We have entered the season of Petertide ordinations, where those who have been training for the past two or three years in colleges and parishes across the country, finally reach that point that they have been working towards.
But there are a small number who won’t have what they have been working towards realised today, or indeed in the future. There are those who were not recommended for training and those who have been called to a different path during training, and I am sure there are many others who will find this time of year hard.
I have just completed three years of training, I studied part-time and continued working. It has been hard work but also an absolute pleasure. I have met some amazing friends…and some not so amazing people – it’s okay to say that, we can’t like or get along with everyone!
I am one of those who was due to be ordained next weekend but won’t be and I realised that there is little or even nothing written about not being ordained at the end of training. So, I hope that this might help towards dispelling the feeling of failure and the fear of the future.
One of the largest misunderstandings, I believe, is that the discernment of your calling stops at the point of recommendation for training. That the path is clear, you will train for two or three years and at the end you will enter the cathedral, take your charge and be ordained. What I want to say, is that, discernment never stops. It continues. It is ongoing, and that is how it should be. To stop, is to stop listening to God. And, in that listening, you may find you are called to something other than ordination – that’s okay! You are in training for a reason, it doesn’t just have to end with a collar.
As someone who falls into the latter of those two options, I have been told ‘well, you chose not to be ordained’. That’s like telling someone who is ordained and having a hard time in parish ‘well you chose to be ordained’. This shows at best a distinct lack of understanding of what calling is. Yes, there is choice, but that comes from listening, from prayer, from making really hard decisions, and is not a comment on what you are doing! People will assume that because you aren’t doing something the same way as them, then you are saying that what they are doing is wrong.
To try and explain what your ‘calling’ is, is hard at the best of times, but it is even harder to explain that the call on your life has changed, and that ordination isn’t where God may be calling you; I have found that those who are due to be ordained imminently have had a really hard time understanding this.
There is, and will be, whether conscious or unconscious, an assumption that you have just made this difficult and often painful decision, out of the air! That you woke up one morning and decided that you couldn’t be bothered. Well, I can assure you that for me, there were many tears, shouting and anxiety. There were endless discussions with my spiritual director, with my tutor, with family and friends for more than a year – there was no plucking out of the air, and the feeling of judgement from those who are part of your support network is as painful as the decision that was finally come to.
To our friends being ordained, we have walked with you through this journey, we have prayed with and for you, we have supported you when there have been doubts along the way; because we know that the essay that feels like it might tip you over the edge will get done, we know how hard the last two or three years have been on your families, friends and forget a social life! We know, because we have had the privilege of calling you friend, of being with you and hopefully, for many many years to come. The only thing we ask of you now, is to be kind, ask how we are doing, to be aware that in the decisions we have made there is pain, it hasn’t been easy and we are grieving.
What I am certain of is that whether you are ordained or not, God has a path for you. Being ordained isn’t the be all and end all. You are no less sacred or holy, no less worthy – you are a child of God, your sacredness is intrinsic to your very being. Being true and authentic in how you engage with the world is realising what is being asked of you by God – not you’re your DDO, vocations adviser, your training college, or friends.
Remember, ordination is not the only way to be fruitful, to serve, or to minister to your community – how ever that is made up and wherever it is. What is important, is that you listen to and trust in God. They have a plan for you. It might feel like you have been cut loose and are in a whirlwind. I believe that you are firmly tethered to the divine creator, the one who will guide you, the one who holds onto you. One of the things that I struggled with, was the lack of clarity on what it is I was supposed to be doing – that is because I like to know what I am doing and when. What I would say is this, it will become clearer, and it will be in the most unexpected way; through a conversation, through something you read or see as you walk to the shop to pick up a pint of milk…but you will be shown, you will feel it. Trust in God.
This weekend, there will be WhatsApp chats, social media posts, live streamed services from cathedrals and churches of ordinations to both the diaconate and priesthood. If you find that hard to see, to talk about or to watch, it’s okay not to engage with it directly. If you are invited to an ordination service, in actual person (I know, the very thought!) and you would find that too painful or difficult, you don’t have to go. Talk to the person who has invited you, they have done so because they want you at a really important event in their life, you must mean a great deal to them. But it is okay to decline, but let them know you will be praying for them. It may be that it is just the day itself that you can’t face, and if that is the case, maybe arrange a celebration catch up in the following weeks.
I have amazing friends being ordained this weekend and next weekend, and I love them deeply and I will be praying for them. However, I have chosen to retreat from the world for a couple of weeks. Not because I don’t wish them well or that I don’t support them, but because it is too much for me.
For those who are to be ordained this Petertide or later in the year at Michaelmas, please spare a thought for your friends and for anyone who might find this time of year difficult. Believe me when I say, we are praying for you and your future ministry, we are genuinely happy for you – you will be amazing, I am sure. Go well, be amazing and we will see you on the other side.