One step at a time

I love our diocesan slogan ‘A Church for a Different World’. We are certainly facing that world now. I really believe that Ridley College is equipping me to minister in this different world. The world that we will see when coronavirus ends will be very much a new world. We’re in the seventh week of lockdown, and it has brought me to closer God, there have been nights where all I could do is put my worries and fears at the foot of the cross and leave it to him, like many of us at this time. It has also made me more aware of not to lose sight of what matters most. Friends, family, those who know us inside out but love us all the same, those people who we can’t see at the moment but one day will be able to.

It’s been well over a year since I last blogged with a Northern Call. At lot has happened since my last post. Last time I when I wrote I was still in my first year here at Ridley, a fresh ordinand. I am now nearing the end of year 2, curacy searching will begin in the summer and I will enter my final year at Ridley in September. When I last wrote, I quoted that old gospel hymn ‘One day at a time sweet Jesus that’s all I am asking of you’. How true is that at the moment? Literally, as a world and as a nation. We are living one step, one day, one week at a time.

I can’t lie, training is rewarding, but when I started, I didn’t realise that it would be so hard! I am not academically gifted, but I have a great team who support me academically. Living in community presents itself with its own challenges but it is also very rewarding, to be able to live learn and pray with people on a regular basis has been a lifeline. Unfortunately last year my Dad had a stroke, and this year had major heart surgery which came with serious complications. Each time, the support that my family and I received from the Ridley Community was a true blessing.

Here at Ridley training continues, but very much virtually. Unfortunately essays don’t stop (I wish they did). I hadn’t heard of ‘Zoom’ until coronavirus began, and overnight it has become a necessity and a lifeline to many, I say that advisedly. Lectures have become virtual, as well as morning prayer and any community gatherings. The Bishop of Liverpool came and spoke to Ordinands in Easter term of 2019; he mentioned that he was part of a Cell Group which was formed while he was training Four of us from last year formed a cell group and meet virtually most Saturdays to pray reflect and catch up. I would really recommend this sort of group for people to journey with.

I am Ridley’s Resident royalist. The Queen’s Easter Eve message was powerful. As she said we need Easter more than ever. ‘The discovery of the Risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave us new hope and a fresh purpose, and we can all take heart from this’ I have just finished an essay on Paul’s interpretation of Grace, like many essays I write, and commentaries and books I read, I find a new hope and a fresh purpose and I hope that as I journey on the path to ordination, and as the world faces the challenges of Covid19, we continue to see new hope and that fresh purpose.

All I do is take it one step at a time… and in God I trust.

My job challenges me everyday

Matt was invited to contribute this video for the national online service for Vocations Sunday, 3 May 2020.

Matt Sanderson, from Oldham, is due to be ordained as a Deacon in the Church of England later this year, speaks of how God is always with us even at the most difficult times.

He says: “My job challenges me, every day my colleagues and I walk into the unknown, to offer hope and relieve suffering as best we can. There is no better feeling than having made a difference in someone’s life and as frontline clinicians that is what drives us into work each and every day

“These are challenging times and the world has become a very scary place, fighting an invisible enemy.”

Matt discusses the challenges of physical distancing from family and friends.

“Yet throughout this pandemic, I am reminded by that still small voice: ‘I am not alone’” he continued.

Trusting God

Layfetta: Like so many others, our children returned to school recently. I dropped them off, then drove to my placement church in absolute silence. Silence in the car for the first time in six weeks. Well, I’m won’t lie, it was kind of… nice!

I smiled along my merry way. It was not long before I started wondering what they were doing and how Reception class was going for our four year old daughter. She had been doodling on paper all summer in preparation for the “important work” she had to do in Mrs J’s class.

My mind then rested firmly on my year ahead and the work I have in store. This will be my final year at St Mellitus College, North West. Conversations about curacy have begun and God has most certainly got His feet firmly on the pedals driving me forward.

I evaluate where I am up to, in terms of what I have learnt and how competent I feel. Not very. I think I felt more competent last year as I was about to begin 😊. My last sermon took five drafts before I felt at peace. Surely this is not supposed to be the case? “I should be churning them out a lot more quickly”, I thought to myself, not more slowly.

This might have something to do with being more aware of what a good sermon should contain, who knows. Interestingly enough, as I experience turmoil within, members of the congregation have begun saying ‘well done’ and sending me emails about how blessed they were by my sermon, how God spoke to them, and more shockingly, comments on how I am growing in confidence and ‘presence’.

I want to tell them, I have done very little other than pray “Help!” every day. I have come to realise that I should never act without being led, no matter how tempting. How do I know I am being led? Inner peace. The sermon that I took for a spin five times was on Joy. A few days later I was listening to my Bible in a Year App on my phone, by a very well-known pastor, and he had plagiarised my sermon! Well, not really, he simply said nearly the exact same things I had preached on. It gave me comfort, as though God was confirming something in me. Reassuring me that I did hear from Him.

The truth is, even if his comments were different, I still trust that the inner peace that God rests inside of me is sufficient. I won’t always receive approval from others or confirmation from an App. Doing what He says in His word, or what He drops in my spirit, that is my only desire. To hear and be obedient to my one and only Lord Jesus.

Like my daughter with her bit of paper and a pen, I see this as “important work”, and if it takes me five drafts to phrase what He is trying to say to His church, then I consider it a great joy and a privilege. It does get easier, right? 😊

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.)

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.

The ‘I Don’t Wanna Run’ run

Hazel: I recently found out I have a place in the Great North Run (a half marathon that takes place down the road from me in Newcastle in September). While I have several months to train and prepare myself for this, I have found, getting up to go for a run in the cold and darkness of winter in Durham is very difficult. It is hard work for my body, but perhaps more importantly, doing a long run is hard work for my mind.

I use the Nike+ running app to help me train and it offers a selection of pre-prepared workouts where you can stick your headphones in and listen to a coach offer motivation for your whole run. These workouts are all named and my favourite, by far, is the “I Don’t Wanna Run Run”. In it, the coach offers empathy for why finding motivation is hard, he talks through all the reasons why we might not want to run, and then he unceasingly offers encouragement which keeps you going.

I know that training for ordination isn’t exactly the same as training for a half marathon. But as the year has really got under way, it has certainly felt a bit like it at times. It feels quite tough to be academically assessed on your ability to offer pastoral care, or your preaching. It’s challenging to be around people who know a lot more about the Anglican Church than you do. It’s tough to balance married life, placement commitments, spiritual development, academic work, college life, social interactions and half-marathon training.

I thought it would be like going back to university, and it’s hard to explain why, but it’s just not. Suddenly it makes sense when Hebrews tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.

Of course there’s beauty in it too. Sometimes I find myself blown away by the beauty of Durham riverbanks as I run alongside it. And the unexpected glimpses of the cathedral at various corners along the way. And it is the same with college life. I am surrounded by inspirational people who have embraced both me and Sam. The topics I’ve covered in my essays have got my brain working overtime and in moments have brought me joy in understanding.

And so there are moments when I wish the Church of England had an “I Don’t Wanna Run Run” that I could listen to to get me through the daily stuff that feels challenging.

But then I remember we do! The Church of England doesn’t have ownership on this one. But the Church eternal has access to the ultimate coach. A coach who offers empathy, who we can talk things through with, who unceasingly offers us encouragement. And our coach isn’t a generic coach who says the same thing to each person. Our coach knows us, created us and loves us.

This lent I am taking up the practice of silent prayer again, which I learned during my time in the Community of St Anselm. I’m sure there will continue to be ups and downs and this won’t be the last time my motivation wavers. But God knows the plans he has for me and without the hard work of training, I know I couldn’t make it to the end of the race.

I thank God every day for His calling on my life

Amy: My first Christmas as an ordinand was amazing! My family and I now live in Rochdale and I was able to host a Christmas party for the congregation at my home, which was so much fun. It is great living close to my placement churches in the town centre. I have held a few PCC meetings, preached several times, and I really feel part of the ministry team. I am learning much from them!

Working in the two parishes has been really interesting and exciting. There have been many high points but one of my favourites recently has to be sitting in the local pub with a pint enjoying the company of my supervising incumbent and our ministry team, while wearing our cassocks after an evensong. Serving, studying, and working is fantastic, and I thank God every day for His calling on my life.

Studying at St Mellitus has been better than I could have ever expected. I have felt some serious spiritual formation occurring in me as I learn and grow. I have made some wonderful friends who have become a key part of my life already. Our college week residential was such a unique experience, it was difficult leaving family for a week but the atmosphere and support from the college and fellow ordinands was great. During the week we had interesting lectures combined with breathtaking worship. Our healing service combined high church with contemporary music and worship, and on that night it felt like the gap between heaven and earth was very thin. The spirit moved powerfully that evening leading to many testimonies of healing in our college.

Studying and working is tiring but I feel well fed spiritually by my supervising incumbent and the support at college. There is always someone to reflect with and talk to and I am so grateful for this. On a recent college retreat to Walsingham I reflected on all the learning and experiences I’ve had so far. Travelling with my friends, walking the holy mile barefoot, worshiping in the Holy House was just beautiful. I have come to realise how much beauty there is in people and how God’s glory shines through everyone.

Studying, working, and having five children is always a challenge but I am so blessed by the support and love of my husband. Through these past months I have repeated over and over to myself that I could not be doing this training without him and without God’s love and guidance.

The end of my first year of training is rapidly approaching and it will be July before I know it! I have another weekend residential approaching and several essay deadlines too! Training for ordination is certainly challenging but I am still smiling and loving every minute!

Thanks be to God!

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.

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