Seeing in 2020

I’ve always been one of those people who enjoy being thrown in at the deep end. I like to hit the ground running, roll up my sleeves and just get stuck in with everything. Fortunately this has come in very handy over the last four months as this being my first blog post is testament to how busy I and the community have been!

I’ve been warmly welcomed into my church placements of All Saints Falmouth and New Street Church (part of Transforming Mission) by the leadership teams and the congregations themselves. My home church is St Day so I was

church bbq

Post-church BBQ!

used to the Anglo-Catholicism of All Saints but I also have enjoyed discovering the free and evangelical contemporary style of worship at New Street Church. To me it’s been both sides of the same coin and I’m very privileged to have such a broad church placement. In the mornings I have been a thurifer or a candle bearing acolyte and in the afternoon I’ve led youth groups through the Exodus story, cooked hot dogs for a post-service BBQ, and played bass in the worship band for our Christmas carol service. It’s been a good few months alongside these two wonderful congregations and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in even more in the new year ahead.

My first chaplaincy placement was volunteering alongside the chaplaincy team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital – Treliske, an ecumenical team of Anglicans, Methodists, Roman Catholics and Pentecostal ministers in providing spiritual care, support and advice across the whole of the hospital. I really enjoyed my time in Treliske and found the chaplaincy work rewarding and spiritually nourishing as well, it was something I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would and the role of chaplain in a secular setting is definitely something I’d like to revisit in the future. My placement for the beginning of this year is at St Petroc’s homeless shelter and drop in centre in Truro helping people who find themselves homeless and providing them with support, advice, training, accommodation and opportunities for resettlement. I’ve already done one day and looking forward to getting involved with the organisation.

Saturdays are our study day in the community and I’ve definitely been busy on most of them! Scott and I have gone through a Local Worship Leaders course in Truro to help empower lay people to lead Sunday services and we’ve also been up to Plymouth twice to sit in on SWMTC lectures. I’ve really enjoyed the lectures we’ve attended on those days and getting my head back into an academic way of thinking wasn’t as difficult (or as painful) as I thought it would be! I’m really looking forward to more days in Plymouth this year and have really enjoyed the lectures and being around like minded people on their journey towards ordination or readership.

At Christmas we said goodbye to Scott who joined the community in September with me but it was definitely the right choice for him as he continues to discern God’s guidance in his life and he is always in our prayers as a community. It was sad to see him go but we knew that he had made the right choice. This means for the rest of the year the community is made up of Jem and myself as we explore God’s calling on our lives and our own personal discernment journeys.

So as the new year begins in the Way2Community it’s full steam ahead once more so keep an eye out to read what we get up to!

New Year updates from Jem

Happy New Year from the Way2Community! We hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas time and wish all good things for the start of 2020. For us in the house, 2020 brings a change to the community as one of our community members, Scott, who joined us in September, has now moved back home. This felt like the right choice for him as he continues to discern God’s guidance, but we were sad to say goodbye to him. That means it’s now myself (Jem) and Sam in the house, readjusting to patterns in the house as we’ve dropped from three to two. We’ve also recently lost from the community our deputy warden, Melissa. Again, this felt like the right decision for her at this time, and we are grateful for all she has added to the community over the many years she has been part of it.

Life in the community has been carrying on amidst these changes. From settling in to new parish placements, to experiencing new contextual placements, and from new areas of study, to already looking towards plans after leaving the community in August. I am placed in Mawnan parish this year, and we, along with the rest of the deanery, are in the middle of exploring how we can change and grow to be sustainable for the future. This has already proven to be a really interesting way of reflecting on strengths and weaknesses in our parish, why things are the way they are, and how the people of the congregation and the wider parish shape the way we minister in our particular context. It’s also felt a particularly welcoming and friendly place, and I have been able to get involved in a variety of ways. We alternate services between organ music and guitar music, so I have been playing my violin along with our guitarist on weeks he’s playing, and also a few services over Christmas. I’ve also preached at Mawnan twice so far – once in October, and more recently at midnight mass. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to preach at midnight mass – it felt like quite a privilege, particularly as we get a lot of visitors to church for the midnight mass service, but it seemed to go really well, even with my bright green hair!

Another great opportunity I had last month was playing violin down at Falmouth docks. A statue of Joseph Emidy, slave turned classical violinist, was being dedicated at the mission to seafarers’ cabin, and I was asked to play a few pieces during it. It was fascinating getting to know a little bit about the work the mission to seafarers does, and to see a bit of the docks, which is usually restricted access.

Across the end of November and beginning of December, I was absent from Mawnan, as I was instead doing my cathedral placement. Unlike most of our other contextual placements which we go to on a Monday, for the cathedral placement we go in as many days a week as we can across a shorter length of time. So about 3 to 4 days a week, I got to know the cathedral, how it works, how they minister, and the whole myriad of things that they do. Having come from an open evangelical home church, I’ve never been very familiar with cathedral worship, so one of the main things I took from my placement was simply getting familiar with cathedral worship, and getting involved in ways such as doing readings or being part of the procession – from main Sunday services, to morning and evening prayer, and from evensong to special services. My time at the cathedral was over Remembrance Sunday and the first couple of Sundays of advent, which gave me a sense of the variety of liturgy across the seasons. A couple of times, I gave a short reflection during morning prayer, and a few times I led evening prayer – an experience which though in a new context and space, felt nicely familiar, as we take turns leading morning and evening prayer in our house every day. Another highlight of my time there was getting involved with the school visits that the cathedral does. I was involved with a primary school group visit, who were learning about the cathedral and the history of Truro diocese (I learnt a lot that day too!), and a home school group visit, who did a Christmas themed trip, making various crafts as they heard the Christmas story. Lastly, I also got the opportunity to join in the cathedral’s Windows course – a theological course on various topics they run for anyone interested – and a variety of meetings, where I got a bit of the background on how the cathedral runs, what different roles there are involved in keeping everything running smoothly, and some of the day to day problems that arise and need dealing with. Overall, I came at this cathedral placement knowing almost nothing of how cathedrals function, and it has been fascinating learning more about both the up-at-the-front and the behind-the-scenes of cathedral life.

The cathedral Windows course (Windows into St Matthew) is just one aspect of the study I have been involved with over the last few months. Our main mode of study is through our local ministry training course, SWMTC. Unlike last year where we had weekly evening classes, this year, there have been residential weekends, roughly every month, where people across the south west study together, instead of just those from Truro diocese. As independent students, we just attend the Saturdays, and apart from the early start required to get to Plymouth for 9am, we have been enjoying the challenge of these weekends. The very first lecture we had (having missed the first weekend as we had not begun the community year yet) was I think my favourite so far, as we explored God as I AM, and the symbolism of the burning bush. This was the first time I was studying theology since I decided to apply to study theology at university in September, and it was an excellent reminder of how excited I am to start studying theology full time. Somewhat in preparation for studying theology full time, I have begun independently learning New Testament Greek. Originally, this was because I know I can choose to study New Testament Greek or other biblical languages at university, but have no idea if I would be interested, so wanted to try it out. Now it is safe to say I will be interested, and am carrying on learning it just for fun!

Since that first study weekend, I have received offers back from the universities I applied to and am planning to accept my offer from Durham once I have visited on the offer holders’ day. Unlike Natalie, one of our previous interns who is studying as an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, which is part of Durham university, I will be at Durham as an independent (or ‘normal’) student. However, while I am there, I am planning to follow my own personal rule of life, which I am in the process of putting together. I want to ensure that while I am at university, I have the space and intent to carry on discerning my vocation and to carry on exploring the monastic life, alongside my study of theology, which will, no doubt, both encourage and challenge my discernment. One aspect I want to put into my rule of life to help this is following some pattern of daily prayer – which is simultaneously manageable alongside my study, and enriching. Another aspect is simply ordering my life well – keeping on top of the things I need to keep on top of, and thereby ensuring I have the time and space to carry on discerning.

So, this new year is bringing lots of new changes in the community and for me personally as I carry on exploring my vocation and experiencing a whole range of ministry and study in the process. Whether your year ahead brings many changes, or none at all, I hope that it will be for all of us a year of growth and happiness.

Jem playing violin at Falmouth docks

Old and new

Melissa, Jem, and Natalie at the Greenbelt festival communion

Our commissioning service! L-R: Angela, Sam, Bishop Phillip, Scott, Jem, Melissa

The new year for the Way2Community is well underway, with all its rhythms to adjust to, names to learn, and community dynamics to discover. After a summer break, the new community members and I were commissioned as this year’s Way2 interns just a few days after moving back into the community house, at the start of September. Sam and Scott will introduce themselves on the blog soon, so watch this space!

For my new fellow community members, the start of this year has been predominantly a time of new experiences. They’ve been getting used to a new house, new housemates, the extensive rotas that keep us organised, new parish placements, new out-of-parish placements, scores of new people to meet, our community’s rule of life, new styles of worship and prayer… the list goes on. For me, however, returning to the community for my second year, it has been a time of both old and new experiences, a contrast which really began over summer.

I spent four weeks at home in York over August, and was busy seeing family and friends every day – both a familiar experience of catching up with people I’ve known a long time, and also a new experience: I’ve never been so densely sociable in my life! Being back at home, where I grew up, visiting my home church, day trips to places I know well – all familiar experiences. Undoubtedly the most weirdly familiar experience was going back to college, where I finished my A levels last year, to meet with my old progression tutor and go through my university application with her.

Summer also brought some familiar and brand new experiences with it in the form of Greenbelt, a faith, arts, and justice festival which I went to along with Melissa, the deputy warden of the Way2Community, and Natalie, whose time with the community came to an end in summer and is now just starting as an ordinand at Cranmer Hall. I had been to Greenbelt a couple of times before and so it was wonderfully familiar, but it was a first time for Natalie and Melissa, after I had persuaded them that they would love it. They did! I introduced them to some of the key events (in my opinion) like the LGBT+ Eucharist, the Iona community Big Sing, and the Old Plough folk club, where anyone of any level of ability can get up and perform a folk/acoustic song.

On a semi spur of the moment decision, I got up at the Old Plough folk club and sang a folk song, which, having never sung solo in front of an audience before, I forgot half the words to! I survived, and as they were low on people willing to get up and perform, when they picked on people to take a second turn, I got up again and sang another song which I knew the words to much better. Just as I sat back down, Melissa leaned over to me and asked if I’d be willing to get up with her for us to sing Skye Boat song together. We were much better together than I was on my own! Unfortunately, I had told Natalie not to bother coming to the Old Plough folk club, as there was another event at the same time that she wanted to go to and there was no way I was going to get up and sing. When we met up with her afterwards, she was torn between being proud of both of us for getting up, and being mad that she’d missed it. It took a whole bag of candy floss between us for us to calm down after singing, and it was definitely the most brand new experience of summer, but we are already suggesting songs that we could do next year!

The rest of the summer passed quickly and I was soon on the familiar 8 hour train journey back down to Cornwall. The start of the new community year has brought plenty of familiar experiences for me, as well as plenty of new ones. I’m used to the house, the rule of life, the structure of our days/week, the many rotas we have, the local area, and I’m continuing the placement with the university chaplaincy which I started before summer. However, the start of the new year always brings change, and so I’m getting used to having new housemates, and being in a new parish placement – I’ve moved from the parish of Mabe to Mawnan, the parish which Natalie was placed in last year. There’s also more new experiences on the horizon, with November bringing my cathedral placement, and January bringing my hospital chaplaincy placement, for which I have been preparing this week with my hospital induction and safeguarding training.

Alongside all that the new year of the community brings, I’ve been particularly valuing the rhythm of saying morning and evening prayer together as a community. After the strangeness of not having that rhythm of communal prayer over summer, the liturgy feels familiar and gentle, holding all the busyness and newness of community life. As I look back to this time last year, where I was only just getting used to morning and evening prayer, having not experienced it before, I can see both how it has shaped and supported me, and how it has guided my ongoing process discernment across the year that has passed and the year that is to come.

Saying goodbye

I’ve always sound saying goodbye an incredibly difficult thing, and this is proving to be a week of goodbyes. I’ve said goodbye to the parish of Mabe, who took me under their wing in my first year. I’ve said goodbye to my community as we gathered together for the last time yesterday to celebrate the Eucharist and anoint one another. On Sunday I say goodbye to the parish of Mawnan, who have graciously dealt with my coming and going throughout the year, trying out new things on them (including my BAP presentation!) and learning together as I did new things. And now it’s time to say goodbye to you: the person who follows our community with interest, who supports and prays for us, who likes our silly photos on Facebook or Twitter, and who reads our blog posts from afar. Thank you for journeying with me these past two years. If you’d like to continue to journey with me as my path takes me to the north of England, you can find me at the following places:

Blog: https://onesmallbirdsingsquietlyinthecedars.com/

Twitter: @NatalieAJ95

Little By Little

It’s been a busy month for the Way2Community. On top of the usual busyness of parish life, placements, and the rhythm of community life, we’ve been enjoying spending time as a community while supporting events going on in the local area – from Falmouth’s Sea Shanty Festival, to Stithians barn dance (with resulting sore legs), to the pride on tour event Come Out For Cornwall Pride (with resulting sunburn). It’s also been a month of making steps forward in discernment as we look ahead to our futures.

For two weeks at the start of June, I went and stayed at Mucknell Abbey, an Anglican, Benedictine monastery in Worcestershire. The intention of my stay was to experience Benedictine life, meet members of the community, and get answers to many of my questions as I began to test out my vocation to the monastic life. After a slightly chaotic journey at the end of which I realised I’d managed to get to Worcester using a ticket booked for the wrong day, I arrived at Mucknell Abbey in time for Vespers, the 5:30pm prayer which is one of the 6 daily offices (plus Eucharist) that Mucknell observes.

I spent the first few days mostly adjusting to the monastic rhythm – sung offices, silent meals, and early nights! The first office in the morning is Readings, at 6am. I have to admit, I only made it to Readings three times across the two weeks I was there! But I still got a good experience of the pattern of the daily offices, ranging from the second morning service, Lauds, at 7am, through to Compline at 8:30pm. In between the offices, I spent my time out walking, doing my cross stitch, journaling, and doing lots of thinking, praying, and reflecting! I also was able to meet with a number of the community one on one, to hear about each of their journeys of vocation, how they came to be at Mucknell, and how they experience monastic life in all of its joys and challenges. I went armed with a pretty thorough list of questions to ask while I was there – I did try not to load all my questions on one person at one time!

I also was able to spend time with the community as a whole, seeing a bit of the community dynamics (and hearing a few of the running jokes!). On two mornings a week, they invite guests to help with some of the garden work, so I went out and worked in the kitchen garden – once I had been shown what was a weed and what was a plant – and had the chance to chat with some of the community then. I also was privileged to be let into a number of the community’s activities, which guests are not usually invited to. ‘Lectio and tea’ – I am told that the corporate Lectio Divina cannot happen without being followed by tea; Sunday evening talking supper followed by community recreation; and joining a couple of the community members in their daily work.

My time at Mucknell was full of new things, new experiences, new thoughts, but as I commented during a meeting with Abbot Thomas just a few days into my stay, ‘It feels very ordinary here.’ Once I got used to singing the offices, I really enjoyed the simplicity and rhythm that they hold – and I think it is because they are so central to the life of the community, that the whole of the days likewise feel gentle, meaningful, and ordinary. Spending time informally with the community showed me the sincerity of the more formal times that the community comes together, and having a taster of monastic life at Mucknell made me sure that I want to carry on exploring and testing my sense of calling to monasticism.

I say that I want to carry on exploring this calling, and not that I am 100% sure of this calling, because my time at Mucknell highlighted the ongoing nature of discernment in the monastic life – growth and discernment happen gently, little by little. For a start, the multiple stages someone seeking to enter monastic life goes through before taking solemn vows for life show that this process is not to be rushed through or undervalued. Each stage, from alongsider, to novice, to simple vows (3 years), to solemn vows (life), is important in testing a monastic vocation and so it is a gradual process of discernment, rather than a one time decision. Furthermore, as I am only 19, I was advised that taking a few years doing something else, before committing to joining the community full time, would be wise, as so after some thought and weighing up my options, I have decided I am going to apply to university.

I am planning to apply to study theology starting in September 2020, so I’m currently in the process of comparing courses and universities and deciding where I want to apply. An important aspect for me in looking ahead to three years at uni is that I don’t want to spend three years feeling like I’m delaying following this calling to monasticism. I want to carry on intentionally exploring this call while studying, living the Benedictine life ‘out in the world’ almost like an oblate. I am aware this is going to be challenging, so I am hoping to hear how other people have followed a personal rule of life or lived an intentionally monastic lifestyle by themselves, and so gather advice, guidance, and suggestions that will help when I come to attempt it for myself. Before then though, I’ve got to go through the process of comparing courses, filling out my application, writing my personal statement, working out where I’ll live… lots to think about!

In the meantime, the months are rushing on and my first year down here in Falmouth will be over before I know it. We still have over a month left before we each leave for summer, after which will mean the new year for the Way2Community and new members starting. I’m looking forward to being back in York for a few weeks in summer and catching up with people – but I don’t want this last month to go by too quickly either! While I look to the future with thoughts and ideas buzzing around my mind, I also look to the present, with all its times of busyness and calm being held in the rhythm of our community life now.

Chaplaincy: the listening ear ministry

From Thursday to Saturday of last week, I found myself wandering around fields and avenues passing everything from cows to boutique shops to classic cars to wedding dresses to farm machinery. I was at the Royal Cornwall Show (RCS) – an annual agricultural show which draws thousands of visitors, traders, farmers and others from across the country – to experience life as a Show Chaplain.

As part of my time undertaking the Diocese of Truro’s Ministry Experience Scheme I’ve spent some time with chaplains at a local university and hospital, but when the opportunity arose earlier this year for me to come along and experience a very different type of chaplaincy I leapt at the opportunity. My calling to ordained ministry has long been tied up with my passion for rural communities, and it is the rural church which is at the heart of my previous, current and, hopefully, future experiences of ministry, as well as being the theme around which my undergraduate dissertation was centred. I was therefore thrilled to have the opportunity to experience ministering to people as a chaplain at an agricultural show, which are often the highlights of the year for many rural and farming communities.

The days were long and tiring. I woke up at 5:50am each day in order to leave the house by 6:30am, arriving at the show ground (bumping along the final muddy track which had been severely affected by the torrential rain on the second day of the show) in time to make my way to the Churches Together tent (which was, of course, on the opposite side of the show ground to the car park I had to park in) for prayers at 8am. I would then have a cup of fresh coffee – which was made throughout the duration of the show by a group of enthusiastic volunteers from local churches – before setting off for my first shift. We each had 4 one-hour shifts spread out across the day, between 9am and 6pm, one of which was spent in the tent and the other three out patrolling the show. Whilst in the tent we chatted with visitors, exhibitors and anyone else who might happen to have popped in for a cuppa or to let their children burn off some energy in the play area, and closed our hour with a short prayer which was projected through the speakers into the marquee. When ‘out’ I would wander around the show ground as I was led by the Spirit, which often meant walking in circles or apparently aimlessly! There were a few occasions when I was stopped by someone (usually to ask for directions!) but 90% of my conversations came from me saying “hello” or “good morning” to people as I walked by, and conversations growing from there. Most of my conversations were with stall holders/exhibitors, and I found myself particularly ‘ministering’ to the folks who ran stalls and rides in the fairground. Conversations were mostly about people’s experiences of the show, grumbles about the weather, and just chatting with people who might otherwise have had no one to talk to all day. But there were also some notable times when the conversations naturally went deeper – from conversations about the relevance of the Bible to contemporary life, to someone’s mother experiencing serious health issues as a result of an incident at a previous event similar to the RCS, to conversations about how many Christians would welcome celebrations of same-gender relationships in the church. I said very little in these conversations, and this reinforced what I’ve come to realise about chaplaincy over the course of my various placements: that it is a ministry that is about proving people with a safe space and a listening ear. Of course there were times when I didn’t know what to say or probably said the wrong thing, but there were many more when I found myself saying something that I hadn’t thought through and knew that it was God’s word in my mouth, or found myself thinking “I need to hold this silence for just a moment longer”.

Yes the days were long, I was exhausted at the end of each day (and I still am now!), I was cold and wet, and sometimes I wondered what I was doing there. But it was a privilege to be there, to bring something of God’s love to the people I met, to witness to God’s presence through my presence, to surprise people and to hear the words “you’re not like most chaplains!” There is power in being present and providing a listening ear; and that, to me, is what chaplaincy is all about.

A watched phone does (eventually) ring

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.

Community and Calling

For me, community and calling are very much tied up with each other. Over the last month or so, as my journey of discernment has taken a step forwards, community seems to be both the means and the end to which I discern my calling. In the years since I first felt a calling – though I was unsure what this was to – there was always an interest in intentional community running alongside my journey of discernment. From exploring new monastic expressions of community with a small group and my developing interest in traditional monasticism, right through to my involvement with the LGBT+ community of which I am part, community is something which I have kept returning to, something which I have felt drawn to.

It was for this reason that I joined the Way2Community, a ministry experience scheme where I have been exploring my vocation in more depth and from more experience, but also, importantly, a community of people on a similar journey to my own, committed to each other and supporting each other as we live, work, and pray together. The support and care of community is visibly lived out as we discern side by side, each our own path for the future, but for now, our paths converge. I am reminded of a verse from the song Alone Together, by Paul Brain, on Northumbria Community’s CD of the same name:

Though I cannot live out what God’s planned for you

As our lives converge let us take the same path

Encouragement be in our hearts, on our lips

As we seek to serve the King

I have been particularly aware of this communality over the last month as my vocation has begun to unfold more. This was particularly as a result of the essay I wrote as part of the discernment process, which I decided to title, ‘What would monasticism be for me?’. This was following on from my previous essay, ‘What is a priest?’, as I felt that since I have been discerning between priesthood and monasticism, doing a roughly equivalent essay on monasticism would be valuable – and it was! I decided to make it a more personal reflection than my priesthood essay had been, focusing on Benedictine monasticism and exploring the aspects of it which particularly draw me, the things which I have questions about, and the reasons that I came to believe that monasticism may be what I am called to.

As I was writing the essay, I noticed that I was much more excited about the possibility of monasticism than priesthood, and as I learnt more about a monastic community which I will be doing a two week placement with soon, I realised that many of the things I had questions about were being answered – pretty much leaving me just with all the things that attract me to Benedictine monasticism, and very little that doesn’t. I also reflected that monasticism fits more comfortably and authentically into my experiences of calling across the years than priesthood. And so as I made the terrifying yet exhilarating admission that, ‘I think I am called to be a monk, and I think I want to be a monk’, I was surrounded by the community, encouraging me, helping me articulate my discernment, and trying to assure me that wanting to be a monk isn’t *that* ridiculous. I still have lots of discernment to do, lots of things to experience and test out, but I feel (a little bit) confident in saying that my vocation is to monasticism.

Throughout all this, community life continues, in all its times of busyness and its times of quietness. Easter came and went complete with new experiences as well as familiar ones. We went to the Chrism Mass at Truro Cathedral (a first for me), and joined in with Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together’s walk of witness on Good Friday before going to services in our respective parishes. On Easter Sunday, we went to Truro Cathedral’s Easter Vigil (also a first for me and rather higher, and earlier, than I am used to, though I did sincerely enjoy it!), again before going to services in our respective parishes.

More recently, we had a busy few days with various opportunities. Last Saturday, the Way2Community was invited to lead opening worship for diocesan synod, though we couldn’t stick around for long after the opening worship as we had various other commitments. The next day, I was preaching again, this being the third time I have preached. It was Vocations Sunday, so I enjoyed the challenge of relating my experience of vocation and discernment to the very different context of the congregation’s experiences of vocation and discernment. Then on the Monday, we were leading a service in one of the local care homes with a couple of others from Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together. Only one resident came along, since it was such lovely weather and most of the regulars had gone out for the day, but the service felt very peaceful and worthwhile. After that, in the afternoon, I headed up to the university campus where I have just begun my placement with the chaplaincy team.

And so we as a community continue to walk our paths as they converge and as we discern and experience and pray. There’s a painting which I found some weeks ago, called Forest Path by Val Spayne, which I used to pray with one night, which particularly reflects to me this journeying. It shows the two paths converging into one, which as it gets further and further away, becomes less clear as to where it goes, which way it will turn, but the path for now is marked out clearly.

Forest Path, Val Spayne

BAP: public or private?

Before joining the Way2 Community, when I thought about the possibility of going to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) I imagined it as an event about which I would be very private. I would only tell the date of the panel to a small number of people who I would trust to pray for me throughout, and keep the discernment process as private as possible. But since joining the community, I have found myself immersed in many different communities and different aspects of church (particularly Anglican church) life.

Being part of a scheme which is headed up by the Diocese of Truro, there are people all across Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the two parishes in Devon – which together form the Diocese of Truro – who are aware that I am discerning a calling to serve God as a priest in the Church of England, and are keen to know how I am progressing on this journey. Having visited a handful of theological colleges, to consider where God may be calling me to study if I am recommended for training, I have shared my journey with others who have trodden this path before me, and been assured of their prayers for me. I have moved to Cornwall from Somerset, where I was involved in local churches for many years, and so have friends there, including my ‘home’ church, who love to hear what I’m up to and pray for me. And I’m a part of a community here with whom I share my life, who have been upholding me, hugging me, and promising me cake as a reward after BAP, who know probably as much as I do about my journey!

With so many people who have shown me love and support on this journey, it has naturally become the case that I have been more open about the process than I was expecting. Through conversations, blog posts and social media, I have shared the ups and downs of my journey – from the excitement of visiting a college which felt like the place to which God was calling me, to my handful of pre-BAP wobbles which my community have experienced firsthand. Sharing the process has been incredibly helpful to me as I work through and reflect on my experiences and emotions, and I have been overwhelmed by the prayers that have, are, and will be offered for me. Whilst the journey of discernment is at its heart a private one between myself and God, making this journey more open, more public, has lead me to being surrounding in love, prayer and support more than I could ever have imagined.

Thank you to all those who are praying for me. As the date of my BAP dawns closer, and with it the huge decision about my future that is about to be made, I have reached a place of peace where I am confident that whatever the outcome, I will be held in God’s love and surrounded by people who will support me through whatever the future holds.

Stepping out of my comfort zone

I’ve just returned from the Good Friday service in my parish. Myself and a Local Worship Leader (LWL) lead the service between us, which was centred around the images of the 14 Stations of the Cross in the following pattern:

  • Bible reading
  • Meditation
  • Taize chant
  • A candle was extinguished following the words “the light grows dim. The darkness deepens.”

I was very much looking forward to leading this service. The readings were moving, the meditations hard hitting, and the extinguishing of candles powerful. And then my incumbent suggested that, as we would be sat in the choir stalls to lead this, I should help to lead the singing of the Taize chant. Those who know me will know that I am NOT a singer. Yes, I’ll belt out a Scouting for Girls song when I’m driving alone, but even singing along to folk songs with my community is too much for me as I become uncomfortably aware of my out of tune voice clashing uncomfortably with other – much better – voices. So to be asked to sing loud enough for others to hear me was terrifying.

Thankfully my fellow community member Jem is an excellent singer, and had the graciousness and patience to sit down and teach a very stubborn and unwilling student yesterday afternoon. I was extremely uncomfortable with the whole process, embarrassed at my inability to sing anything in tune or work out how on earth I was supposed to make my voice do what I wanted it to! But with a lot of patience on Jem’s part (and a lot of giggles on mine when they got me singing the words “nee naw” a few times!) we eventually got to a stage where I was comfortable with what I was able to do.

Then came the service itself. I was confident about the readings and knowing what I was doing and when. However, I was extremely nervous about singing the chant, and when our LWL and I practiced singing together before the service began I struggled to follow him. I am not a musician, so managing to sing in vaguely the right way was an accomplishment in itself, and trying to follow his lead was a real struggle. It was then suggested that I should lead the singing, and he would join in with whatever I managed to do. This was a terrifying suggestion! Not only was I going to be singing loudly enough for everyone else to hear, but they would all depend on me starting off correctly so that they could follow! After practicing for a bit longer I was reasonably confident that I could sing roughly what I was supposed to, so I agreed that I would start the chant each time around… All 14 of them!

A running joke in our community is to say “well, nobody died!” as a marker of success if we get through something we thought might go wrong or were anxious about. And you know what, nobody died as a result of my singing so I’d call that a success! Singing at all is a big step outside of my comfort zone. Leading a Taize chant in a church service? That put my comfort zone on a different planet in relation to me! But I’m glad that I did it. And who knows? With more singing lessons from Jem I may be able to sing not one but two Taize chants before long!