It’s 2:59pm on Thursday 23rd May 2019. I’m in the passenger seat of a car on my way back to Falmouth after a meeting in St Austell to discuss my upcoming placement at a church there. Throughout the meeting my mind was at most 75% focussed on the conversations as they happened. The other 25%+ was thinking “not long now, not long now…” Now, as we travel back in the car, chatting to fill the silences that are heavy with expectation, my eyes frequently flick to the digital clock that sits in the centre of the dashboard.
As the numbers edge ever closer to 3pm, my stomach knots in fear, my mouth feels dry and I have to take frequent sips of water. The reason for the heavy expectation, fear, and dry mouth? Today, at 3pm, a report will be sent from the Ministry Division of the Church of England to the Bishop of Truro, a report which will either recommend me (conditionally or unconditionally) or not recommend me to train for ordained ministry in the Church of England. Once he has received the report, the Bishop will then prayerfully consider the report, before deciding whether or not to accept the recommendation of the panel who wrote it.
Soon, I will know whether I am going to train to be priest in the church that I love, or whether I will need to prayerfully discern another path for my future. Today, having lived in a state of uncertainty for so many years, I will finally know in which direction my life will go.
My eyes flick to the clock again. 15:00. I take a breath, glance at the phone that I have held tightly in my hand, and say a quick prayer. Any minute now, it could ring…
3:37pm. We arrived back in Falmouth a few minutes ago, and I promptly shut myself away in my bedroom, the room where I get the most phone signal (and where I could have some privacy to wait without the eyes of my community members on me). A message pops up on the laptop screen in front of me from Jem: “Your coffee is ready down here.” I grab my phone, which has been propped up on a stand beside my laptop, and dash downstairs to grab my coffee, before retreating to my room once again. I return the phone to its cradle and glance at it frequently. They say a watched pot never boils, and it’s beginning to feel like a watched phone never rings. But still I watch it and wait.
4:16pm. I hear feet climbing the stairs and as I instinctively turn to follow the sound, the sound I’ve been waiting for fills my ears: my ringtone. As I hear the voice of Angela (our community warden) call out “Bye Natalie!” I answer my phone with a “Hello?”
4:20pm. 4 minutes. That was all it took for Bishop Philip to tell me that he was delighted to accept the recommendation of the Bishops’ Advisory Panel that I train for ordained ministry. I don’t remember much of that conversation, other than I said “hello” at least 3 times and “thank you” even more. I also remember him reading to me the opening paragraph of the report, which I remember thinking was lovely at the time, but forgot what was said as soon as the call was over! It was also lovely to learn that I am the first person he’s sponsored to train for ministry, still being a relatively new bishop.
I walked down the stairs and silence fell in the living room, where Jem, Angela and Melissa were waiting. I only made it half way down the stairs before I called out – “you can breathe now, it’s good news!” and walked into the living room, grinning.
7:56pm. After hours of my phone pinging non-stop as messages flooded in to congratulate me on my good news, things had finally started calming down. And then, in the midst of the lull, came an email from the DDO containing a copy of the report. I opened it and finally breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the word in bold type on the first page of the report: “recommended“. I was nervous to read the report, having heard many horror stories about reports being filled to the brim with criticisms and unfounded claims, even for recommended candidates. But I was pleasantly surprised to read a report which I felt captured a true reflection of me – something that, over the week, I had said I felt the advisors had grasped – with plenty of areas for growth and learning development, as well as really encouraging comments from the Advisors, such as the following: “we would encourage her to believe in her significant potential in this area.”
I was also finally able to read that opening paragraph for myself, the one which Bishop Philip had read to me on the phone, which I will share below.
“We very much enjoyed meeting Natalie at the Panel. She brought a quiet enthusiasm to the Panel. In Natalie we met a well-grounded and extremely perceptive young woman who we consider to have the great potential for ministry in the Church of England.”
The first 24 hours or so after that call were spent trying to process the news. But things began to feel very real when on Saturday morning an email appeared in my inbox which had initially arrived on Wednesday morning, but which I had decided to schedule to disappear and reappear once I’d heard from the Bishop and had time to process whatever the decision was! It was an email from the Admissions Secretary at Cranmer Hall, the college where I will be training, asking for my accommodation preferences. Having to think seriously about where I want to live now that I know that I am moving to Durham in 4 months’ time really brought home the reality of it all.
Now that the initial shock has worn off I’m filled with joy that my sense of calling has been affirmed, am eager to begin training in September, and am incredibly excited that my training will unfold at the wonderful Cranmer Hall. But as I write this my thoughts are with Jem, who is currently on their way to Mucknell Abbey, where they will spend some time with the community there as they discern their own calling. As you celebrate with and pray for me as I prepare for the next step of my journey, please pray for Jem as they discern theirs.