I figured I may be asked this question a fair bit in the coming days (perhaps even weeks), and so thought I would make comment here.
For those that don’t know, BAP stands for Bishops’ Advisory Panel: it is an (almost) 3 day residential process, by which candidates are tested and interviewed so that advice may be given to Bishops about their suitability for theological training. Or in simpler terms, can they be recommended to train for ordination (priesthood)?
I am not sure why, or how, but I had come to the conclusion that it was likely to be stressful and not all that enjoyable. How wrong I was! Half way through I thought I must be doing this wrong, I am having so much fun. As I said to my husband, I am not sure there was an hour of the waking day where I didn’t laugh. I mean, I do like to think I’m quite a happy-go-lucky person, quite joyful. But this was something else. It felt really good to try and explain the call I believe God has placed on my life (to ordained ministry); to discuss how we sustain ourselves spiritually; to say evening prayer in a beautiful chapel space; to run through a meadow and not help but sing (or shout) out praises to God. We were told how we would feel exhausted afterwards, because of the inevitable decrease of adrenaline… and yet, I feel revitalised.
I have, of course, done lots of sleeping. And I have debriefed with a couple of really helpful people (my husband, who all kudos goes to for being so brilliantly willing to take a week off work and have adventures with our daughter, and my mum, especially).
Of course, I may feel differently when I hear the outcome in a week’s time. But I am not sure I will. One of the advisors led us in communion on the final morning, and she said we all leave changed by our joined experience together. And it is true. I cannot quite put my finger on it yet, but I am changed.
So, enough of me, and more of what a BAP actually entails…
I arrived mid afternoon, and was greeted with a door key and post (top tip, get people to send you post, it is SO encouraging). I settled my bits and bobs into my room and then came downstairs to see who (or what) I could find. If you find yourself at Shallowford House, it is beautiful. The grounds are extensive and the gardens are beautiful. We spent a lot of time outside, either by ourselves or in groups. Around 5pm we all gathered together for the first time: advisors and candidates. Our panel secretary (wonderful lady!) guided us through some icebreaker discussions, and I left feeling a part of something. It was great to finally meet our advisors, the people who would be testing our call, and our fellow candidates. After this we had a brief pause before completing our Personal Inventory.
The Personal Inventory is a series of questions split into 3 categories: Vocational, Pastoral, Educational. These 3 categories are then given to specific advisors who will be looking at criteria relating to them. It is timed, and so I started at the end and worked my way backwards. I found it a fantastic exercise, one in which I really had to think hard about what I believe about God, myself and everything in between. There were some questions which I couldn’t wait to discuss further in my interviews, but that never came up. Nonetheless, a great start.
Afterwards we had dinner (amazing food, the whole time) after which we were given our Pastoral exercise. This is an opportunity for you to show how you would respond to a pastorally sensitive and complicated scenario, as you are now. This is given out st the beginning, but only returned completed before departure. In turn, this was followed by prayer in the chapel. Then, the bar was open and so we (the candidates) enjoyed a drink together (alcoholic and non-) and got to know each other. We were a full BAP, with 2 groups of 8 and 7 respectively. It was fantastic to find out about where we had come from and little more about our journeys to this point.
I had an interesting night’s sleep, mainly because my curtains didn’t quite shut in the middle. I wasn’t disturbed by the trains, as some were, though that’s probably because I’m a heavy sleeper. I would bring ear plugs and an eye mask, if you are at all worried about how you might sleep. I did sleep fairly well, and felt rested on both subsequent days.
The entire first morning, from 9am until 12.30pm was spent delivering our 5 minute presentations and leading our 13 minute discussions. This was one of my favourite bits of the BAP. It was incredibly fascinating to hear other people’s presentations and the discussions that flowed from them were in depth and thought provoking. It can be nerve-wracking, even for a teacher, but your fellow candidates are willing you on and take an active part so your life is made easier. Our discussions ranged from whether children’s spirituality is just the icing on the cake in an increasingly de-churched world to how mentorship is useful in leadership; somebody spoke of the recent Met Gala and whether we should be outraged, or use it as an opportunity to outreach and talk about our faith. Fascinating.
Lunch followed (again, brilliant food), and then it was time for interviews. You either have 2 on the 2nd day, and 1 on the 3rd day, or vice versa. I had 1 on the 2nd day, and 2 on the 3rd day. The rest of the time you are free. As I said, the grounds are beautiful, and the chapel is a lovely space. I spent some time in prayer on my own, time with other candidates preparing and much time with candidates laughing. I also spent some time away on my own reflecting on and completing the pastoral exercise.
Over the 2nd and 3rd day we had more opportunity for prayer together, through Communion, Evening Prayer and Compline. It was wonderful to sing together, with nothing but our voices. Though these are optional and not part of them testing your vocation, I found them to be a moving time and there was a very real sense of the presence of God. In fact, I think all these opportunities to worship together were fully attended by all. There was one moment when we had just finished our worship and were due to go for dinner, but I just had to stay and sing. The oldest member of our group of candidates asked if he could stay with me: it blessed my heart for the two of us to sing with joy together.
As we finished our final interviews and came into the lounge, the other candidates applauded and cheered us. Perhaps I was blessed with a group of fantastic people, but I imagine not. Because there is no fixed quota, you are not in competition with each other. That in itself fosters a feeling of togetherness and community. It was a shared experience, and I hope to see how our journeys progress in the future. We finished with worship, and tea (of course). The advisors went to their first decision making meeting, and we departed Shallowford to return to our lives.
And so, I am changed in an as yet unknown way. It will be another week until I find out their recommendations and read about my time with them from their point of view. Regardless of outcome, one fact remains. I am called, by God, to live out my whole life as worship to him.
May it be so. Amen.