  Should we be as certain as Nigel about our callings?  One thing seems clear to me; there seemed to be an imbalance in Nigel’s attention between his own sense of call (vital) and allowing the final decision to be made by others (a part of the process I feel to be vital).  I do not believe that to acknowledge our calling may not be realised, in any way detracts the conviction that we hold as to what our calling is.  And ultimately it helps us deal with the process better.  It is easy to say from here, but had Nigel reminded himself the BAP might say no, the rejection would have been mildly easier to bear.  Expect a post at some point to elaborate on this! But essentially a personal sense of call is simply not enough! The second theme emerged out a conversation with Jessica of Liturgies and Jolliness fame.  She pointed out, quite correctly, that Nigel attaches too much importance to being a priest.  More generally we could say, it is possible to think that some callings are better than others.  A calling to Church Ministry is superior to a calling to secular work, a calling to be a Presbyter is better than a calling to be a local preacher, a calling to be a teacher is better than a calling to be a dustbin collector, etc etc.  We shouldn’t over-emphasise, or elevate some roles over others.  God calls different people to different things and the more we recognise this, the better the church and wider society will be. Finally (this is neither of the two themes) Adam’s offering of sympathy struck a chord with me.  “Many are called but few are chosen” he offers, as a form of sympathy.  Adam, Nigel and we know that this verse isn’t really talking about the process of a church choosing priests, and if I were Nigel I wouldn’t find any comfort in it.  Partly because I struggle to find single verses much use in situations and because, really, this verse is of no use anyway. Adam’s tone whilst offering this “nugget” is hard to read, but personally I interpreted it at resignation that none of his words at that time would be of much use to a heart-broken Nigel who has seen his life goal destroyed, but it does speak of Adam’s solidarity in the situation.  That he was there beside Nigel in the pain, not trying to work a theodicy out of it, or offer some perfect reasoning or comfort.  I find that far more loving in the situation than great words of wisdom. For me this really was a beautiful episode that showed the highs and lows of Church life, and very movingly too.  It also gave me lots to think about too, which is always nice.  Having looked at different still images I close with a youtube link.  To a beautiful song, worth listening to in full!

Hearing God, listening to others

As I mentioned I had a meeting with my Superintendent Minister this evening.  This was a follow-up meeting to the one one we had about a week ago where we looked at a project application.  I don’t think I articulated myself very well in this one (which I would argue is unusual, others probably see me as incoherent most of the time).  I went into the first meeting unsure and a little bit afraid of his reaction to my ideas, the ideas, which on some level, I think might be inspired by God, (see musings on personal experience) but came out of it quite pleased (I went into more detail last time).  The same cannot be said of this meeting, although I am not very surprised.  The tone in which the meeting was arranged was not particularly optimistic.

So what was said. Alf was never too keen on the whole campervan thing, and that came up again, so that I was sort of expecting, although it was expressed far more plainly this time.  We may be saying goodbye to Mwyndeg before I even knew her.

The other thing that came up arises from an awkward disconnect between what I want to do, and the most likely way of doing it (being an OPP).  The OPP Project needs to be in a specific local setting, and Alf things “North Wales” won’t be specific enough to secure the funding.

So … he’s proposed a new project.  That I have to work out if I am happy with.

It will be in Bangor and Holyhead Circuit, where I am now, mainly focusing on helping get a junior church/youth group/sunday school running in one of the chapels and supporting the work of Methsoc and building links between Bangor and other places such as Aberystwyth and Wrecsam, the the possibility of talking about the youthy stuff at places too.

This is obviously very different to the original plan, Mwyndeg is gone (that might have happened anyway!) and I lose the regional and peripatetic nature of it.  It doesn’t quite match up with the idea I had of working in a big area supporting lots of different groups.  It will be far more focused.

I could get really stroppy at this point.  “Why aren’t people letting me do what I want” “Why won’t they understand my calling” but to do so brings out the worst of our theology that emphasises a personal relationship with Christ, becuase it implies that our personal relationship is to the exclusion of others, whereas we actually have a personal relationship with Christ in order to bring us into community with him and others, namely The Church.  To expect everything to go as I envisaged it also borders on the messy end of allowing Personal Experience to be a source of authority.  It can be used far too subjectively.

So now comes a time of trying to discern.  Did I hear God wrong?  Am I supposed to be based in this one circuit?  Did I hear God correctly? If so, how do I now go about trying to follow that call?  There are no quick answers to this, I need to spend a lot of time mulling it over, asking these questions of God, trying to listen for an answer, a feeling, an inkling of how to proceed.

One thing seems clear to me, it seems wrong to apply for this project if, as lovely as it sounds, it is not what I think God is asking of me.

So to the listening I go, awkwardly, uncomfortably; it has never been something I’ve been very good at!  I often let other people do it for me (e.g. I didn’t hear God calling me to train to be a Local Preacher until nigh on half my church told me to!), I ma sure I often miss “God’s voice” and when I do “hear” it, then it is ambiguous; it tends to be gut feelings, reaction, little inklings, a feeling of being more comfortable with one path or another.  I do not like this time of discernment, but I owe to to God, the Connexion, myself to enter into it.  It seems to me that it is a reality of following God that we must go through these periods.

A Dream

This post is not about a dream as in “I have a dream …” or “last night I had the strangest dream”.  Not some desire or bold vision.  Just the mundane sort of thing that happens in sleep. I can barely remember it now, but I know I woke up mulling over such things as balancing vocation and a sense of call, with testing that and this apparent need to sell yourself.

“I feel called by God to do this, therefore you must give me the job” some how doesn’t cut it in interviews these days.

And nor should it!. As much as I would love it to be that simple I don’t think it should be.  It has always been part of our Methodist understanding, and I would argue this is the best model across the Christian tradition, that an individual’s sense of call is tested.  It starts with the informal chats with the close friend to see what they think and progresses up to the more formal testing by the Church, through applications, interviews etc (the exact way a call is tested depends on the call) but if someone is offering for ministry within the Church, be it lay or ordained, be it a short term thing (like me at the moment) or sense of life-long call it is right that the Church has a say.  It is right that they are involved in testing that call.

This position comes not only from our understanding of calling and ministry but also from our understanding of “authority”.  The Methodist Church is unusual in having four sources of authority during decision making.  There are some that claim to have only one; “the word of God” (how accurate this claim is I shall leave up to you)  or others whereby what I think God is saying to me is key.  Our Anglican comrades have three (which leads to lots of analogies about stools) namely scripture, Tradition (the recieved teachings of the Church; not habit!!) and reason/logic.  To this, Methodism adds personal experience.  We then try to balance these together.  The importance one person places on each, or how they hold them in tension will vary, but the point of this is that personal experience is a source of authority for me and my Methodisty types so on one hand “I feel called by God” is a very good starting point (in fact I would say if one doesn’t feel called by God in one form or another then we need to be asking questions of that) but at the same time we balance our personal experience, so it is just as important it is tested.  In short, the Methodist understanding of authority means we should respond and test senses of call.

I knew all this when I woke up (I have a surprising amount of love for the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” – the geeky name given to the four sources of authority) and yet I still felt un-easy.  I haven’t written my bit of the OPP application yet, that comes later on, but I know that I will have to “sell myself” close friends are applying for jobs they feel called to, and are having to “sell themselves” to the employer.  I think I felt uneasy not because I cannot justify myself as a viable candidate, but because it somehow runs the risk of cheapening the process.  Does me following what I believe to be God’s call rest on how well I can talk up my transferable skills?  Other, bigger, questions also arise. What if this isn’t God’s call but I write such a good application I get it?  Then what?

There is a little more that could be said, I know the answer to some of those questions, but they require a much more systemically structured blog post.  One which no doubt will appear at some point.  But I set to writing my dissertation this morning more with a sense of tension and lack of resolution, but a general feeling that it was OK, and so I shall leave my blog here, and hopefully it will convey some of that too.

Finally, I am actually quite excited that I have written an open-ended post.  It was inevitable, but I can now add “written a post with more questions that answers” to my list of first-time experiences!