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Angela Tilby: When a BAP ends with a ‘no’

05 July 2019


THIS is a difficult time of year for those whose dreams of ordination were ended when they were not recommended for training by a bishops’ advisory panel (BAP) (Features, 7 July 2017). Even for those who are later recommended, a first rejection can rankle. Sometimes, the pain lasts for years, and leads to continuing bitterness towards the Church and towards God.

Of course, directors of ordinands and vocations advisers remind candidates that no one has a right to ordination, that the process of discernment is genuine, and that everyone has a vocation from God, which may or may not be lived out through ordained ministry.

But, although this is true, many candidates who are not selected for ordained ministry simply feel that they have failed. However much their diocese might try to pick up the pieces, the intense process of conversation, self-examination, and scrutiny has come to an abrupt end, and they can be left flailing around and often feeling unsupported.

Given the pressure to produce vocations, it is hard for those responsible to continue anything more than a perfunctory ministry of care to those who are not selected. It is often not very obvious how a former candidate might continue the discernment process. Some are “shuffled” into Reader ministry, which is often not a good idea: there is a distinctiveness about Reader ministry which is compromised when it is treated as second best.

The Church of England’s selection process is rigorous, but not infallible. Sometimes, it recommends people for training who go on to wreak havoc. I have a bad conscience in this regard over a few former students, but it is difficult to stop someone who has been accepted by a BAP. There are also rare occasions when a bishop is right to overturn the selectors’ decision and ordain an individual against their recommendations. I am also aware that the current criteria for selection, with their emphasis on leadership and mission, could discriminate against more reticent, pastorally focused personalities, who offer themselves at great cost.

I wonder whether groups of dioceses could not collaborate on setting up “post-BAP” conferences for those who are not selected, to help them to work through the issues with those who, having had the same experience of rejection, have found other paths to fulfilling God’s call.

It should always be remembered by those who encourage clerical vocations that an ordination may be more of a loss to the Church than a gain, and that, for some individuals, an authentic call may involve testing priestly ministry before finding what they are really meant to be doing. After all, Jesus came to save the world, not just the Church, and Christian integrity in public and private life is often more important than the number of dog-collars.

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