To all reading this blog for the first time: welcome! To all who have read it before: welcome back!
My name is Natalie, and I’m the newest recruit of the Way2 Community. Having attended a lecture given by David Horrell (professor of New Testament studies at the University of Exeter) less than 48 hours ago, about how we might understand the identity of the early Jews and Christians – in which he suggested that what you choose to share about your identity is often ideologically charged – here are the aspects of my identity which I would like to share with you (ideology and all!) I am proud to hail from the county whose name means ‘Land of Summer’ and is home to the best cheese and ciders around (Somerset), am an avid dog lover, a Harry Potter nerd, a fan of baking (and eating) cakes, and have recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in Theology. So, how did I end up relocating deeper into the West Country than I ever thought I would? Upon nearing my graduation, having begun to explore my calling with a Vocations Advisor in my Diocese, I realised that a great decision lay before me: do I continue to discern my calling ‘on the side’ of my other commitments, or do I take the opportunity to give it my all and throw myself into a completely new way of life which seeks to serve and listen to God? That I am writing for this blog is answer enough!
Since moving to Falmouth 12 days ago, I have begun settling into community life. I am developing new routines, meeting lots of people (trying desperately to remember their names!), figuring out how to negotiate the quirky Cornish road junctions, and doing all of the other things that go with moving to a new place. Our first week in Falmouth was very relaxed, as we set up our house and settled in. I learnt that my non-parish placement will be with the Chaplaincy team at Penryn campus, which is shared by Falmouth University and the University of Exeter, and after meeting some of the staff and seeing the chaplaincy building I’m very excited for this placement to begin. I have also met the incumbent who I will be working with for my parish placements, have been to one of the two churches that I will be based in and attended my first evening class with the SWMTC third year ordinands. While no two days will be the same, there are important parts of each day that are consistent: our coming together as a community to share Morning and Evening Prayer, and eating meals together. We feel that it is important for us to share fellowship, and to sustain a steady rhythm of prayer that brings us together as a community.
My time in Cornwall has also been used to undertake some self-reflection. A few events have instigated this, such as my first evening class. Thus far, my experience of theological studies has been from a purely academic perspective, in which my personal faith has played little part. It was, therefore, a surprise to me when in my first lecture we were asked to choose a few verses from the chapter we were studying which we might base a sermon on and to identify the key points that we would wish to convey in that sermon. I found this task extremely difficult (which is not particularly surprising, given that I have never written a sermon before!) and felt rather foolish when I fumbled my way through an explanation of the verses which I had chosen. Upon later reflection, it occurred to me that my approach to reading the Bible has always been to see what I, personally, can learn from the passage that I am reading – rarely has it occurred to me to consider questions such as “what might someone who is [in a particular situation] think of this text?” or “how might this passage be misinterpreted?” My approach to the Bible must – and shall – change, as I am now aware of my tendency to read and study it for my own interest and growth rather than for others’.
Another, much stranger, cause of my self-reflection has been my dreams – or, rather, one dream in particular. I am no stranger to peculiar dreams, but since moving to Falmouth I have had vividly eccentric dreams every night. Some are so bonkers that they can only be the result of my imagination going into overdrive, with no subconscious meaning to them! One dream, however, stuck in my mind for some time. In this dream, I was engaged to marry someone who I knew and liked well enough but wasn’t convinced that I wanted to marry. I was anxious and dreading the wedding, and as the day drew closer I felt increasingly uneasy. By the day of the wedding, I had made up my mind that I would not marry this man and did not go. Some days later (I’m guessing – the passing of time is extremely unrealistic in my dreams!) our families came together to persuade me that I had made a mistake, and their convincing arguments swayed me to agree to marry this man… again! Although my feelings towards him had not changed, the urgings of the two families convinced me the marriage was in my best interests. I’m afraid that those of you wanting to know how the story ended will never know, as I woke up before my dream-self ever got to the (second) wedding day! This certainly wasn’t the weirdest dream that I have ever had, but that it lingered in my thoughts for so long afterwards bothered me. It occurred to me one day that the reason I was so bothered by this dream was that I could see a lot of elements of my real self in the dream version of myself. Whilst I would never go so far as to marry someone just because I was told that it was the right thing to do, I can recall many occasions in my life when I have been persuaded to do things that I was not comfortable doing because others have said that I should. I know that I am a people-pleaser, and often give the answers that I think people want to hear rather than admitting the truth, but could this willingness to please others ever be detrimental to my wellbeing? What could I allow myself to be talked into, just because someone else makes a strong argument for it? How far would I get myself into a difficult situation before I said no? As I discern whether I am called to a life of ministry and service, I need to be aware that I will be asked to do many things, likely with compelling arguments as to why I should do so, and that it is alright to say no if the wellbeing of myself – or others – is at stake. My willingness to please others is a part of my character which I will now be more aware of, and reflect upon, as I go forward in life. Who knew that a dream about ‘the wedding that never was’ could lead to such deep revelations?!