It’s been well over a year since I’ve blogged. What has encouraged me to write this post is that I’ve been struck by how poor “The Church” is at having conversations about difficult things. This has been clear for a while as we’ve argued about whether or not women can be Bishop’s. As we continue to debate about equal marriage and whether the Church of England should offer them, it would be nice to think we’ve learned the lessons. I don’t think we have.

The key problem is that we need to have a conversation, not a debate. We need to listen to each other, not be constantly formulating our next brilliant answer. Being human beings is more important than winning. Twitter is particularly unhelpful in this (in my opinion).

Sadly, I don’t get to set the rules of the conversation, but if I did, these would be them…

1) When debating on Twitter don’t feed the trolls. In particular that means not responding to people who say things like “Homosexuality is wrong”. That is a statement that needs some serious unpacking before it can be engaged with (What, just being homosexual? Or do you mean homosexual sex acts? What do you mean by wrong? How wrong and why?). If someone is tweeting that, responding by name calling, general contradictory statements or ridicule (however much it may be deserved) is unlikely to get you anywhere constructive.

2) Remember that we are all complex human beings. Not everyone who thinks the Church should conduct weddings for same sex couples is a heretic and not everyone who thinks it shouldn’t is a bigot. Some people who think the Church should not solemnise same sex marriages are totally fine with the state offering them. Some gay people aren’t keen on the idea of same sex marriage. There are people who are Guardian reading lefties but who would not like same sex marriages in Church and some Telegraph reading Conservatives who are in favour of it. People are complicated and you can’t tell much about them from their views on one topic.

3) Don’t talk what the Bible says or doesn’t say if you can’t back it up. The key issue here is that people often just regurgitate something that someone else has told them and they haven’t gotten to grips with it properly. I’m as guilty as the next person of that (hence you don’t see me on Twitter pretending to be a Bible scholar). Really, it’s not helpful. Again, Twitter is a nightmare for this, there are countless arguments along the lines of

Person 1: “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong”
Person 2: “No, really it doesn’t”
Person 1: “You’re reading a different Bible to me”
Person 2: “No, I’m reading the same Bible, I have a different interpretation to you”
Person 1: “But you’re wrong”
Person 2: “No, you’re wrong”

Obviously, Person 2 committed a sin by engaging with someone who tweeted “Homosexuality is wrong” – See point 1. But no-one is edified and neither person has any idea what the other person thinks or why they think that. This is not a conversation it’s a totally pointless exchange of views.

In a week when Caroline Farrow got spat on in the car park after speaking out against equal marriage on Question Time and Vicky Beeching got trolled on Twitter for supporting it, I’m not feeling particularly hopeful!

It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to reflect on what has happened and look forward to what is to come. I thought I’d join in…

2012 has been a significant year for the Berry Family. I spent 1/13th of it,in Kwa Zulu Natal, two weeks in at the end of January and another two in September. South Africa is an amazing country and I find myself playing with Skyscanner, looking at flights and dreaming on a regular basis!

We also purchased a bell tent. We felt that this was necessary because we’ve spent so much on South Africa that camping seems to be the only sensible holiday option for the rest of our lives. It’s a great tent, it poses no threat to our marriage (it’s laughably easy to put up), but because the thing is white, M wakes up at dawn which is less than ideal!

I never cease to be amazed when our wedding anniversary comes round. C and I have been Mr and Mrs Berry for 11 years now. She will surely realise her mistake at some point.

My life with God is getting better. I am making more space to be with him more regularly. It’s too easy to let the job take over and for all your prayer time to be part of public worship. I wouldn’t say I’ve nailed it yet, but I continue to improve!

As a family, we spent five weeks in London in October/November. I was on placement in Shadwell. It was a great five weeks and good to be doing something different.

So, that’s some of what has happened in 2012, what about 2013?

This coming year is significant. I finish my curate training in July and as soon as the New Year begins I will start looking seriously for jobs to go to. It’s both scary and exciting. I’m ready to leave my current post, and in fact being away for a lot of this term means it feels like I’ve started the process of disengagement which is something I need to be careful about, I could find myself here for another 18 months! Traditionally the process of discernment has not gone smoothly for me, so I am anxious that I will apply for many, many jobs and get something at the last possible moment. I am very clear that God has his hand on the process and am willing, in fact keen, to let it all unfold to his timing and plan, nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be enjoyable.

There will be camping. M will end the year being three. God will be at work.

28th December 2012 (Friday). | No comments

Lay Incumbency

Disclaimer: If you’re not interested in the workings of the Church of England, you might find this post dull.

The Church of England faces a number of problems in how clergy are deployed.  In particular, there are more clergy retiring than new, full time stipendiary (i.e. paid) clergy starting.  Even if that weren’t true, money is more scarce, and clergy are better paid than in the past, so we possibly couldn’t afford to have as many anyway.

Over the last few years that has led to most dioceses merging parishes so that the number of clergy they had was broadly in line with a target set centrally which reflected the shrinking numbers of clergy available.  In most cases that process has met the targets set for 2012.

The central Church has now decided that it won’t set targets for the future.  Dioceses may have as many full time stipendiary ministers as they want, can attract and can pay for. (I’m sure there is more nuance than that, but this is effectively the case).  As the targets ran to 2012, many dioceses are setting out their deployment strategy for the next few years.  I guess many will be doing what Southwell and Nottingham are doing (the diocese I serve in) and setting a strategy to 2020, because 2020 sounds cool.

Indeed, we have a new deployment strategy for 2020.  You can read the document approved by the diocesan synod here.  What it says is that our diocese will keep the number of key leadership posts (essentially a church leader) roughly the same as it is now.  We are unlikely to be able to keep as many clergy though, so we will pursue a strategy of lay incumbents with sacramental support from retired or self supporting clergy.

I have to admit to being slightly confused about this.  If someone is the key leader in a church and licensed to that place to that role by the Bishop, they have pastoral resposibility  and provide a focal point for ministry in that place, then they are a priest by definition whether they have been ordained or not.

Secondly to have a lay person as leader with “sacramental support” from a priest is a severely reductionist view of priesthood.  The Church considered lay presidency in 1994.  The reason it gave for not allowing it is that presidency at communion is a function of the pastoral responsibility of the priest in that congregation.  To deliberately split those roles seems a strange choice.

The strategy requires deaneries to consider what kind of ministry is appropriate for a particular place.  I can’t imagine many circumstances where the answer would be a lay incumbent.  I have been to an Anglican church where the senior leader was a lay person (they are currently in the process of getting ordained), but it was a church plant and one of the earliest appointments was a full-time stipendiary priest who essentially had day to day pastoral responsibility.

What I’m not really sure of is whether this is a national picture, or whether my diocese is doing something “innovative”?  Any thoughts?

Today I’ve been on one of my regular(ish) pilgrimages to Durham. In fact I’m at the resonance station waiting for the train home.

It’s a four hour journey to Durham and a four hour journey home to spend one hour chatting to one of my old tutors about how life is and how it might relate to God. You may think I’m mad, but my priestly ministry would fall apart without it.

My spiritual director is a pretty good guy, inspiring to be around and pretty deep. But it’s not him I’ve really come to meet. I’ve put myself out to spend an hour with God.

It’s valuable because my SD is not my best friend, but he is friendly. He does not let me get away with things, but he is gentle. He often tells me things I already know, but he doesn’t present this stuff as new information. He listens but doesn’t pry.

For many years I was put off spiritual direction because I carry enough of my own guilt without someone giving me another list of things to do that wouldn’t get done and would make me feel worse. Instead, God has blessed me with two in a row who listen to me and listen to God and try and bring me a little closer to Him.

So, I’ll keep on making my pilgrimage-by-train until the time comes for the next thing.

We will remember them

It’s the Mansfield Festival of Remembrance at the Palace Theatre tomorrow.  I’m the resident ‘Dog Collar’ for the event (a job I got by being in the wrong place, wearing the wrong shirt at the wrong time!).

The event (a sell out every year) is organised by the Royal British Legion and will have service personnel presenting colours, a war time sing-a-long and some entertainment.  Towards the end are some prayers which I do with the local Salvation Army officer.

In some sense it’s a strange thing for me to be doing.  I’m quite a liberal (in a political sense at least) and I don’t really agree with the fundamental principles of war.  I’m not even sure that the doctrinal fudge that is just war theory is really very satisfactory.

All that said, yes I am glad brave men and women stood up to Hitler, of course I am.  In my own naive way, I just wish they hadn’t had to.

But, I do, wholeheartedly, believe that if we’re going to put young men and women’s lives at risk by sending them to fight in other countries, we had better look after them well.  We should remember the sacrifices they have made over the years and still do.  Help for Heroes shouldn’t need to exist, we sent them out there, we should look after them properly when they return.

So despite my uncertainty, I will count it a privilege to say my three prayers tomorrow afternoon and show my respect for those who are sent by the State to put themselves in danger.  We should remember them.

Drink Deep

On Thursday I went to Durham to visit my spiritual director. We take an hour to talk about life, what God is saying and how my spiritual life is developing. This time we were talking about dealing with stress. We all have our own ways of getting through the day. When I’m stressed I get headaches and eat rather more than is healthy. If you came to see me, I would tell you to bring your anxieties to God and get his peace. I’ve read Phillipians 4:4-7 so I know the answer.

Yet, knowing the answer is a bit pointless if you don’t follow your own advice (and I often don’t). So how do I change my settings and live out the things I believe to be true? Well, the best way is to develop and deepen my life with God.

In the story of the woman at the well (John 4, read it, it’s good!), Jesus tells the woman that if she asked him, he would give her a spring of water to draw upon, rather than coming back to this well every day. I think that’s a powerful picture for us of our Christian walk.

Think for a minute about a well. Wells are good. There is safe water there and, generally, they don’t run dry. Whenever you need the water, you can let down the bucket and get some. Pretty good really.

But Jesus tells the woman that a well is not good enough. She can instead have a spring. The water just bubbles up. All the time. In fact, springs overflow. More water than you need for the moment, in fact enough to give away, enough to supply the water needs of others. If you’ve got your own personal spring, a well seems pretty poor in comparison.

So how do we get a spring? How do we get enough of God that it overflows from us, that we find ourselves agreeing with the Psalmist, ‘my cup overflows’ (Ps 23). The good news is that the spring is there, we don’t have to build one. Jesus’ promise to the woman at the well holds good for us too. If we follow him, he gives us a spring of life that is never exhausted. What we need to do is make time to notice that it’s there.

Some of us (myself most definitely included) are often thirsty for more of God. But we wait until we’re pretty dehydrated until we start our trek to the well, whether that’s spending some time in prayer and worship, taking a walk somewhere beautiful or going on retreat. The challenge that my spiritual director has left me with is to live like I have access to the spring and to make the most of it each and every day. I know that God is always there and ready to meet me, but does my life reflect that truth?

How to become a vicar

I wrote this as an e-mail for the people at work when I was first going through the discernment process, and some of them found it a really helpful explanation of the steps to becoming the Rev. That was a couple of years ago, but it still basically holds true and relates to the Church of England.

There are three stages to pursuing your dream of wearing a cassock and dog collar.

Training and
Curacy (although technically you get your dog collar and cassock after the training stage)

Unfortunately, it is not possible simply to speak to your vicar and say “I really think the Lord might be saying I should be a vicar” and that’s that, although that would be the place to start. If your vicar agrees that the Lord might be saying you should join the ranks s/he will start you on the discernment process. What happens next varies from diocese to diocese, but essentially is a process of trying to hear from God and making sure that this is what he wants!

Typically, you have to meet with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (no wonder everyone calls them the ‘DDO’) who is paid to listen to you and God and work out whether it’s right that you are called to ordained ministry. Usually you will be sent to see someone else too, usually not a vicar. In St Albans, for example, they like to make this person someone who is trained in psychotherapy, in Peterborough Dioecese a lay person who has experience of testing vocation. This is to get the perspective of someone who isn’t ordained on the process of listening to God.

Once the DDO is satisfied, they will send you to see the Bishop. The Bishop will chat to you for a while (usually not more than an hour, bishops are busy people!) and have read a report about you by the DDO. It is up to the Bishop to make the final decision as to whether you should be allowed to train for Revdom. If they think you are a likely candidate, they will send you to a Bishop’s Advisory Panel which is a 3 day event where you have 3 interviews, a group exercise and a pastoral letter to write amongst other things. The Bishop’s Advisory Panel then advise the bishop (strangely enough) as to whether you should be trained for a life of vicarage.

The Bishop then decides. He can accept the panel’s advice, or he can ignore it, it’s his choice. If he says yes, you will then start training. From the first conversation with your vicar to this point can (exceptionally) be a few months, is most often at least a year and in St Albans diocese they like to really really know you want to be a vicar, so the process usually takes around 2 years (although they have a new DDO now, who may do things differently).

Training takes either 2 or 3 years, depending on your age and whether you have done any formal academic theology in the past. As a rough guide, if you are 32 or older, or you have a degree in theology already you will do 2 years, otherwise it’s 3. Usually, training takes place at a Theological College (the Church of England does not call them bible colleges!), and is full time. It is possible to do the training part time, but if you’re training to be a full time vicar, it has always seemed sensible to me to do the training full time.

Once you have graduated Theological College or Course you will spend four years doing ‘on the job training’ as a ‘Curate’. Your dream of vicardom is close at hand. At the start of the first year you will be ordained by a Bishop in a Cathedral as a ‘deacon’, which allows you to take services, funerals and baptise people.  Technically at this point you can marry people (conduct the service, not get married to them) although this is not generally encouraged).  After you’ve completed your first year you’ll be ordained a second time, but as a ‘priest’ which means you can absolve people of their sins, take a service of holy communion and bless people and things.  Then after the four years is up you can apply for a job running a church of your own!

So, from first thoughts to full on ‘Hi, My name’s Dave and I’m the vicar’ takes around 8 years, it’s not an easy process, but as someone who is now serving as a curate, it’s totally worth it!

New Year’s Resolutions

So, inspired by a friend I’m also setting out my resolutions for 2011.  There are two things I’m planning to do.  The first is to blog more often.  I think I’ll manage that given that my total number of blog posts in 2010 is probably less than 10!

The second is to take a photo everyday.  I’ve only got a point and shoot digital camera with an LCD screen (it was a Which? best buy).  I find normal cameras difficult because I failed to learn the ‘closing one eye’ skill when I was growing up (it makes wink murder very difficult if I happen to be the murderer).  The idea of taking a picture every day is that I will be able to take better pictures by the end of the year.  I’ll try and post the resulting pictures here (which will help with the first resolution).  I’ll be helped by this ace book I was bought for Christmas.

So, here comes 2011, hopefully I’ll be seeing you here often.