I CAME to Christ in my early twenties. Almost immediately, it raised questions of how I spent my life: what was God’s will? Thinking about my vocation wasn’t a separate thing that came later: it was an immediate implication of my baptism and confirmation.
In fact, I would say that working out how to live as a Christian — my vocation — drove my discipleship and growth in faith rather than vice versa.
I was young, bright, enthusiastic, and often happy to take a lead; so I guess it was natural that several people suggested ordination to me. There didn’t seem to be much support available to start with. Either you entered “the process” (whatever that was) or you just got on with doing whatever it was you were supposed to do to decide.
I think I expected that filling in the diocesan application form meant that I had worked out what God wanted, and that I would be in training shortly afterwards. I had no idea how thoroughly I’d have to unpack myself and my faith, or how fundamental the process of discernment would be to my formation. We forget how little people know about the process of discernment and selection for ministry. Information and support has improved in many places, but we still have a long way to go.
I spent a long time in and out of the formal diocesan process: about ten years. What was emerging was that my calling from God didn’t seem to make much sense. It didn’t fit into any nice neat box, especially as I was also trying to juggle family commitments and run a flourishing Anglican charity.
I felt more and more compromised the closer I got to the BAP. My vocation, as best I could express it, felt squished in the “priest” box, but I couldn’t see a good alternative (if you had asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to express this). I could see I met lots of the criteria; I knew lots of clergy through my work; I had read lots of books — I was doing mission and ministry already.
AS THE BAP began, I felt a wave of God’s presence with me. Suddenly, all was calm. It didn’t matter now what the result was. God said it would be OK, regardless.
Everyone expected me to be recommended. Why would a capable, prayerful, young woman not get recommended? Because it isn’t my vocation, that’s why.
The call came from the DDO a few weeks after the BAP. I kind of knew what she was going to say: “Not recommended for training.”
I was heartbroken. There is no other way to put it. To deny it would diminish the conviction and commitment that people have when they offer themselves for ministry.
Reading my BAP report was hard. The BAP assessors don’t really understand you: not the complex, contradictory, inner you. How can they, in just a few days? But they do see you. They see your flaws and your merits; then they write it down.
Reading the report is like taking a good, hard, long look in a mirror. It is humbling, but, if you let it, it is transforming. It gives you a sketch of how others see you; and of ways in which you can allow God to change you. I learnt that I am too often self-centred, unintentionally patronising, and I want to fix everything.
AFTER many months, the grey fog of hurt started to lift. I found that, instead of the previous sense of heading towards something, there was just me and God. Not me and God and ordination. I felt freer, more confident in my faith.
Not being ordained meant that I had better get on with being a disciple now. My discipleship grew, and so did my confidence in my vocation to use the skills that I had been given to serve the Church. So it was that, not even 18 months after my BAP, I found myself at my new desk, seated in the middle of the BAP selection secretaries, with the task of helping the Church to grow the number of vocations to ministry. God of surprises, indeed!
The BAP assessors did get it right. It was painful, yes, but also wonderful and precious. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t stepped forward; if all those people that supported, deliberated over, and prayed for me hadn’t been there with me.
Vocation is something that emerges, and continues to emerge, throughout life — coaxed out by prayer and conversation, shaped by God, and confirmed by the church community. God has a plan for you; it just may be a surprising one.