A Trip to Llandaff

A few weeks ago now (sorry, other things got in the way of blogging about this) I went on a day trip down to St. Michael’s Theological College run by the Anglican Chaplain here.  The idea being to give people considering ordained ministry, a flavour of what “vicar school” is like.  Given that this blog will still function to be a public forum for my thoughts as I consider vocation, and what mine might be it seems appropriate to share some key snapshots.  This won’t be an extensive narrative of the time.  If you desperately want to know about the teashop on the way down or what the lasagne was like, get in touch!

Some background
St. Michael’s College (St. Mike’s) is the Church In Wales’ training college, with Methodist Ecumenical links and a good relationship with the Baptists.  It is based in Llandaff, Cardiff.  It has a mix of residential and non-residential students who hail from a range of Christian backgrounds; welsh-language, English-language, Charismatic, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church, Reformed, not-so-reformed, Conservative, Liberal etc.  It offers training at a number of academic levels depending on an ordinand’s ability and background. So on to the realisations …

Their approach to “formation” 
We arrived for lunch (very nice) and then after that the first port of call was an introductory talk by the vice-principle (a very lovely man who was very gracious and seemed to take a genuine interest us as people).  One of the main thrusts was their view on “formation” which made a lot of sense.  Like other similar institutions there is an emphasis not on imparting knowledge, or training in skills (although both are integral) but about developing people.   Stephen Roberts gave such a better explanation of this.  You’ll have to settle with, “I was very impressed with the approach they took for their students”.

On small communities
When I was choosing where to study my undergrad degree the size of the student body was a key factor; I wanted somewhere not overwhelmingly big, but not so small that it felt invasive.  I would hold that the size of the student body will be a factor in the order that I rank my preferences for training institutions (assuming I candidate and am accepted and that the single “Hub” Methodism is planning doesn’t exist by then).  If you’d asked me the day before going down to St. Mike’s I’d have said that I accept none of our colleges are huge, but the bigger the better because I’d find a small community to claustrophobic.  The community of students at St. Mike’s felt tiny (maybe 20?) but it didn’t feel claustrophobic or invasive.  Admittedly all we got was a snap-shot but it felt far better than I was expecting.  I had an overwhelming sense that I could actually fit into a group like that.
In no small way that was because everyone I met was so lovely.  I’m sure not every community that size has that feel, and praise is owed to the students we met, but I am no revising how important I think the size is.

Worship
This was so so lovely.  Partly I was shattered after a manic week and so a time to sit down in some quiet was delightful, but also it was a wonderful service, well conducted, by the students.  One of those beautifully refreshing services where I was certain I’d met with God, not because of how I’d felt, but because of the way I left in some way different.  Also the chapel was really beautiful.  It was probably an acquired taste, but I could have spent half a day there.  I also liked the idea that the style of worship changed with the students leading to reflect the diversity of the college; what a lovely idea and what a great way to foster understanding.

The next two points are a little bit more of gut-feelings that any real response.

A Call to Ordination and Further Theological Training
Whilst it is extremely unlikely I’d ever train at St. Mike’s it felt right being there, in the sense that it felt right I get a better feel of what a training college is like.  It confirmed the sense that this would be part of my future.  That I have been called to ordained ministry and to further training.  Whilst the two come together they can also be separated, and it was in different ways that I felt called to both, but at the same time that they’d come together.  Discussions on practical things like how one would deal with certain situations confirmed a sense of calling to be a Minister and theological discussion and the talk of Masters excited me that this would come with part of that.

A Call to be Ordained a Presbyter
Within British Methodism there are two orders of Ordained Ministry; Presbyters and Deacons.  So with a sense of call to ordained ministry one must discern which form of ministry one is called to.  The students lead worship, including communion with the exception of the special bit that only ministers can do (the days of lay presidency can’t get here soon enough for my liking) and because I was so tired I even missed the subtle swap between the that bit, so it looked to me as if the students had lead communion.  This bit gets very wishy washy, but when I saw them I felt a sense of empathy and that *that* was what I was supposed to do.  So it felt like a definitive confirmation that if I am called to ordained ministry it is to presbyteral ministry; a ministry of Word and Sacrament.  This is something I’ve always felt, but could never justify, which might have proven tricky come candidating.  But now I have a small experience which might support this “assumption” although it’d be lovely if God could send some more.

All in all the trip was a really lovely one, fascinating, informative and affirming.  I am very glad I went.

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Feastly blogging

The Church of God has always celebrated things, and since its inception those celebrations have, in part, been linked to the calendar.  This is obviously not a unique element of Christian faith, most religions have a calendar with high points in it, but as our Tradition grew so too did the way we celebrated those important days, and indeed the days themselves changed; as other key events occurred they were added to the calendar (important Saint days for example) or as the church perceived a need to to mark occasions they were added too (Remembrance Day for example) or the example that inspires this post; Mothering Sunday (a more specifically mothering Sunday post may follow).

But in the same way that the church developed to add these festivals, the church is still developing; maybe we’ll add a new festival sometime, but certainly the way we mark these occasions is changing.

They key moments in the church year were, and still, are marked as “feasts” the church would gather and mark the occasion by having communion.  Depending on where in the Christian tradition one lies depends on how one marks these feasts, what one calls them, and which ones are observed, I do not see this practice of feasting changing.  But there is a technological development that I see occurring alongside this.  As an increasing number of Christians blog we, I believe not too intentionally, mark the church calendar and these feast days in our blogging; mainly because the feast days have an important meaning to us and we blog about things that are important; a great number of my Methodist friends blogged about Covenant services they’d attended, there are a few Mothering Sunday blogs knocking around, and I intend to add one, Christmas and Easter obviously get blogged about, as does Pentecost, those with a higher churchship may blog about key saints too.  It all makes sense.  If something is worth celebrating physically then it is worth marking in the virtual world as well, it is a natural progression.

In a number of things, we benefit from what comes naturally, but benefit more so if we consciously decide to do something. So I am consciously deciding to blog on feast days.  It won’t be every feast day (there’s at least one saint to commemorate each day) but the ones that I find important, given where I am in my faith tradition, and invite other bloggers to actively seek to do the same.

January Services

Today has been another 3 service sunday!! A covenant Service, an Epiphany service and then Cafe Church.  Many of my friends are blogging about their experiences of these services and so I want to join that crowd!

Covenant
The first thing that has to be done is to point you to Jessica‘s blog where she reproduces a sermon she delivered at her Covenant Service! (take a moment to be amazed by her preaching prowess to do the ministry of the word at service so dear to many Methodists – beyond that, I shall save her from blushing by abstaining from any further praise).

In Bishopthorpe, where I spend my holidays, there is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Methodists and the Anglicans, so it was a joint service.  This year, in particular, we had 3 people leading the service; the Methodist Superintendent, the Anglican Curate and a Student Deacon on placement in the Circuit, which was really nice.  The super did another fabulous sermon (they are often superb) Julie, the Student Deacon has a lovely way of leading worship and her prayers were lovely and the Curate lead the beginning bit well, handling a confusion in the order of service very graciously, so all in all a very nice service.

I now move to share some reflections on the covenant service.  They are not particularly new, or complete.  They are the ones that spring to mind!  Any number of Methodists could tell you this and a pile of more profound things beside, but I shall have plenty more Covenants to bore you with other observations.

The things that stuck me most keenly today was the interaction between the corporate and the personal throughout the service.

Some elements are personal bits.  In the liturgy the word “I” is used; they are between God and the individual saying it.  Most notably this is true in the Covenant Prayer; the commitment that we remind ourselves of during this prayer is a commitment to sacrifice our entire lives to God.  Rach make somes very good points that I think are almost as relevant in my life over at her blog.  As Jessica says it is an act of obedience. It is also an act of love; our love of God.  When fulfilled completely it is our offering of everything we have, and are, and will be, or might be, our gifts, our talents, or pet-hates, the whole shebang, our nature, our self, our character to God, for God to do as She wishes.  No one else can make that commitment for us.  It would be wrong, cruel barbaric for them to do so, and also, I would hope inefficacious.  Our lives our not for someone else to offer up.

Other elements of the service are corporate; they whole congregation do them together.  The call to self-sacrifice outlined above, is ultimately a call to discipleship, and discipleship happens in community.  (something those of us who are products of the reformation can easily skip over).  We need friends around us, the teachings of the Church, mutual support from those also trying at this discipleship gig and advice from those who’ve treaded the boards before us.  This was most clearly highlighted in communion, when the bread and wine were distributed to everyone where they sat and then we took them together.  I cannot think of a more “together” way of taking part in what should be a communal event.  And as my father said over coffee, the service was a nice reminder that the two denomiations, and indeed Christians as a whole, share more in common than divides them.  (disclaimer: That is in no way meant to belittle the differences, which I do hold to be very important)

Epiphany
Was next.  At this point I ought to say that Epiphany actually happened 2 days ago, but this is the sunday Bishopthorpe chose to mark it.  Epiphany is when we commemorate the coming of the wise men/magi type people to visit Jesus.  I point first to Simon who does some good myth de-bunking. Always helpful.  And then to Bx who writes a very potent reflexion with much that can be learnt from them, and finally Richard Hall over at Connexions uses a lovely quote.

Epiphany in Bishopthorpe is a very “High Church” event.  There are lots of robes, and processing, it is even one of the few services that the incense in cracked out!  Interestingly I quite like the smell of incense, but I can find it too much, and have to say it does not enrich my worship experience that much.  The service did raise some unfinished pondering in me; mainly around the use of symbol, or re-enactment in services.  In the order of services (although not in actual fact) the choir, a person carrying a cross, the person carrying the incense, the priest and “3 kings” process around the body of the church; this procession (which did occur with the priest, the incense, the cross-cum-King-1, and 2 Church-Wardens-cum-Kings) represents, re-enacts and symbolises the journey of the wise men.  We as the congregation are joined in this symbolic journey, just as our lives can be seen as journey of faith.  I enjoyed it, but was saddened that no explicit mention of this was made in the liturgy or the sermon.  (The sermon, in fact, missed many of the joys of Epiphany and seemed to act more as a coda to Christmas than a celebration of a feast in its own right).  For me this was a shame, there is much that can be said at Epiphany; about the Magi, about manifestation about all sorts of things, and no doubt I shall mull over these more.  But as for symbol, I found the symbolism of the service lovely and thought-provoking, but I come to the conclusion that we must be careful. It is entirely possible to forget to explain or contextualise our symbolism and then it appears to be ridiculous ritual and that is of little help to anyone.

Café Church
Café Church is the entire opposite; no symbolism or ritual there.  That is not to say it is an entirely culture-free zone, or that it is neutral in anyway.  Those at the Epiphany service would have felt very intimidated by the informality, the use of a game that required quick mental reactions and speedy physical movements, to be honest the use of a game in an act of worship at all would be new and possibly off-putting, and many other features of the service.  This is not meant as a critique but as a general tonic to the assumption that Fresh Expressions are neutral, and have stripped way all that off-putting churchy culture.  This may be so, but if it is, then they have replaced it with their own different churchy culture.

There was however, a nice sermon on the risk the Kings too and the risks we are called to take in our lives.  It was a nice culmination of the two major themes of my day!