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.

 

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.

Surviving a winter crisis!

Matt: We have heard a lot about “Winter Pressures” and the NHS seems to be in the media on almost a daily basis. After working in this environment for 16 years, I can say that this has been one of the most stressful periods of my career and continues to be so.

As I draw towards our third residential weekend, I can reflect upon some of the sessions we have had that are not academic but are included so that students can ‘survive’!

In “Rule of life” we reflected upon the need for spiritual direction and especially the need to give yourself some time. I can say for certain that from the back end of November to now, this has certainly been at the back of my mind. But putting these rules into practice is difficult!

First you have the Christmas preparations, then splitting your time between work, church, studies and the family. Not necessarily in that order I suggest. But it does sometimes feel that way. Then you have to plan the time for reading and writing essays. Spiritual direction, you know, just to tick all the boxes! What I have learnt is that although it may look like you’re ticking all the boxes when you take this rule of life stuff seriously it really does help.

If you are exploring a calling to any kind of ministry, get yourself a spiritual director NOW. I’ll tell you another little secret: make sure you make an appointment with him/her the week before you submit any kind of assignment, as the stuff you will surely be struggling with will certainly be consolidated after these sessions. Not only that but you won’t beat yourself up about what will seem, afterwards, like little things.

Have some time off is the next one. You can’t carry on doing ‘something’ every day; don’t feel guilty about doing nothing. Get through that Sky Plus planner (other viewing recorders are available) or read something that has nothing to do with your calling/work, even if you are enjoying it. If you don’t you’ll run the risk of burning out. The difficulty, in my case sometimes, is then getting back on the case, but that’s another story!

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. What you may be looking at doing is certainly serious, and trust me you’re not going to get there on your own, but have a laugh on the way. God called us to an abundant life, don’t forget, not one that’s just about reading and working.

“Winter Pressures” are real for all of us, re-thinking of how we deal with these is a lifelong task.

Induction week hit me like a sledgehammer!

Matt: It was back in November 2016 when I went to my BAP (Bishop’s Advisory Panel) selection conference and it seemed like an age before my course started. But boy induction week hit me like a sledgehammer. Since starting on 10 September I have had seven sessions including a safeguarding day. One test assignment written and another group assignment underway.

My advice to anyone in a similar position would be try not to leave too big a gap between BAP and starting your training. I have found it difficult to try and resume focus again. That said, I’ve met a great group of ladies and gents, a real mixed bag of Readers and ordinands. There’s no pecking order at All Saint’s – we train together. Our pathways may be different, but our ministries are very similar. That shows in the input that everyone puts into the sessions and everyone is valued for ….well for just being there.

Work, home and study life is the biggest challenge. I can’t simply burn the midnight oil to study when I want. Especially if I’m up for a 12 hour shift at 5am and the calendar is getting tighter and tighter. Next weekend is my first residential weekend and I can’t remember ever being away from the wife and kids for a whole weekend.

Ah well, such is this cross I must bear. I think a 12 year old malt may help me get through the sleepless nights of not being woken up by a three year old at 2am and then finding the eldest trying to get in at 4. Did I mention how amazing my wife is?

On the upside I’ve been cured of Dyslexia, Yeeeeaaaaaa! Apparently now I have something called Irlen Syndrome, Boooooooo! Still being tested but I believe I get to wear cool tinted glasses and don’t get told off about them.

Going through the process of all this testing however showed me what lengths we go to in putting labels on ourselves: Dyslexic, suffer from Irlen’s, poor academic, not good enough, too fat, too thin, male, female, not holy enough…

We make a ton of excuses for not doing what we are called to do. What life has shown me is God overcomes these and he really uses us not-rights. If you have a look at that Book it’s full of us not-rights becoming just-rights!

With every blessing

Matt

Matt, All Saints

I’m Matt and I’m going to be training for ministry in the Church of England! Let me introduce myself. I am a father to two wonderful girls, Amy (7) and Emily (3), husband to a wonderful wife Kath (you’re kidding no numbers here!) and a senior paramedic for the North West Ambulance Service.

I suppose my journey started at about 11 years old when my Dad took me to a Billy Graham Crusade back in 1984 (there you go, given my age away). Looking back at it now it could have been set in the movies as I walked out under the famous gates stating “You’ll never walk alone”.

Far from being a successful struggle you see in the movies, however, the next 30 years I embarked on a rollercoaster of ups and downs, as do we all. I was diagnosed at school with dyslexia and I remember when discussing future careers my advisor, teachers and parents suggested that academic prospects were beyond my limitations and I should head for a trade.

To be honest it didn’t seem as gracious as that, it was more a case of coming to the realisation that when I mentioned going to sixth form everyone developed uncontrollable laughter! Over my career I have been an aircraft engineer, customer services advisor, arrears counsellor, financial advisor (in the bad old days), ambulance technician, and paramedic, culminating in my current role as a senior paramedic. A bizarre career, I know, but looking back at it God clearly had his hand in my development, both in life skills and achieving any kind of academic prospects.

I wouldn’t say I had any academic skills really, but over the years I’ve been moulded into a square peg that is to be driven, and driven, into that round hole that is ordained ministry. I can only imagine all the edges that are going to be knocked off over the next three years! More recently this epic change in vocation came from actually listening for a change. I’d been regularly reading my Bible, getting to grips with my prayer life, but it was only when I gave God some time to talk back that a literal millstone was removed from me.

 

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