“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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Progress and Paperwork

The distinct lack of writing her has not been a conscious decision, but more a mix of laziness and a lack of things to write and then being quite busy, but things now move on a-pace.

The first notable thing is to say that I have graduated!  I suppose I am now technically Mr. Paul Parker BD, although I would much prefer it if people used this term of address and little as possible!  I graduated with a 2:2 which was what I was expecting and which I was pleased with.  Most of my theology friends graduated with First Class degrees and I am very pleased for them.

At milestones such as this I often get a bit reflective and so I have been thinking back over the last three years (with much gladness)!  How I have changed, how I have grown.  What if anything I have changed.  It has been a slightly mixed but generally wonderful experience, which I doubt I would change much at all.  I have affiliated a society to our Students’ Union, been a Society President, fallen in love with climbing, been on a national demo, failed an exam, done very well in an essay I started two days before in Costa, lived with and visited some incredible people, stayed up all night supporting friends, spent numerous hours at ballot boxes, counted for a Union election, helped run the first online election in Bangor’s history and experienced our highest every election turnouts, I have started training as a Local Preacher and have stuck with our fabulous department as it has started winding down its existence, I have fallen deeper into the snare of Connexional Methodism and I love it, I have cried when an old housemate has been called back into work, resigned from a society, moaned about sending E-mails, screamed at people I love dearly and had dear friends leave.  Some of the time I ought to have been doing uni work rather than what I actually did, but if I were to do the whole thing again I’d still stay up, I’d still climb rather than revise etc, it may be the reason I got a 2:2 rather than a 2:1 but I’d rather have all these experiences and have been shaped by them than get a 2:1.

So that is a bit of progress.  Then comes some paperwork, which is, I suppose, progress but mainly just feels like paperwork!  Me and my family spent the week of my graduating holidaying on Anglesey, which was lovely, but involved a day trip to Bangor to look for accommodation for next year which involved some forms, I looked around a few places, decided to go for one, which involved even more more forms!  But several questions and very few easy answers later, I am paying the deposit for a lovely bungalow in Bangor next week! So I suppose I pretty much have a place to live!  That ought to count as progress, and I am looking forward to making it feel homely and stuffing a cupboard with tea!

I have also been filling in Methodist paperwork! An application for a little bit of Grant Funding for next year to supplement the District and Circuit Funding and a form so that my wage goes to the right place!  This second form in particular came as a massive surprise, but is a bit reassuring.  So again, paperwork but also progress!

So September and the “next chapter” fast approaches, but the getting ready for it also continues and a pretty nice speed!

a Body of Christ comes together to give a welcoming hug*

Not actually a hug.  Physical contact with strangers who are trying to welcome me can be awkward.

This is essentially an anecdote of a few conversations I’ve had recently which I kind of liked and then probably with some reflection tagged on the end.

In the Methodist Church the majority of our acts of worship are lead by authorised (volunteer) lay people who move around the churches in their area taking services.  These people are called  Local Preachers.  They go through a training programme and then are “accredited”.  They then hold that office for life, even if they are no longer actively working.  At major milestones we recongnise the valuable work that these people do in the church with Long Service Certificates which are usually presented during a service.

2 Local Preachers in Bangor are up for Long Service Certificates and their service is on this Thursday, which is also Aldersgate Day (Aldersgate deserves a separate post. Watch this space). I was undecided whether or not to go to the service; invariably it will be a fabulous service; a good mix of recognising these individuals hardwork and also that we all have different gifts and are called to use them at different times, and it being on Aldersgate would just add something very nice to it, but I am also cooking tea for a friend so we can hang out before we leave for the Summer!  So I was in two minds whether or not to go until Sunday morning.

One of the Local Preachers is a senior academic at my uni, and a lovely woman with whom I get on very well.  Her husband often helps out with the recording of services and the audio and was down to do so for the service coming up.  They occasionally invite one of her research students along to Chapel events (she last came to our beetle drive!) and this student is coming to the service, so the husband asked if I could cover the AV stuff so he could sit with the guest, because it would be utterly unfair to just abandon her in a strange situation!

I said yes.  Of course I said yes.  This is what team work is about (and yes, in part I see Chapels functioning as teams).  By someone else taking on his responsibilities in that service it freed up the husband to get on with the vitally important role of being welcoming and hospitable to someone coming into a strange setting; what a fabulous expression of what church should (in part) be like.  We talk so much about churches needing to be welcoming, and heck they really do need to be. It is a tough thing to achieve and requires a lot of hard work and some tricky balancing acts, but I see this as a clear example of when we got it right, because he recongised what it would mean for the guest to be coming, and because the chapel worked sufficiently as a team to be able to accommodate that.

Now all we need is for something similar to happen about the catering, which is still a bit dubious!!

In other news: I am doing a guest blog for The Spectacled Bear who is just utterly fabulous, I’ll post a link to it on here when it happens, but go check out her stuff before then, it’s pretty fab!

In other other news: Even better than me guest blogging for her, she is doing me a guest blog!  That will be far better than any post I ever publish, so keep your eyes out for that one as well!

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!

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.

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!

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!

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!