How did your BAP go?

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.

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Vulnerability


A friend shared this image with me this afternoon, and it spoke volumes to me. “I thought this could be your mantra,” she said.

What is amazing, is that this morning I was talking to a mentor of mine about baggage. More specifically, we were talking about my baggage and how it has shaped me and continues to shape me. She then asked me, “how do you think having your daughter has changed you? How do the two link together?”

Vulnerability.

That’s how they link together. In my darkest moments, when I was really struggling with who I was and what I was worth, I was vulnerable in every sense. Since then I have spent much of my time trying to control the way I am seen and the way I handle myself, so that I’m not vulnerable. But the vulnerability actually remains, it’s just that I was hiding it from people. So my mentor and I unpicked the issue of vulnerability some more. As the thread unraveled, I spoke of how in labour I was physically and emotionally vulnerable, and since then I’ve also been vulnerable; I’ve been stripped raw. Through that rawness and my own vulnerability I’ve had no choice but to let go and make myself spiritually vulnerable too. That way I can really lean into God, listen to him, and receive from him.

It was a wonderful, rich conversation. And then I came home to this picture. Wow! What confirmation! Someone who was right there beside me in those dark moments, who knew me at my most vulnerable, bringing me such truth.

It’s ok to be vulnerable. I mean, we all are inside. But it’s ok to show it too.

How has your past shaped you? How can your vulnerability be your strength?

I Will Wait For You

 So goes the famous Mumford and Sons’ song. And it is so important to wait, and to be patient. A wise colleague of mine put different quotes all around school, getting children thinking about different values. One that was on a door near my classroom has really stuck with me: “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Wow! 

  
Now, I am an impatient person. The amount of uncooked pasta I eat whilst I wait for it to cook is silly. I could just go away and wait the cooking time of 8-10 minutes instead of getting frustrated that it hasn’t cooked yet. I read a friend’s blog recently, and laughed, as she has the same habits I do when it comes to patience, waiting and food.

Why do I find it so hard to wait? I’m just so eager to get on with things straight away; a new puppy who has been let off the lead in the park for the first time. However, the last year I have been hearing God telling me to wait; to slow down and be patient. It was relatively easy to slow down, as I was pregnant, teaching and tired. Now though, it’s different. Yes, I’m tired, because I have a 12 week old baby and so my sleep isn’t what it used to be. Yes, I don’t quite have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. But, what I do have is head space and time. Those two things can be quite dangerous, as I look around at friends and peers and feel rather un-busy. And that’s dangerous as a new mum, because if you’re feeling a bit lonely and an opportunity arises to not only help others, but also be with other people… you might just do it. Suddenly though, you are wrapped up in so many new things, it could become very difficult to give yourself enough time to relax. Because, actually, being a new mum is very hard, and rest is important.

This morning I went to a group hosted by church, Extra Time, which is aimed at the older person. However, the lovely couple who run it always say it is really for anyone who has a bit of extra time on their hands. So, my lovely daughter and I went. A wonderful lady, the Revd. Pam Wilding, was talking about her journey as a Christian, following God’s call on her life. Pam worked for many many years as a missionary in Kenya, and it was brilliant to hear about her journey. She told a story of how, before women were ordained, somebody sat and said that “women pollute the church”. How dreadful! Now, there are still many who believe that women shouldn’t be ordained in the Church, but I’ve not really experienced that growing up. I’ve known many women be ordained, and seen it encouraged, even in my own mum’s life. I have experienced and witnessed the wonderful ministries at the hands of women, and seen hearts reached through powerful, spiritual women. For me, I can think of nothing more normal than both men and women ordained as priests in the Church.

But that wasn’t the case for too many women. When I think of how patient so many had to be, to wait on the Lord until their call could be fully realised, I feel childlike. Lamentations 3: 25 says this: The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. So that’s my continued focus, as a new mum: to wait on God, until He tells me to move. It’s not to say I can just sit back and be idle. It’s just time to be content with where I am, as I wait for Him to reveal the next part of the path. It is time to be content with extra time to rest, and extra head space to seek Him. It is time to be content with a new life, and a new mission.

“I’m letting go of who I was; the old has gone, the new has come.”

Yesterday evening a friend was preaching at church. I haven’t really attended the evening service since my daughter was born, as it has been tricky with feeding and routine. Yet the service was vital for me to attend. You see, on Saturday my friend told me she was gearing up to throw down a big challenge to the church. Something about that made me realise it was important for me to be there… So I could here this challenge myself. I didn’t want to be like Timothy, and miss out on the actual event. I didn’t want to hear the message second hand.

What a challenge! In a nutshell, what are we doing in our everyday lives to share God’s love? Are we as passionate about the Gospel as we should be? She shared a picture of the church teetering on the edge of a cliff, with a choice: leap off into the unknown and trust God; or step backward into the relative safety of our lives to which we have become accustomed. The title of this post is a line from a song she challenged us to use as a response.

For the past few years, this has been a recurring theme in my life. It’s how I’ve been living for some time, with choice after choice after choice. Each time I have felt that God has been saying, “Go on! Leap! I’ll catch you! But if you’re not ready… Don’t worry!” So I’ve been backing away from that cliff for some time. I’ve not really been ready to leap fully into the unknown, and I’m still not. Except recently, I’ve been hearing God’s voice clearer than before. And his message is different. Now, he’s saying, “Go on! Leap! Even if you’re not ready, even if you stumble, trust me.” Yet I still haven’t quite done it. I still haven’t quite let go.

  

I am living a new life, as a mother. It’s the reason behind this blog: I have a new mission to explore and live out. I’ve had to let go of so much, and it’s all worth it, as I gaze at my daughter’s beautiful, happy, shining face. As I face this new mission, with so many decisions ahead of me, I must lean into God and let go completely. I must leap. I must learn how to fly.