Hang in there, God’s in control!

Matt: Why bother?

It’s a question you’re going to ask yourself a few times during training. Assignments come in thick and fast; by the time you’ve finished one you’re working towards the next! But you manage to find a couple of days off for your family and then find that they disappear because you start a placement. Then there’s student reflections and supervisors’ reports that need to be in. Everybody will be asking how long till you finish your training and you’ll be counting it down by assignments rather than months.

All Saint’s is not a part-time course; it’s a course you do alongside employment. My sector placement is to do with chaplaincy within an airport, a hospital, a sixth form college and as a Street Angel in Oldham (photo). My current modules are mission and evangelism, doctrine and history and the New Testament.

My calling has taken a battering this year on many points: I felt academically inept at completing the course, and my work as a paramedic has been difficult. My staff and I have experienced challenging and tragic incidents, from attending the deaths of babies and children, to witnessing the absolute inhumanity of others. Seeing the effect this has had on my staff and myself has led me to ask: Why bother?

With everything that goes on with academic studies, life, and work it’s easy to think that we’re doing this all on our own, or are simply jumping through hoops to get that dog collar on in one, two or three years, depending on your course.

But writing this blog and reflecting have shown me how God sets us up much like the barrels of a lock. To open a lock, all the tumblers need to be in line before that key will turn and reveal what’s behind. And this part of the year has felt much like that. 

Paramedics go out and respond to calls to save lives. Ordinands study, read books, write papers, pray and live exceptionally holy lives 😊. But what happens when God get’s in the mix? God will place you in the right place at the right time and with the right knowledge.

Paramedic ordinands get to sit in on homeless meetings, then in the same week get introduced to MPs who talk about how they can help the homeless. Paramedic ordinands sit in on End of Life care presentations at a hospital which leads to conversations with End of Life care Advanced Paramedics, and links are made.

The tumblers all get lined up and when the door opens you are introduced to how God networks. And believe me that is as real as any miracle; nobody quite networks like God!

So hang on in there, there’s a miracle behind that door, God’s just lining up the tumblers for you!

Confidence vs Faith

Layfetta: Having spent 17 years in education, I believed that my confidence came from being prepared and well organised. I set out to implement these tried and tested skills in my new journey as an ordinand, but why were they not working?

The answer was not immediate. It started with my supervisor insisting I commit to a Sabbath rest. OK, I’ll take an hour here and there. Well, God would not let go and neither would his assistant – in the form of my supervisor. Never before have I had to juggle so many situations (I have 4 children and am doing a full time academic course) and still put an entire day aside, in my opinion at the time, to do absolutely nothing.

The lesson has been never to compromise my time alone with God. My early morning daily devotion takes about 40 minutes. I have been tempted a few times to use that time for essay writing instead, but by midday I have found myself on my knees instead, being reminded that time with God is important if I want things to go well.

I am called not to strive for confidence in being the best Layfetta I can be, but rather to have faith and trust Him to mould me into what He would have me be.

Surrender. Living one day at a time, the children of Israel had manna for each day. The results of taking life one day at a time and trusting God may not sound radical but, although not easy, are very rewarding.

Last week in my alone time, I felt compelled to write a completely different sermon, for our 9am congregation of a few lovely elderly ladies. In the stillness of my prayer time the entire sermon came to me. It was wonderful! God spoke to each person powerfully that morning.

Obedience is indeed sweet. I have found that doing His will is always worth it, and that faith is confidence in God not in my own abilities.

Jeremiah 17 v 7-8 says “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Amen.

 

Ben, Ridley Hall

Hello, I am Ben and I have just finished my first term at Ridley Hall in Cambridge. Before that I was a Pastoral Assistant for a joint benefice in Moss Side and Whalley Range in South Manchester. Prior to that I worked in banking, finance and government on the Isle of Man. Both my parents are parish priests near Cambridge.

Last year was incredibly busy with my BAP (Bishop’s Advisory Panel), moving back down south, and with family matters. So having time over Christmas to look back and reflect on my first term has been good.

It has been quite challenging as well as enjoyable. Inevitably when you start something new, you will face it with anticipation and hesitation. Learning to live in community and going back to education, for me, have been the hardest to deal with. Being dyslexic and dyspraxic has meant that I had quite a rough ride with my compulsory education, but Ridley has been so supportive of my learning needs that it has eased my transition back into learning.

‘One step at a time sweet Jesus, that’s all I am asking of you’, that old Gospel song has helped me immensely in my first term, as well as the support of the staff and students which I have received. The Principal of Ridley reminded us that “we come to leave” and that is encouraging.

This is a beautiful gift which has been given to me, I open it each and every day when I am here and that is the gift of my vocation, my faith, Ridley and much more. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for me as I continue to discern my vocation day by day.

Our Christmas gifts

The lead up to Christmas saw an end to my first term as an ordinand. Academically I have been challenged with the rigours of study and I began a new journey with a new church family. Advent began and came to an end quickly, before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve. My husband and I had been very organised and managed to get pretty much exactly what each of our children desired for Christmas – all four of them.

My husband had placed a few prezzies under the tree a few days prior. Mostly the ones we didn’t mind little fingers piercing through before Christmas morning. The important stuff we had wrapped together and I had placed in a large bin liner. Always the best camouflage over the years.

The kids went to bed and our youngest only three left Father Christmas a cookie, some milk and a carrot for the reindeer. In realisation we did not have a chimney my nine-year-old quickly to the rescue responds, “Santa has a magic key to all houses”. The boys all know that all good things come from God, having asked a direct question two years ago.

Off to bed they went, and I proceeded to fetch the large bin liner to “stock” our tree. I could not find the bag, which should not be so hard to find considering its size. I telephoned my husband who was at a midnight service with a friend. I told him where I had left the bag, he simply said “I’m on my way”. He was leaving a midnight service at 11.30pm; this was not good.

As it turns out, like every year for the past six years, we had friends round for Carols and Prayers a few nights before at our home. This always involves Jamaican and Pakistani food generating a lot of rubbish from paper plates and cups, so yes you guessed it. My husband had accidentally thrown away our gifts, thinking it was the bin from our carol singing night! Christmas Eve became a nightmare instantly. My husband arrives, mortified, and I sob.

I questioned why God had allowed it to happen. We may never know. What did happen though, after an hour or so of real sadness, was we made a conscious decision to divert our gaze from our “stuff” to our “provider”. Amazingly, even without those gifts our children were happy with what we had under the tree. That was God!! We still had so much more to be thankful for, and no, being a Christian or even an ordinand does not mean an end to our trials. In this situation we saw that God does not always free us from our situations but He frees us on the inside.

I say to you as we begin 2019, with Brexit looming and every uncertainty besides, let us decide in advance to bless the Lord at all times, may His praises forever be on our lips. Happy New Year! Jesus is still on the throne!

Even though Christmas was a challenge in some ways I am so conscious of all those who are experiencing greater difficulty this January. It allowed me to take stock and be grateful.

(Thanks to my darling husband and best friend for allowing me to share our real life family blooper.)

Matchmaking (or finding a curacy)

Hazel Once training is complete, each trainee vicar is ordained as a deacon in the diocese where they will begin their curacy. A curacy usually lasts around three years and, as the Church of England website puts it, is “an opportunity to serve alongside an experienced vicar, putting into practice the knowledge gained from your course and learning from them as you prepare for your own ministry.”

Last summer I was involved in the process of being ‘matched’ with a church for my curacy. It found it was rather like being set up on a blind date! 

Step One: You meet with your matchmaker (also known as a Diocesan Director of Ordinands or DDO) to discuss what kind of thing you might be looking for. There are various items of paperwork that go along with this conversation including a sort of ‘personal profile’ with information about yourself. Your DDO gets to work.

Step Two:  The DDO calls you up one day to discuss a potential possibility. You are given a name and a very brief profile of the church and the online research begins. Starting with a quick google (obviously) you assess the church website first before delving into their social media accounts (if they have them). Do they seem friendly? Can they take a good selfie? All important considerations at this stage.

Step Three: You must arrange an initial meeting. Come away from the meeting and endlessly obsess over whether you talked too much, had food stuck in your teeth, asked enough questions, answered enough of their questions, etc. If, like me, you are a deep thinker, you will spend a lot of time after this initial meeting reflecting and praying about them and you and the potential for a good relationship.

Step Four: Introduce them to your nearest and dearest. For me, this would be my husband and I appreciate the analogy of the blind date somewhat falls apart with the introduction of a spouse, but this step is important if this is going to be the place that your family will also be considering calling their home.

Step Five: The awkward bit. Who tells who that they like the other one first? The age-old problem of not wanting to seem too keen in case it’s not reciprocated… thankfully, in our case, both parties were interested in making this possibility a reality and the matchmaking had worked!

The final stage in this particular process is the official announcement (somewhat akin to making your relationship ‘Facebook-official’) which involves a variety of additional official paperwork going back and forth. Watch this space!

 

The power of three

Matt: Well a lot has happened since my last post: we started a new academic year, had a week’s residential “Summer School” and I have been involved with a mission in Newcastle. Everything felt as though it was going really well. Assignments were in on time and I’d been able to put some more effort into them than before due to the fact our youngest has started primary school. Even work hasn’t been a problem, projects I had been working on were coming to fruition and the baton handed over to people who were going to run the race to its completion. I was feeling pretty good, I probably thought to myself I’d finally got this nailed.

Well my spirit was well and truly shattered this week by an essay result. It wasn’t even a bad score, well I’ve had worse let’s just say. But the feedback destroyed me, it opened up all the old wounds of “you’re not good enough”. What I had in mind for my future seemed to becoming more and more distant. This feeling lasted for three full days. I had been asked to give an update of how things were going with my training, but I laid off writing anything because at that time I had absolutely nothing edifying to write.

Last year’s study of the Old Testament rocked me, it made me re-evaluate what my faith was built upon, and it took about three weeks for me to understand that it’s my relationship with God that is at the foundation of my faith. Not any clever apologetics I think I may have, and definitely not what I already “know” about scripture. God called ME, he called me with all my failings, he called me in the knowledge that I do struggle with literacy and even in light of that he still wants me. So, if God’s for me, even I can’t mess that up.

After theologically reflecting on these blogs of mine, and you will do a ton of theological reflecting when you start training, it struck me that God really does like this number three. It took me “thirty” years to start training, it took me “three” weeks to understand the basis of my faith and just after thinking I had got something “nailed” it took me “three” days to realise what I meant to God.

And you know what, I’m not going to unpick that anymore, because I know what that means to me and for me. It may mean the same to you or it may mean something different and that’s OK because our God is a God of relationship. My relationship is different to yours, not better, not worse just different, but one thing’s a certainty if you’re reading this you’re called to be In His Service.

 

Meet Layfetta

I am Layfetta, a first year Ordinand at St Mellitus College in Liverpool. I am a Jamaican married to a Pakistani, and we have four children. I am only four weeks into my course and look forward to my Mondays at college where I can share my heart with those walking a similar path as me.

Prior to taking the plunge for training as a vicar in the Church of England, I wrestled with thoughts of how I would cope as a Jamaican woman in full time ministry. What if God sent me to the most remote part of Kazakhstan? I am pretty confident that is not in my immediate future so no need to worry about that… for now.

I find myself thinking about the communities for which we will be released into though. Cities tackling knife crimes on a reduced budget, rising homelessness, eat vs heat families, the widening polarisation of society, and if I allow myself, I am overwhelmed by it all. However, as usual, God is always on time, as you might have heard before, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.

As I travelled on the train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston for my first residential weekend, I heard from within my spirit “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I whispered it under my breath and entered in His space of peace. I am reminded that whatever our journey, He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us.

Layfetta residential

As I mulled this over in my mind, a few days later I sat in my kitchen and looked up a printout of the focus scripture for our church for 2018, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to bless you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

We may have our moments of questioning but with His promises in scripture and our personal experiences of past faithfulness, we press on in the good fight of faith.

Despite our differences we are one body

Matt: In this episode Matt talks about the labels we put on others and how these can be barriers to our own development.

When we talk about Church what on earth are we talking about? We are the body of Christ; I bet we have all heard a thousand sermons on that, but I think it’s important that we let the statement permeate our whole being. What do we mean by being part of the body of Christ?

I thought I had a good handle on most of the traditions. I’ve been CofE, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, but always felt most at home in a high(ish) Anglo Catholic tradition. I have always had a respectful awareness that the theology of other traditions didn’t resonate with my own. But deeper reflection would reveal that I probably thought God would win them round eventually!

I have just finished my first placement in a church that is a polar opposite to my own Anglo Catholic tradition. Throughout the year I have met face to face with Liberal Anglo Catholics (me), Evangelicals, Conservatives, Roman Catholics, Straight, Gay, High, Low and all those in-between Christians. With these course there is a huge amount of formation going on, and my head is still spinning. It takes time and reflection to bring all this information together.

This thankfully is was given to me by means of a retreat weekend. A retreat sounded like the dullest event in the calendar, but perhaps a time to catch up on some sleep.  In the grounds of the retreat centre there is a huge tree. I sat on a bench and was just taking in the atmosphere, waiting on God to talk to me.

As I looked at the tree I noticed that it had one main trunk. This divided into other trunks, then branches, resulting in an amazing canopy that far overshadowed the footprint of the original trunk. I felt that God was relating this to the many, many branches of our Christian traditions that sometimes divide us. He then decided to provide an incredible downpour of rain! My only hope was to run for cover under the canopy of the tree.

Is this not our Church? Yes, we are divided into our own little traditions, but when we root our foundations in Christ together He provides hope for all. We will still have our differences, we will still argue about our traditions, but grafted together we become the body of Christ.

Whatever our tradition, we each have a calling. Don’t be marked by labels and be careful not to mark others. We can all learn something from each other. Move forward in the love, grace and humility that Jesus has placed in you to do His work.

I was filled with doubt, but Jesus has me by the hand

Amy: I can’t believe how time has flown, that in a few weeks I will have finished my first year of training at St Mellitus! This time last year I had just found out that I had been recommended for training, I’m amazed how far I’ve come since then.

My family has settled into sunny Rochdale and my youngest three love their new school.  I’ve felt so proud of them all as they have adapted to the changes that have gone on in our lives.

I’ve enjoyed embracing worship with other Christian denominations in the town and have learnt so much perseverance from our Asian Christian Fellowship. I’ve shared in plenty of inter-faith fellowship and felt privileged to attend an Iftar on the night of the  Manchester Arena attack anniversary. I have felt a real sense of community and am enjoying serving the people; I’m proud to be part of sharing positive stories, creating the good news in Rochdale.

Being a full time ordinand with a work placement is challenging, some weeks I blink and realise it’s Sunday again and I’m not sure where the week has gone! Fitting in writing essays and group projects, sermon writing, children’s church activities, pastoral visits, and church services on top of usual mum things have pushed me to my limits.

I experienced a real slump recently as I struggled with a low mark I received for an essay. I had a panic that I would never really understand my degree; did I even know what theology is?  In that moment I was awash with doubt and desolation – what had I taken on? Why did God think that I could do any of this?

In the middle of this slump I realised that I was preaching the next day. Could I really preach through these feelings? Would it be easier to just not do it and make an excuse? Through this dark cloud of doubt I managed to see the hope and promise and call of Jesus on my life.

I dragged my doubt-ridden body into St Chad’s and slowly through the service I felt like I began to walk stronger. By the time I came to preach I knew I had to do it, and as I climbed the steps to the pulpit, looked out on the people in the congregation, I just knew this is where I was meant to be.

Being an Ordinand is an overwhelming huge thing, and if I’ve learnt anything, it is ok to feel this way. It is also ok to just about pass an essay, and it is ok to ask for help from friends, tutors, and family.

I sometimes feel like Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water. With much excitement I leapt over the side of the boat to walk to Jesus, then suddenly I realised that what was happening was so huge, that the storms were too scary, that I began to panic and sink. But the great thing is, that Jesus has me by the hand, and has us all by the hand whenever we feel riddled with doubt, or when we feel we are sinking.

It is perfectly ok to feel like I/we can’t do this, because we can’t on our own, we need Him to be with us – none of this is possible without God.

I am so grateful for this first year of training at St Mellitus. God has been so good to me and my family. I’m excited for what year 2 will bring, and how God continues to form and shape me for ordination.

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