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It’s official

The Bishop’s letter arrived promptly this morning so it is official. I am going to be a priest in the Church of England! Needless to say, the wife instantly started texting all our family and friends who’ve been waiting on the news. I’m blogging and will shortly send emails, including an apology to all those who we didn’t tell because of the advice that the CofE gives.

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I got in

They must be mad. I’m a little in shock at the moment. Pleased, excited but in shock. This afternoon while the wife was at her dad’s, I got a call from my DDO confirming that they had received my report from the Bishop’s Advisory Panel and I had been recommended for “training for the Ordained Ministry (Priest) with the expectation that [I] be deployed nationally”. Sounds impressive.

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What is the role of the priest in the Church of England today?

As part of my thinking and interviewing, I’ve been asked to write an essay entitled ‘what is the role of the priest in the Church of England today?’ I’ve reproduced it here and would be interested to hear people’s comments.

Introduction

As I have embarked on the process of consideration for the ordained ministry within the Church of England, I have been intrigued by the reactions of my peers. I am part of a large, informal, inter-church and inter-denominational network in Tunbridge Wells of men and women in their twenties and thirties. Many of us have known each other since we were teenagers, we have worked together on town-wide events and some of us meet together for prayer and study across church boundaries.

Many of my peers are highly active within the church; many of them have fantastic gifting and many are already making use of their gifts through pan-church youth events, music festivals, leading worship, preaching and teaching, leading house groups and much more. What has intrigued me is why so few consider going forward for ordination as an option and almost fail to register when the subject of ordination is discussed.

It seems to me that the anti-institution, post-modern world in which my peers and I grew up has left us questioning or even distrusting formalized institutional roles. I think it is possible that people assume that the growth and recognition of lay-led work means (wrongly) that the demise of clericalism is the other side of that coin. No matter what the root causes may be, it is clear that a distinct definition and understanding of the role of the priest in the Church of England today needs to be assimilated by every ordinand. My ‘clergy-blind’ peers are the mothers and fathers of the forthcoming generation of children and will be approaching the status of elder statesmen in the church by 2030. Their priests need to know to what they have been called so that, in turn, these souls entrusted to their care can also know and place trust in their ministry.

The world today

Everyone always seems to think that no-one has ever had it harder, change has never been more pronounced, and the challenges have never been larger. While it is important to recognize our own propensity for hyperbole when comparing our situation to that of others, it does seem reasonable to suggest that the role of the priest in the Church of England has weathered a tumultuous century in which so much has changed.

Until the 1920’s, priests in the Church of England knew nothing but The Book of Common Prayer. While major liturgical change took a while to get going in the years that followed, the pace is now rapid with Common Worship providing the most recent example of modern liturgical practice. However, even such major liturgical events have not necessarily been the biggest agents of change. The priesthood and the Church at large have been simultaneously both shapers and those who were being shaped by firstly the growth in the role of the laity and secondly the relatively recent ordination of women. Both developments have brought new understanding to our ecclesiology and fresh strengths to the life of the church.

Outside the church, the English nation have been through two world wars, the 1960s and its legacy – as Ramsey described it ‘the growing moral confusion’ (Ramsey, 1985: 4), the cold war and then perestroika, post-modernism, and globalization to name just a few of the many events and influences that have shaped our nation and our contemporary mindset. Added to which, the growing secularization of our society confronts the modern priest with the prospect of working in a post-Christian mission setting rather than a pastoral ‘Christendom’.

Whether a priest like William Green, vicar of Bexley until his death in 1808, would recognize the ministry of William Green, the current incumbent of St James, Thornton in Bradford, as anything like his own is an impossible (yet interesting) question to try and answer. However, I would like to think that he would be unsurprised by the similarities with his own experience, pleasantly surprised by some of the developments in our ecclesiastical practice and profoundly challenged by the new missiological situation in which we find ourselves. It is that mixture that I think makes the role of the priest in the Church of England today such a fresh and interesting challenge to those now entering the ministry.

The role of the priest

As Cocksworth and Brown note, depending on who you are, where you are and what other responsibilities you have in life, the shape of a priest’s ministry will look very different (Cocksworth and Brown, 2002: 4). However, I believe that the role of the priest can be condensed into three key areas that should form part of the DNA for every priest regardless of their situation. I believe those areas are the priest as a representative, the priest as an example, and the priest as an enabler. I would like to address each in turn, explaining my label and providing examples of how such roles work out in practice.

The representative

Representing God

While a small white piece of plastic may on its own seem insignificant, placing it about our neck can, as Vanessa Herrick notes in A Curate’s Guide, ‘cause some unusual and unexpected reactions amongst the general public’ (Witcombe, 2005: 58). Even in the midst of a culture that is post-Christian, wearing a dog collar remains distinctive and everyone has an implicit understanding (even if it is a wrong one) of what the collar signifies.

The Canons of the Church of England are quite clear about what the collar signifies. Canon C 27 (Canons, 2000: 113) states that the minister’s dress ‘shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge’ (cf. 2 Timothy 4.2). While the way in which the priest is dressed may not seem a significant matter, I believe it highlights the key role that the minister plays in being a representative both of God and of the people.

For those outside the church, the minister is most clearly associated with God Himself. From the pub that quietens and whose regulars improve their language when the minister enters the bar to the grieving widow who blames God for the untimely death of her husband, the priest cannot escape the fact that people will see him/her as representative of the Almighty. While the recent review of clergy terms of service has highlighted the modern difficulties of human resources methodology when trying to deal with God as an employer, having God as your employer is precisely how many people see the priest.

Such a perception provides a tremendous and yet challenging missionary opportunity for the minister. The role provides a helpful way into conversations and situations where the minister (as an ‘ordinary’ human being) might be otherwise unable to enter. It provides an opportunity to speak a ‘word in season’ and to guide thoughts beyond the ordinary heavenwards to hope, faith, comfort and divine strength.

Representing the people

However, the priest does not only represent God. For both those outside the church and particularly for those inside the church, the priest is representative of the body of people to whom they minister.

From the very beginning, the early Church saw themselves as ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ (1 Peter 2.9). And yet it is interesting that the early Church also saw a role for someone set apart to represent that priesthood on an individual level. Later in the same letter from Peter, in a matter of fact kind of way that does not suggest any kind of dichotomy or potential conflict in theology, Peter encourages the presbuteroi to tend the flock in their charge (cf. 1 Peter 5.1-2). That ‘both and’ type of situation is at the heart of the minister’s representative role. We are all priests in the body of Christ and yet some are set apart to minister to this ‘royal priesthood’ as a distinct call.

At times of local, national or global trouble, the minister is expected to give voice to people’s feelings, to provide a light for the community so that collectively they can all find their way. The minister is frequently asked to take on a number of civic functions from conducting blessings of new buildings through speaking out at the closure of a post office to sitting on school boards, providing the representative advocate for those in their charge.

The minister must provide vision and leadership to the people in their care; to discern a way forward in prayer for their flock and then to take them on in Christ, leading them into that future.

At the Communion table, the representative role is perhaps most clearly and crucially seen in the actions of the minister as they lead their congregation through the rite. To draw an analogy with a world familiar to me, the priest at the Communion table is like the quarterback of an American football team. The quarterback is the person who tells his team-mates the play they are about to run and gives voice to the actions that will follow, the person who takes up the ball and then enables his/her team-mates to contribute by quietly and efficiently giving them the focus (i.e. the ball) at a particular moment in the play, his last minute calls and adjustments at the line guides and prompt when necessary and throughout the action, the quarterback provides crucial leadership.

From the gathering of the people and the initial focusing of their minds and hearts on Christ, the minister moves on, fulfilling the ministerial duty to ‘call [their] hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of [their] sins’ (Link). The minister should do so knowing that direct communion with God for the congregation has not been temporarily suspended. Instead the minister offers their own person, as much a sinner as anyone else, with the delegated authority to speak the words of forgiveness. While it is a serious duty, as Cocksworth and Brown note the privilege of speaking these words of release and freedom should never elude us: there is joy in heaven at this moment (Cocksworth and Brown, 2002: 164).

The priest then guides the congregation into the Liturgy of the Word and discretely enables both the hearing of the word of God and the opportunity to respond to it. The Liturgy of the Sacrament follows and while the actions are concentrated on the presider, the text assumes a dialogue between priest and people and the interplay of other ministries. It is indicative of modern thinking that some of the Eucharistic prayers in Common Worship provide for the congregation to participate actively in the saying of the prayer, and not just to respond to it. The prayers prayed are as much the prayers of the people as they are the prayers of the priest. After all, it is obvious but important that when the gifts are given, it is to the people of God that they are given. In other words, while the Church agrees to assume, as Cocksworth puts it, ‘an hourglass shape’ (2002: 30) for such acts, the sacrament is all about the body of Christ engaging actively and significantly with its Head. The minister simply enables that process to happen and is the conduit by which much of the action takes place.

The Dismissal concludes the act and includes the pronouncement of God’s blessing upon the people. It is another vital act for the minister who gathers up their people, (who have just listened to God’s word, offered God their worship and received Jesus in the bread and wine), and speaks God’s blessing over them so that they may go out in the world to ‘live and work to [God’s] praise and glory’ (Link). In so doing, the prayer after communion and the subsequent pronouncement of God’s blessing signify the ultimate fruit of the priestly ministry: the formation of a missionary people.

The tension in the middle

It is perhaps worth noting that many writers draw attention to the fact that this double role – representing both God and the people – standing in the gap between God and humanity is not an easy place to be. It is almost inevitable that a cost is required since the priest assumes the place that, in Old Testament times, was occupied by the sacrificial animal. However, as with many things, it is in that hard and costly place that God’s blessing is often seen. As Ramsey describes it, quoting P.T Forsyth in The Church and the Ministry (1917):

‘In the minister’s one person the human spirit speaks to God, and the Holy Spirit speaks to men. No wonder he is often rent asunder. No wonder he snaps in such tension. It broke the heart of Christ. But it let out in the act the heart of God’ (Ramsey, 1985: 4)

The example

In the Common Worship ordination service, the minister is asked whether they are willing to be a ‘pattern and example to Christ’s people’ (Link). It is inevitable that the minister will be expected to set an example by those around them – both inside the church and outside it.

A call to holiness

Richard Baxter defined holiness as ‘a devotedness to God and a living to Him’ (Baxter, 1956: 94). Very often in contemporary times, we reduce the concept of holiness to a discussion of moral character but Baxter’s definition is useful for setting the context for holiness in a relationship of commitment and fidelity to God.

In the contemporary church, there is a great deal of expectation that the minister will be a do-er, a taker of action, getting things done. The expectation was made clear to me last year as a friend of mine whispered to me in the Annual Parochial Church Meeting – “what does the vicar do all day?” It is an expectation that the minister must simultaneously both embrace and resist. While the minister obviously must be someone who does get things done, the minister must retain a ‘mindset of being’. If that sense of being, that sense of soaking in God’s presence and love and keeping a healthy relationship of commitment and fidelity to God is lost, then any actions that are taken will be in vain and the ones who will notice it and feel it most of all will be those to whom the minister is called to serve.

In doing so, the minister not only keeps open their source of ministry but they set an example for their congregation to do the same. In a church where the increase of lay ministry has brought new strengths and blessings, it is surely crucial that those lay persons involved in such ministry learn to cultivate their own sense of being and reliance on the Spirit of God for their work. This is a subject I will return to shortly.

However, in overlap with the representative roles that the minister fulfils, it is important to flag up the issue of moral character and note that the minister’s conduct, speech, relationships, family life and more will all be under a microscope whether on-duty or off-duty. Indeed, the missiological efforts of the minister and their church can be thoroughly torpedoed below the water line by an example in life that does not match up to the words spoken from the pulpit.
If the minister is to be holy, it is incumbent upon the minister to deal with their sin, their attitudes, words, thoughts and actions that mar their daily relationship with God. However, there is also the positive aspect of holiness by filling lives with acts and attitudes that will nourish goodness and holiness in service of the people (Cocksworth and Brown, 2002: 150). In so doing, again the minister sets an example to the people around them.

A call to prayer

Intertwined with this call to holiness as being rooted in a sense of commitment, fidelity and open relationship with God, the minister must be a person of prayer. At the most basic level, the minister has no chance of fulfilling their calling and helping their people discover the riches of God’s grace if they themselves do not pray. Just as Jesus ensured that He set aside time to withdraw from the disciples and the crowds in order to commune with His Heavenly Father, so too the minister must do the same.

The minister’s first role in prayer must be ‘Godward’ as Ramsey describes it (1985: 14). In contemplation and meditation, offering praise and thanksgiving for God’s mercies and gracious acts, and in confession of sin, the minister must make steps to put themselves near God and with God in an undisturbed, focussed time each day. Indeed much of the discipline of using the daily offices is focussed on helping the minister spend time in such things.

However, there is also the ‘peopleward’ aspect of prayer in which the minister must serve. Again with Jesus as the role model, the letter to the Hebrews describes Christ as the great high priest whose intercession continues: ‘he always lives to intercede for them’ (Hebrews 7.25).

Like Christ who has us all on his heart, so too the minister must keep the people entrusted to them on their heart and in their prayers. The minister must make a point of praying into difficult situations and areas where people have requested support in prayer. However, they must also just take the time to lift all their people before God, praying for their well-being and for their blessing and ultimately that they may know Christ more deeply day by day.

In doing so, not only will the minister benefit through the time spent in prayer and the people through the prayers prayed for them, but the minister again will be setting an example to the congregation. As long as the minister is the only one praying, the church will always be a poorer place than if each member of the congregation is communing with God for themselves and supporting one another in intercessory prayer.

A call to worship

Hand in hand with the call to pray is a call to be a worshipper. As Cocksworth and Brown note, worship ‘is the priestly activity par excellence’ (2002: 65). Worship involves taking the focus from ourselves and our own situations and focussing our hearts and minds on the praise of Another. It is the bedrock of God’s call to humanity – to love God and be loved by Him, to honour Him and find ourselves strangely honoured by Him in return.

The minister is called to be a leader of worship, even in situations where ‘worship leaders’ are recognized separately for their gifts with music and other skills that help the people enter into the presence of God. Even in such situations, common in my own churchmanship, the minister cannot abdicate their responsibility to ‘preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship’ (Link). Ministers may not be gifted singers or musicians but our worship is far more than the songs, hymns and psalms that we sing. In the music, but also in the liturgy, the minister is called to oversee the culture and ethos of worship in the community they serve, presiding over the process of worship as much as the worship itself.

However, to do any of those things, the minister must first be a worshipper themselves. Like prayer and holiness, the people that the minister serves cannot be expected to enter in without knowing that there is an integrity between the words the minister speaks and the way that the minister lives. The Church of England has long recognized the immense formative power of worship and that the credo of lex orandi, lex credendi remains as true as it ever was. For good formative things to truly take effect in worship, the minister must set the example and continue to be an example in maintaining an attitude of humble worship and thanksgiving for all that God is and does.

The enabler

In the Common Worship ordination service, the minister is asked whether they are willing to be a ‘make Christ known among all whom you serve’ and moreover ‘faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments… so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith’ (Link). The final words that I have highlighted ‘flourish in the faith’ are full of fresh meaning in our contemporary setting that bring new dimensions to long established patterns in the church.

While preaching and teaching from Scripture is a long held and long cherished principle of church life, the relatively recent growth in the development of lay ministry has brought fresh meaning to the minister’s call in this regard and I wish to finish this essay by exploring both aspects now.

Enabling through the word

In the ordination service, the first declaration that the ordinand must make is that they ‘accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Link). It is perhaps obvious but no less important as a result that the Christian community ought to be people committed to the word of God as revealed in Scripture. Therefore, it is imperative that any ministry among the people of God includes at its core a commitment to engage with the Bible and allow the words written there to change both the minister and their people through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the same way that the minister must pray and worship to sustain their ministry, they must also soak themselves in the Scriptures. They must study it, meditate upon it and allow it to change them. By doing so, they will place the word of God deeply in their hearts and have it ready to call upon when the moment comes. With one eye on their people and the situations they face, and one eye turned towards God, they will be equipped and enabled to bring God’s word to bear on every situation to bring life, encouragement, edification and hope.

Through the regular preaching and teaching of the Scriptures each week, the minister also plays a crucial role in enabling their people. The minister is not called to live out a mature faith because their people do not, allowing them to continue on a diet of milk instead of solid food (cf. 1 Corinthians 3.2). Rather, the minister is called to help their people mature in their own faith and their understanding of scripture will be crucial in that process. The people must be given the tools and the understanding to read God’s word for themselves so that the Lord can speak to them wherever they are and whatever they may be doing; not just when they attend a church service. If the people are to ‘flourish in the faith’, the minister must take seriously the responsibility of expounding the word of God and doing their utmost to ensure the people committed to their charge are enabled to do so.

Enabling to serve

I find it exciting that I live in a day for the Church of England where lay-led ministry is part of the fabric of who we are as a church. While in church history terms, it is a relatively recent development, the growth in the role of the laity have brought new understanding to our ecclesiology and fresh strengths to the life we enjoy together. I myself have never held an authorized lay ministry. However, my own faith has, in part, flourished because of the roles given to me by those in authorized ministry and the faith they have shown in me through such delegation of responsibility. I doubt I would be where I am now without such opportunities and, as a result, I recognize the potential for blessing that the enabling of others represents.

As Christians we are called not just to be hearers of the word, but people who act upon it (cf. James 1.22-25). Maturity and the ability to flourish in our faith come when we can act upon what we hear and what we know to be true. The minister can play a vital and, I would suspect highly satisfying role, in enabling their people to get involved in the life and work of the church. Recognizing the raw abilities in members of their congregations, whatever their age, placing trust in them by giving them responsibilities and then working with them to shape and develop their gifts not only brings blessing to the person being enabled as they begin to understand more of the person God created them to be, but through them the ministry of the church is multiplied and extended.

We left behind the idea of the priest doing everything a long time ago. The church in this day and age is one where the clergy are just one, albeit important, part of who we are, how we do church and how we seek to reach out the world around us. As much as any other role that the minister now plays, the minister must be a trainer and enabler; helping the church to be all that is has been called by God to be.

In conclusion

In writing this essay, it was always tempting to get down to specifics. It was tempting to talk about marriages and funerals, baptisms, parish council meetings, school boards and lunch clubs for the elderly. However, as I noted previously, depending on who you are, where you are and what other responsibilities you hold, the shape of a priest’s ministry in the 21st Century Church of England can and will look very different.

The recent publication Mission-shaped Church and the subsequent establishment of the Fresh Expressions movement all indicate that the ways in which we ‘do’ church are changing. While, like most people, I continue to recognize that the ‘normative’ church service and parish system will continue to have an important central role in the Church of England, the way in which fresh expressions are responding to our network society using a variety of methodologies and approaches shows that the range of people (with their particular gifts and abilities) entering the ministry and the roles that they subsequently fill is likely to get even more diverse than is currently the case.

I think there are key principles that must form the role of every priest and that should be applicable whatever the situation. If our ministers can be representative, showing God to the world and as an ‘hourglass’ in our acts of worship, if they can be an example in holiness, prayer and worship, and if they can enable their people through the faithful preaching of the word and through recognizing and enabling the gifts of others, our church (in whatever shape it may be) will know the blessing of God through their ministry.

Bibliography

Books

Adair, J. and Nelson, J. ed. (2004) Creative Church Leadership. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
Baxter, R. (1956) The Reformed Pastor (ed. H.Martin). London: SCM Press.
The Canons of the Church of England. (2000). 6th ed. London: Church House Publishing.
Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Council. (2004) Mission-shaped Church. London: Church House Publishing.
Cocksworth, C. and Brown, R. (2002) Being a Priest Today. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
Ramsey, M. (1985) The Christian Priest Today. Revised edition. London: SPCK.
Witcombe, J. ed. (2005) The Curate’s Guide. London: Church House Publishing.

Websites

Common Worship: The Ordination of Priests service (2005). Available from: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/worship/liturgy/commonworship/texts/ordinal/priests.html

Bible readings taken from the New International Version. Available from:
http://www.biblegateway.com/

The Fresh Expressions website (2005). Available from:
http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/

80%, 20% and 100%

As part of my thinking and interviewing, I’ve been asked to sit down and work out why I only felt 80% sure that God may be calling me to the ministry of a Priest in the Church of England. Further I’ve been challenged as to whether the other 20% was actually my own resistance to that call. This essay seeks to describe my thinking and the process of that thinking that has occurred in the last few weeks since that interview whilst also setting out my own sense of vocation and call to the priesthood that has been stirring in me and provoked me to begin this interview process in the first place. I’ve reproduced it here and would be interested to hear people’s comments.

At one level, I could have made this a very short essay. On leaving the interview and returning home, I began to pray at the earliest opportunity and lay myself open before God. Over the days that followed, I began to identify and lay down before the Lord those things that concerned me and those things that I feared most about being a minister. In addition, I began to lay down ambition that would draw me away from being a minister. I will describe all these things in more detail shortly. For now, the important thing is that it was all laid down. I stopped wrestling for a moment and just let it all go.

When I had done that, the clarity of the Holy Spirit that came swiftly to me has left me in no doubt. I firmly believe that God is calling me to minister to His church, subject to the confirmation that I pray will come from the interview and selection process. Indeed, I believe God has been calling me to this vocation for a great deal longer than I had previously realized.

My 20%

There are a number of areas that have mixed up in my mind and heart over the last five or more years in regard to taking on a position of responsibility within the Church. In this section, I will attempt to list those things that I now realize have been holding me back.

Over the years, I have grown to place great value on the normality of my life and, in particular, I enjoy the opportunity it gives to present the gospel. I enjoy the fact that I can be an ‘ordinary bloke’ who can have a drink in the pub, enjoy football on a Saturday afternoon and yet have faith in Christ. I have considered it a goal to be a paradigm of living that makes the gospel accessible to those who associate Christianity with being weak, unfashionable, out-of-touch or a ‘loser’. As I have prayed recently, stung by Liz’s challenge, I have recognized I fear becoming something unusual; placed in a role in which everyone in the wider world has preconceived notions of what that role is and, therefore, the kind of person I am.

As I have prayed and thought through my feelings, the Lord has reminded me of a previous situation where I led the Christian Union in my University Hall of Residence for a year. During that year, I was the ‘face’ of the Christian Union in the Hall. While there were many blessings, there was also a cost. Some fellow students would not talk to me because they knew I was a Christian – THE Christian. Others would not be as open with me as they would with other normal friends whilst others would simply poke fun. Whilst I acknowledged and still acknowledge that where I suffer, even in such small ways as these, Christ has gone before me, these things did hurt at the time. As I have prayed, I have come to realize that part of my 20% was a desire to avoid that kind of pain in the future.

I am a keen sportsman. In previous years, I was active as a footballer, a player and coach of American football, as well as a willing participant in any number of sports. These days, I tend to be a sports fan – watching football and American football on television and keenly aware that I need to be more physically active than I am! I also enjoy computer games. The games I enjoy tend to be lengthy, strategic games that test the mind as well as the thumbs! While my gaming has reduced to almost zero in the wake of the arrival of my daughter and I have almost reconciled myself to putting that interest behind me, I have still feared that becoming a Minister would so fill my life with activity that the ability to engage with my pastimes, to have my own space, would quickly disappear.

Whereas my teenage years and early twenties were marked by the vigour of young faith and a passion for holiness, I realize that in the last five years or more I have grown complacent and comfortable. While I still seek after God and acknowledge my sin before Him with frustration at my continuing inability to leave it behind me, I have not cared enough to be more fastidious in my discipleship. To be a minister is to be an example to the believers. It involves a call to holiness, prayer and study. I have become conscious that I have been dragging my heels in responding to God’s call because I can see that it will mean a call to greater seriousness in my discipleship.

On a similar level, I am conscious of the seriousness of the vocation and the role within the Church. As the ASB Ordinal puts it – being a Minister is to be entrusted with the treasure of Christ’s own flock, bought through the shedding of his blood on the cross. The Church and congregation I will serve are one with him: they are his body.

I was present when Dr Rowan Williams addressed General Synod for the first time as Archbishop of Canterbury. Quoting St Augustine he said ‘What I am for you terrifies me’. While I can’t even imagine what it would be to fulfil the role of Bishop, let alone Archbishop, I sympathise with his basic feeling. To be placed in the imaginations and expectations of other people, to be responsible for them before God is a sobering and terrifying thought. It is one thing to be responsible for your self, something even bigger to have the responsibilities of a wife and family. To be entrusted with the care of Christ’s own body is another thing entirely.

I realize too that I have also harboured a desire to have a successful professional career in publishing. In the six years that I have been at Church House Publishing, I have progressed from being a lowly member of staff to being the manager of the new media department, a shaper of policy and future strategy. In recent months, I have even risen temporarily to the top of the tree by being asked to act as the Head of Publishing while a replacement was recruited. I recognize that I have enjoyed the progression tremendously and I have had to recognize before God a selfish desire to rise even higher, to gain status and influence within the Church at an administrative level, to earn more money and live a more comfortable life.

My 80%

As I have already mooted in the introduction of this essay, I am now convinced that God’s call upon me dates back a great deal further than I had originally thought. However, in describing my 80%, I will begin my talking about my own sense of vocation over the last twelve to eighteen months.

From around 2002 onwards, I have felt a growing sense of unease about where I was going in life. My wife and I were very happy together, I had a good job and yet I felt sure that my career was not what God had planned for me. I prayed about it, I prayed with Kerry and with other friends and asked God to show me what it was I should be doing. No answers seemed to come and my restlessness and lack of purpose grew.

In the Summer of 2004, I attended the New Wine summer conference with my pregnant wife and the rest of our church. I was working as part of a large team who were entrusted with ‘Boulder Gang’ – the 10 and 11 year olds group for the conference. Because of the responsibilities we had, time was limited and the only facility I was able to regularly enjoy was the Prayer Shed. Each day, I spent time there, sitting beneath a large cross and using the opportunity of a week outside my normal life and responsibilities to give everything back to God afresh.

At the same time, I was conscious of being surrounded by Anglican clergy. I knew several of them well because of my job working for Church House Publishing and several more by sight or name. While clergy had always seemed something ‘other’ to me, that week I began to see them in a different light. Through a growing closeness with my own vicar and seeing those clergy who I mix with at work ‘in civvies’, I started to see them as ordinary Christians like me.

For some time before that, through my work and resulting ‘up-close’ relationship with the Church of England, I was conscious that the Church needed more people willing to go forward for training and ordination as priests. More are retiring at one end than are coming into the profession at the other.

With those two thoughts mixing in my brain (that more clergy are needed and that these clergy are not so different to me), I sat in the prayer shed and laid myself before God, stating that should He call, I was willing to answer. In my heart, I felt His approval. I cannot say I heard His voice but, in my heart, I felt He might be calling me in such a direction.

That evening, I was praying with friends and as I had done many times previous over the last two years and I asked them to pray about my future. I did not mention my thoughts about the priesthood. The wife of the couple prayed for me and felt she had been given a picture in her mind of Holy Communion and specifically the bread and wine. She said that she felt God was saying they would be an important thing for me in the future.

I began to pray more seriously about it and think through the implications. I spoke about it with my wife Kerry and asked her to pray too.

I did not make much further progress (and for the reasons outlined in the earlier section, was probably talking myself out of it) until I read Mission-shaped Church. It was a book CHP had published earlier in the year, but for a number of reasons I had not had a chance to read it. In the Autumn, I read it and was particularly struck when I read the following summary of a number of fresh expressions of church life:

“Some have yearned for a more authentic way of living, being and doing church, and this led to fresh thinking about what church can or should be. In part, the story of these expressions of church includes an element of disillusionment with the existing church and its values. In other expressions of church, motivation stems not from disillusionment, but from discovery.” [1]

At that point, the authors had my undivided attention. I too had felt disillusionment in the past with existing church structures but I also felt wholeheartedly committed to discovering new forms of church firmly rooted within the Anglican tradition. The vision of the Church of England that Mission-shaped Church put forward galvanized my thinking. Here was a church that I wanted to be a part of with a healthy and refreshing mixture of traditional models where they worked well combined with new ways of doing church for situations that needed it. The call to find and train entrepreneurial pioneer ministers jumped off the page at me in the same way that certain Scripture passages sometimes come alive in new ways, even though you’ve read the passage a hundred times before.

I have long had a passion to see people of my generation find faith in Jesus and those now coming through as the generation behind my own. From evangelistic events that I organized and in which I sometimes spoke at school and then University to being part of the pan-church ID event in Tunbridge Wells over the last couple of years, I long to see more people of my generation come to faith. At the same time, I realize that for many of my generation, the forms of church that we have traditionally offered will never help. The cultural barriers are enormous. One of my fundamental outlooks on life is that it does no good to criticize an institution from the outside. If you don’t like it, then be part of it and effect change from within. The way Mission-shaped Church described the challenge resonated with my experience. The call for the church to engage with the issues resonated with my hunger for change and its call for entrepreneurial ministers to lead the charge challenged me deeply to respond.

Ever since University, I have wanted to be a part of the Church for England for missiological reasons. I firmly believe that if this country is to be reached with the gospel, the Church of England will play a pivotal role. For good or ill, when you say ‘church’ to the average person in the street, they think of old buildings with steeples, clock towers, men (and now women too) in dog collars, baptisms, weddings and funerals. A recent report from the Church Heritage Forum entitled Building Faith in our Future stated that 86% of adults in Great Britiain had visited a church or place of worship in the previous year.[2] It is a tremendous mission opportunity. Other denominations would consider themselves blessed to get such natural footfall.

In addition to these events and feelings, I have listened to those around me. My vicar has considered it long overdue and described Kerry and I as having “vicar and vicar’s wife written all over us”, my closest friend Mark has prayed and discussed it with me. I trust him to tell me when I am blowing smoke and I know he would speak plainly. He has backed me. A work colleague who is currently in ordination training has provided an excellent sounding board and she has been supportive. My parents, who I expected to be difficult or downright dismissive, have been incredibly positive. Crucially, my wife has backed me. I know that this calling, if true and right, would have as much an impact on her, our daughter and any more future children, as it will on me. Her support and agreement has been vital.

In my heart, I feel strands of my experience and outlook on life, my spiritual hunger for those apart from Christ and the call of God coming together in a way that I cannot ignore.

My 100%

At the close of my last meeting, I said to my DDO that I had felt ‘spoken to’. The clarity and the challenge that she had brought to my situation was, I believe, straight from the heart of God. Since that meeting, I have prayed and considered my 20% in some depth. I have come to realize that actually there is nothing in my 20% that is a valid reason not to put myself forward to be a minister in the Church of England.

Being a Minister is not about being something ‘other’. At least in part it is about being a representative of the whole body, of being part of the body laos in the original sense of the word. A good priest is surely someone who can be an ordinary person, someone to whom the body can relate and yet someone who can help the body enter into the presence of God.

Being a Minister will mean that some people won’t talk to me, some will poke fun, most if not all will have a preconceived notion of who someone in a dog collar should be. However, anything I encounter that is upsetting will never be anything that our Lord has not already encountered before. Indeed, I cannot fully understand or deal with the issues such events raise unless I draw near to Christ. As Michael Ramsey says:

“Every ordained man must come near to the grief of Jesus, seeing with his eyes, feeling with his heart. We learn that any disappointment, any setback, any personal sorrow, or any wound to our pride can be made different if we are near to the grief of Jesus.”[3]

Being a Minister does not mean giving up all your time as I have feared. Just stating that fear of the loss of personal space has made me realize how foolish it is. In fact, the priest who has no time to reflect, to relax to give time to family or friends is not in a healthy situation in the first place.

There is a level at which I have clouded my own vision by not recognizing and valuing the gifts God has given me. For some time, in my work with the Liturgical Commission and other bodies within Church House, as an Anglican who worships in an evangelical charismatic setting and draws his roots from that tradition I have felt like a second class Christian. My tradition seems to be an object of ridicule in certain quarters because of the ‘flakier’ practices within the tradition. I have some sympathy. However to my shame, I have downplayed the voice of God and His ability to speak to me via the Holy Spirit. It is perhaps unsurprising that I have found it harder to hear Him as a result. Besides which, as Liz pointed out in our last interview, I should realize that charismatic Christians do not have a monopoly on hearing God’s voice. I believe that a key moment in the last few weeks was the day I realized my mistake and confessed this sin of denying God’s ability to intervene by His Spirit.

Ultimately then it comes down to whether I believe God is calling me and whether I choose to respond. I believe God is calling me. I feel His warmth and encouragement as I pursue this process. In the last month, with clearer thinking than I have had for some time, I look back over the last ten years and see that He has been sowing the seeds of this call since university. I now see that in a low-key way, my experiences with the University Christian Union resonate with experiences now being described in the interviews and in the books that I am reading about being a priest. I look back and see a good friend who I turned down when he asked me to lead a church plant with him on a Sheffield housing estate after I had left university and recognize the same fears that kept me from working with him then are the ones I am addressing now. I look back and remember comments and questions from work colleagues, friends, family about the priesthood and realize that some may have been recognizing a potential call in me long before I did.

I earlier quoted Dr Rowan Williams as he addressed General Synod for the first time. Dr Williams quote from St Augustine went on further than I stated above:

“What I am for you,” he said, “terrifies me. What I am with you consoles me. For you, I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian.” [4]

The seriousness of the call terrifies me and, I believe, rightly so. However, I am also comforted by the fact that I am asked to tend a flock who share my experience of being brought to new birth, baptised by water and the Spirit, recipients and givers of the grace of God. I am comforted by the knowledge that my flock would acknowledge and worship the same Lord who promises to never leave us nor forsake us.[5] I draw comfort that whilst taking on the role of a shepherd, I remain one of the sheep and that ultimately, the Good Shepherd promises never to end His watch.


[1] Mission-shaped Church(2004, Church House Publishing, London, p80)

[2] Building faith in our future (2004, Church House Publishing for the Church Heritage Forum, London, p3)

[3] The Christian Priest Today (Revised edition) (1985, SPCK, London, p85)

[4] Report of Proceedings Volume 34 No. 1 (2003, Church House Publishing, London, p1)

[5] Deuteronomy 31.6, Joshua 1.5, Hebrews 13.5

An interesting four weeks of church

I attended the local Anglo Catholic for the last of my four weeks yesterday. I have been asked to write up my experiences for my DDO and reflect on what I found new and exciting, what I thought was curious and what I found difficult. Since I’ve had some time today and while it is still fresh, I’ve sat down to write up my thoughts so here they are (names have been removed to protect the innocent):

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Review: A Curate’s Guide

The Curate's Guide

I have just finished reading The Curate’s Guide, edited by John Witcombe and published by Church House Publishing. While the quality of the writing varied depending on which of the authors had been allocated a particular subject, in general it has been a very good read and a book I’m very glad I picked up. Although titled for Curates (in a two part series with a book for Vicars), the book actually starts right at the start with the process of discernment and selection which is where I am at right now and thus primarily why I did read it.

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