It is now coming up to a year since I was ordained Deacon and joined St. Anne’s Church. At the end of this month I will be ordained Priest (30th June, 7:00pm, St. Wilfred’s Church, Standish, everyone welcome!).
This has got me thinking about my ordination last year and how I felt as I prepared to have my collar put onto my neck for the first time. If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt, I’d pick the word … terrified!
I thought I’d share something I wrote at that time with you. But first let me say, if you still, even after a year, believe that I’m some amazing “vicar man” and you don’t want to have that image destroyed, then can I suggest you don’t read any further. Just put the magazine down and go and make a cup of tea … still here? Ok, I did warn you!
In two weeks I get ordained. Two weeks. That’s fourteen days. Three hundred and thirty-six hours. Just a few more turns of the earth on its axis and I’ll be walking around with a dog collar on.
I first came to the conclusion I was called to be ordained six years ago. Since then I’ve had to have numerous meetings with a vocational adviser, followed by many meetings with the ‘assistant Diocean Director of Ordinands’, undergo a Diocean Panel, have more meetings with the Diocean Director of Ordinands, go to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel and have three years at theological college. Now I’ve brought my clergy clothes, met my new parishioners and moved into my church owned property. So why, oh why, is it that I’m absolutely terrified?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited too. Eager. A huge part of me can’t wait to get on with the job. But another half of me just wants to run and hide. Part of me expects the bishop to turn up at the door and simply say, ‘I don’t think so! We both know you’re not up to this’. And you know what, I think I’d just drop my head and slowly nod agreement. I’m not up to this, I’m just not.
Just on a practical level, I’m not sure I’m up to it. Keeping organized, writing sermons that are actually worth listening to, offering any kind of help to those who lose love ones. The list could go on and on. I’m simply not up to it.
But I’m even more sure I’m not up to the projection of a vicar that people have in their heads. I get impatient. I get cross. I lust and swear when I hurt myself. I find certain people irritating. I struggle with small talk. I hate pomp and ceremony and mindlessly reading out words. Some of the thoughts in my head are, well, how shall we put it … not ‘vicar-like’! A song I love says “Who I am is full of contradiction. Faithfulness and friction the companions of my heart.”. That’s me and more than I can explain, that’s why I’m terrified. I’m just not pure enough, not strong enough.
All I can hold on to is the apostle Paul’s statements about his own weaknesses:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:9-10
So if you’re one of my future parishioners, please be patient with me. I’m not really vicar material, I just slipped through.
But be that as it may, in two weeks, when I stand at the front of Blackburn Cathedral and promise to give my life to serve God and his church, I promise I’ll mean it and, while no doubt I’ll mess up, I will truly try my best.
God help me! (and I mean that quite literally).
As I now prepare for my ordination as Priest the truth is, if anything, I’m even more scared. Any idea that once I was working in full-time ministry I would suddenly be free of mistakes and effortlessly shine the radiance of a Godly life everywhere I went, any illusion that I’d suddenly transform into the perfect vicar has well and truly disappeared.
I have been here a year and, if you are a regular at St. Anne’s, you will know that I have made mistakes. But when I stood in Blackburn Cathedral a year ago and promised to give everything I have to serve God and his church, I meant it. And when I stand in St. Wilfred’s Church in a few short weeks and again promise to serve God and his church, I promise you I really will mean it.
So I have a favour to ask of you. Could you do something for me? Please be patient as I try my best to serve you. But, more than that, will you join me?
The truth is that none of us are perfect and God doesn’t think we are, but he calls all of us to serve him in our own stumbling, imperfect ways and to trust that, so long as we come with a willing heart, he can and will use our work, in some small way, for the growth and flourishing of his kingdom. As I try and follow the path God has given me, however faulty and deficient my attempt is, will you join me in seeking to follow God in this place?
Who knows, maybe we’ll be stronger together? Maybe that’s what the church is for?
God bless you,