Tag Archives: Ministry

Known in the unknown

Lots of you are asking me what’s happening about my ordination. The truth is there is a lot of detail yet to come, but instead of having this conversation multiple times (because to be honest I’m finding it really hard and painful to talk about right now…), I’m trying to put into words where plans as they stand are, and how I’m feeling about it (because putting things down on paper is sometimes a healing process for me).

Part of me wants to just bottle it up and say as little as I can, but the other half of me knows that in the last 18 months it is through being vulnerable as a church leader that God has taught me much, and ministered to others much too. So here I am being vulnerable and honest, and trying to make sense of things in the middle of a lot of unknowns. These are my reflections of where my head is at now. Tomorrow may be a different story.

I started my blog about 4 years ago when I was starting to train for Methodist ministry, having been accepted for formational training and beginning to pack up life in Cornwall and head to Birmingham with Louise a toddler and a few week old baby in tow.

In my first post I reflected on the certainty that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

4 years on, those words have been a strength in the uncertainty of living in lockdown. That nothing can ever separate me from God’s love, despite the growing feelings of separation and distance from church family, colleagues, and friends.

2020 was to be my year of Reception into Full Connexion and Ordination. While there’s been lots of times of discernment and testing along the way – committees, reports, assignments and reflection – June 2020 has for all that time been the time and place it was all to culminate as I attend the Methodist Conference, formally enter into covenant relationship with the Methodist Church, and become an ordained presbyter. Coronavirus has thrown all that into the air, and it is not fully clear where all the various aspects and details will land.

I’m feeling a bit thrown in the air too. Minsitry is both energising and draining right now, but it is hugely different to the ‘norm’ formational training prepared me for. Most days there are many moments of not knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, or even who I am. The one deeply valuable thing that has got me through is that formational training at Queens didn’t train me to do a job, but help form me into someone equipped to respond to the diversity of varied contexts. Now more than ever those are skills that have been required!

Much of what was known has changed around us and for me I’m daily dealing with the questions of What ministry should look like in lockdown.

  • What is my role as a church leader now?
  • How do I help congregations stay connected when we can’t physically be together?
  • How do I respond to pastoral need when all I know of that need is based on what I hear from people – when I can’t ‘see’ non-verbal communication, when I don’t see people’s reactions to things, when I don’t get the off-the-cuff feedback during and after worship, meetings and events?
  • How do I comfort the grieving and hurting when I can’t hug them, hold their hand or physically be with them?
  • What is the future going to look like?
  • What is my purpose right now?

Alongside that cacophony of questions, I’m grappling with about role, purpose, and identity, I’m also dealing the implications of the changes to what was meant to happen in June 2020. This simple exacerbates the struggle, and today I’m struggling with it all. Not sure who I am or what I’m becoming. While the formational training I’ve undertaken was preparing me to first be a probationer then a presbyter –now I’m temporarily going to become something in between the two, in a way that’s still not quite clear to me.

So, what is going to happen? Here’s a run down of where things currently stand. I want to say from the outset how much I appreciate the grace, love, and patience of those who are making these decisions and caring for us at this time. I know they feel the pain and struggle too and would love things to be able to be ask they had already been planned to be. I should also say this comes from my perspective as a presbyteral ordinand, for my diaconal colleagues the process has other nuances that I’ve not yet fully understood either!

Testimony Service

A testimony service is usually held within the Methodist District in which ordinand’s are stationed prior to Reception into Full Connexion and Ordination. This has been postponed, to happen when a physical gathering is possible.

Part of the service will include my sharing testimony to pursuing God’s call to this vocation, and right now with all the questions around identity and purpose circulating in my head, I’m not quite sure how I’d even attempt to put into words where my head and heart are right now. For me postponing seems to me to be the right step.

While disappointed in one sense, I’m ok with this, as I’d much rather have opportunity to physically gather with friends and colleagues in my District, circuit, and churches.

Retreat

Prior to Reception into Full Connexion and ordination (which usually happening on the Sunday of Methodist Conference – see below), ordinand’s attend a retreat. This won’t happen as planned – we can’t meet together. However, the retreat team are going to be supporting us at a distance in the next few weeks, and a retreat will be arranged for us prior to ordination.

What is most panful about this is that as we prepare for Reception into Full Connexion, I won’t be able to share that preparation time with colleagues who’ve become friends over the last 4 years. Word cannot describe just how much I’ve come to love and value their love, care, companionship, humour, grace, wisdom, friendship and more. They have come to be demonstration of the Methodist connexion, diverse and different, yet wise, loving and gracious people of God.

Reception into Full Connexion (RiFC) and Ordination

Usually both happen on the Sunday Methodist conference meets, with RiFC happening in the morning and Ordination the afternoon. This year RiFC will happen, though differently to initially planned, but ordinations are postponed.

One of the challenges I, fellow ordinand’s and the wider Methodist church are facing right now is that these two aspects of the process by which ordinand’s are received into presbyteral ministry usually happen on the same day, and are intricately connected to one another. One is dependent on the other, and Methodism simply copes with the anomaly of the reality one has to happen before the other, but as they usually happen with a few hours of each other, it isn’t typically much of an issue.

But for me, this is going to be different, and unpicking what the distinction between the two will mean for me and my cohort is currently not entirely clear.

The most helpful definition I have found so far in making sense of this is in Methodism’s Deed of Union which states:

Those whom the Methodist Church recognises as called of God and therefore receives into its ministry as presbyters or deacons shall be ordained by the imposition of hands as expressive of the Church’s recognition of the minister’s personal call.

Deed of Union, Clause 4, para 6, Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church, Vol 2 (2019) p.213.

To me, this holds the two events together, with RiFC being the receiving of ministers who have been tested and formed, into relationship with the Methodist Church. Then Ordination being a public declaration of the church’s recognition of personal calling with the laying on of hands. Ordination is not into the Methodist Church, but “the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. [Ordination Service, Methodist Worship Book, p298.]

However, it probably needs saying that my (admittedly limited!) reading of this and other related documents does not entirely match with what we are being told will be the case. We’ve been told we only become presbyters once both aspects have been completed.

Unsurprisingly, CPD does not cater for global pandemic within its procedures, and so interpretation and application are varying. This is a source of frustration and uncertainty for all right now. I’m trying to be patient and gracious, but it is painful too.

Reception into Full Connexion

RiFC is going to take place via video link, as part of what will be the Online Methodist Conference 2020. The details are yet to be finalised about how this will work, but there will be ability for all to join via an online stream.

In normal times, as I understand it the formal purpose of RiFC is a simple one, the conference must be presented with the candidates to be received. This includes ordinand’s as well as those who may be transferring from other denominations or from the world church, some of which may already be ordained. Conference then votes to receive them and ordained those not yet ordained.

But RiFC is ‘normally’ a much bigger occasion as part of the conference, and for several years has been part of its Sunday worship. During my two years of training, after encouragement from our tutors, I attended this service and found it moving, uplifting and knew the tangible presence of God. I’ve been looking forward to when it would be my service of RiFC ever since.

As part of RiFC candidates stand with one another before conference, conference being the fullest and most representative way that Methodist’s physically gather. Representative of Methodism’s emphasis and praxis of mutual conferring. Representative of the Methodist church in all its colour and diversity, and well as the wider national and global church with representatives from other churches and overseas also there. As part of RiFC the whole of conference would stand before us to signal its receiving us into Full Connexion and affirmation of God’s calling.

For me personally, the loss of what RiFC would have been is probably the thing I feel most pained about. I will be sat in my house, not physically at conference. I will not be standing shoulder to shoulder with those I have journeyed with for 4+ years, travelling with each other in some of our highest and lowest moments.

Nor will I be able to witness for myself the standing affirmation of conference, as representative of the body of Christ. (at least, I hope not, because watching a load of video feeds would lead to seeing a lot of people’s crotches! #MethodistCrotchGate)

Perhaps in part because there’s a lot of detail yet to come, it’s hard for me to get my head around how I feel about what is not and subsequently what is going to happen. It is a source of anxiety, uncertainty and disappointment at the moment and I’m not really sure how to look forward to something I was so looking forward to when I no longer know how it will look or feel. Many ministers have told me how special RiFC was for them. For the rest of my ministry I will not share that experience with my colleagues.

Ordination

Ordination, by nature of the laying on of hands if nothing else, needs to be a physical occasion, so is postponed until it is safe and logistically possible to happen, but is envisaged to happened at some point in the next 12 months. For now, I must wait in the now and not yet. And while I know postponement is the right thing to do, it is still hard when so much has been building towards what is now not going to be as it was to be.

Where does this leave me?

There is still much to make sense of, but for now we have been told that after RiFC we will continue to be ordinand’s until the time that ordination happens. Up to now the term ‘ordinand’ has not existed in any formal way within Methodism, used to refer to those who have completed probation and are heading towards RiFC and Ordination. For us being an ordinand will continue beyond RiFC, so we will be a bit of a temporary anomaly.

In practice, while RiFC will be a confirmation of the decisions oversight bodies have already made, a marker that we have completed training and will be ordained, we’ll in many senses still be seen as probationers in terms of oversight and ministry, though not entirely – hence feeling a bit like we’ll be between probationer and presbyter.

In practical terms it will make little difference to how local ministry looks for me. But personally it feels like RiFC will be a bit of a non-event, confirming that which has already been confirmed; continuing that which is already the case – being an ordinand; completing the business of conference that must be completed – perhaps without the same sense of worship, celebration and physical gathering as part of the Methodist, national and global church; pointing towards ordination which will at an as yet un-known time happen. For the meantime I’m left feeling I’m in limbo, not sure who I am.

Known in the unknown

So that is where I am. Today at least. Tomorrow may be different. Lots of un-knowns. Not sure what will happen. Not entirely sure how I feel. Not really able to talk about it without tears (as my Circuit Leadership Team discovered today who responded with love and care as best as zoom could offer!).

But despite all the logistics, practicalities, emotions, and uncertainties, I am trying to hold on as tightly as I can to where I began earlier, the truth that nothing can separate me from God’s love. God’s call on my life has not changed, even though much around me has.

And I know that friends up and down the connexion are praying for me, and my fellow ordinand’s. I know that God’s love is personified in those prayers and messages of encouragement and affirmation. Today it’s hard. I know that God’s love has not waned, that God knows me, my heart and today’s pain. That even in the pain of the un-known, I am know by God.

What sacrifice? New Places, New landscapes, New Life.

Some initial thoughts on what Holy Week during the coronavirus pandemic might challenge us to reflect on for the future mission and ministry of God’s people.

Reflecting on my first year of ministry, Maundy Thursday was one of the stand out moments where I made new discoveries about myself, my calling and how I inhabit the role of Presbyter within the Methodist Church and the churches in which I serve.

That year, for the first time in my life I washed feet. Washing the feet of worshippers that day and then sharing the Lord’s Supper together was a time in which, through my own experience and practice, I discovered new insights into what it means to be a minister of word and sacrament, to lead and serve.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John 13:3-5, NRSV

Jesus’ radical act subverts the cultural expectations of the day as he kneels to wash his disciples feet. I noted in my journal at the time how moving and humbling the act of foot washing had been for me. How it had helped me to understand more deeply and feel more fully what I already knew in my head to be true, the importance of servanthood to ministry. Ministry that inhabits an attitude of kindness and compassion, love and humility.

Within the Methodist Ordination service, the President says to ordinands:

“In [God’s] name you are
[…]
to lead God’s people in worship, prayer and service;
to minister Christ’s love and compassion;
to serve others in whom you serve the Lord himself.”

Methodist Worship Book p302

Looking back on 2 years of ministry, I don’t think there’s been a moment where I have felt both my being and my doing have inhabited that calling as fully and intensely as I felt on my first Maundy Thursday in ministry.

But 2020 is different. It could hardly be more different. As I woke yesterday morning, I was feeling bereft that I would not be washing feet, presiding over the Lord’s Supper, gathering together as God’s people as Jesus did with his disciples the night before his crucifixion.

Holy Week, unsurprisingly feels different this year. In some ways it doesn’t feel like Holy Week – partly for the simple reason that the rituals and habits that are meaning making for me, and contribute towards what Easter normally ‘feels’ like have been removed as we cease gathering for fellowship and worship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  

A friend and colleague shared similar feelings on Twitter. His asking echoed with my feeling bereft and made me think even more of those feelings on Maundy Thursday 2019, reminding me afresh of what I had experienced and how I had felt last year.

But what was helpful, was that it also stimulated me to look forwards, to what I was about to do, and begin to see that the qualities of ministry I recognised so strongly last Maundy Thursday might still be encountered in new places, under our current new landscape.

Instead of all that had been scheduled in the diary for Maundy Thursday, I spent the morning working with Bognor Foodbank, who are distributing food parcels from the church hall at Bognor Regis Methodist during the pandemic.

What I realised in the course of the day is that those qualities of kindness and compassion, love and humility, were there again in this different opportunity for serve God’s people. New places, same ministry.

They were not in a towel and basin but in carrier bags of staple foods.

They were not in bread and wine but tins of tomatoes and custard.

They were not experienced in gathered people for worship, but in a queue of socially distanced people in need.

They were not found through serving the people of the church itself, but through serving God’s world.

John’s Gospel account of Jesus washing his disciples feet goes on:

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

John 13:15; 20. NRSV

If the act of washing feet last year was a symbol and signpost for me to Jesus the servant-hearted leader, and my being and doing was a signpost to others too, then I’ve come to realise my work with the Foodbank was an act of servant-heartedness itself. With that realisation, I’ve felt encouraged and less bereft, but also challenged as I reflect on that experience and how it may shape future ministry.

Henri Nouwen writes:

“For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his [sic] time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his [sic] service.”

The Wounded Healer, Darton Longman and Todd, p.xxii

There is importance for our spirituality in what have been the ‘normal’ rhythms and ritual of worship and ministry. We are creatures of habit and the rhythm feeds our faith, reminding us of that which has gone before us. Building us up, brick by brick, act by act.

Yet, while recognising that, as we turn to the suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday, as we refrain from gathering together at the cross, and all those other things we ‘normally’ do on Good Friday, I’ve felt challenged to ask of myself whether I’ve placed too heavy a meaning into the ritual and the rhythm. For those same qualities I felt so intensely as I washed feet, I also found through serving carrier bags of food to those in need. Is there ‘stuff’ that has become ‘normal’ in my life that needs sacrificing for the sake of serving a suffering world?

Does Jesus look on me and say Father, forgive; for they do not know what they are doing? (Luke 23:34)

As I stand, alone, at the cross today,
As I stand distanced from my sisters and brothers,
As I stand before my Saviour who suffered and died at the hands of cruelty,
As I call to mind how society, political power and religious leaders rejected Jesus,
I’m left asking myself what sacrifice might I need to make?
As I watch Jesus die, I ask what needs to die to make space for resurrection to new life?

As I wrestle at the cross today, I’m convicted that this wrestling is not only for me, but God’s church as a whole.

How will coronavirus – the isolation, the distance the suffering, the sacrifice – change our experience of Holy Week and Easter? Change the very ways that we are church? What sacrifices will our experience challenge us to make, for the sake of serving a suffering world?  

I am convinced these questions are imperative for the future mission and ministry of God’s people. For in standing at the cross, gazing upon our suffering Christ, holding ourselves open to be challenged and changed by the God who loves us, we allow ourselves to enter into the unknown mysteries of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice, and allow ourselves space to journey towards the discovery of what resurrection to new life after lockdown will look like.