Wow, what a moment. You meet your new vicar & she tells you that she is actually on the National Selection Committee for ordinands to the Church of England, and would you tell her about your calling? Brain freeze! (not counting the pregnancy hormones.) I think I muttered something about lamps shining and Jonah being eaten by a big fish. The irony is, I have pages of diary entries and thoughts on this, and have finally accepted I have a calling to ministry, but to summarise it coherently in a few paragraphs? No idea!
So I'm doing it here, probably for an audience of very few people, and it may freak out my husband. But, it's time....
It is really weird doing this in retrospect, because as it stands now, I cannot imagine a life path to anything else. It's kind of like becoming a mother - first it was a potential, then a possibility, then an actuality which just felt so right. And because - like Moses, like Jonah, like all those people in history who literally begged God for it not to be them - I spent so long resisting His efforts even to get me into a church again, the enormity of my turnaround is so ironic and amazing it's difficult to put it into words.
Luckily, when I spoke almost 2 years ago to our incumbent Anglican priest, she encouraged me to chart my journey, as well as to enrol on a Diocesan programme of study (which has both challenged and strongly confirmed my calling.) So I have diary entries, computer notes, scribbled notes and quotes on bits of paper, that I can now put together to make a partial picture, at least, of something sometimes practical, sometimes spiritual, but always there, if often intangible!
So, my current thinking is, God has me earmarked for ordained ministry, as well as ministering to my family, and He has always had me picked out for this; everything that has gone before contributes towards it. And I know this - how?! Well, aside from receiving spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit and feelings of utter completeness and peace in accepting the challenge; aside from the simple understanding that this is what I should be going on to do, writing the words on pages of a book that has already been written; aside from recognising that, academically and practically, I have been blessed with skills which combine to make me feel equipped for the 'job', I don't really 'know' at all! I still doubt, and I still dither, but ultimately - I believe God Knows. He has His plan/s for me, and I just need to pray and grow into them.
When I do go back retrospectively to 2008, after my baptism but before my confirmation in the Anglican faith, there are certain events I strongly recall:
January 2008 - Working away in Norwich - driving around singing 'This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let It Shine' incessantly, unable to get it out of my head - I didn't have a copy of the song, nor had heard it in years. Staying in a hotel, I opened the Bible up 'randomly' and read a Gospel verse about how you don't light a lamp and put it under a bowl, you put it on a stand, to let it shine. Next hotel, different Bible, different Gospel - same words. At this point I felt that God had something different in store for me than the evaluation work for the government that I was doing...
February 2008 - A Bible study group which left me reeling having experienced the presence of God so strongly within me for the first time. I couldn't tell anyone about this for ages, but I just wanted to sing, laugh and shout. I really did not know what was going on but I was transfixed and transformed by this experience. It was the first time I had told God I would serve Him how he wanted me to serve him, to use me as his vessel, and then & since He poured the fruits of the Holy Spirit upon me. He has taken my willingness to be His humble servant and blessed with me joys, strengths and understanding in the face of adversity.
March 2008: I think the Holy Spirit was with all of us at the New Wine Women's Christian Conference in Harrogate that day. Again, it was the start of a picture coming together for me, an understanding that God has something new in store for me. I had been dreaming about thistles (like I have recently been dreaming about bees), and they were there in the talk about God needing us to come out of our comfort zone to do God's will...
May 2008: As well as Pentecost, it was the 2nd birthday of one of my daughters and both of the girls were absolutely filled that morning in Church, dancing and singing and waving ribbons about. I knew little about Pentecost at that point and for once had let them pick whatever clothes they wanted to wear for Sunday best - and I swear, they both dressed themselves, one all in yellow, the other all in red, matching the ribbons they swang, matching those tongues of fire! Again, I told no one at the time, but I got so much out of the service that day (unusual for me at that stage looking after the 2 girls on my own...)
June 2008: I had taken part in an Alpha course which confirmed all the initial feelings of taking on board what God wants for me. The 'Holy Spirit' away day was wonderful - 'I the Lord of Sea & Sky' in particular spoke to me - but I was aware that I was resisting responding to God's call. This is the part in the story where, for the next year, every so often, usually when I most needed it, our Sophie brings me Jonah and the Whale to read. A year later, she was still doing it - picking it out in the New Wine kids play tent, asking me to read it from my Bible (I do...) - it still crops up even though I am answering the call :-)
August 2008: I finally talk to one of the Readers from Church about everything that has happened during the year. He does not think I am mad. He felt it too when he prayed with me on the Away Day; there is definitely something to take forward. I spend lots of time in contemplation, knowing that there is no urgency, but experiencing such peace that I have shared my knowledge that I am being called to ministry with someone who has experienced something similar. I do start keeping a prayer diary.
September 2008 - Pram Service starts for the academic year & I am one of the new helpers. I don't know how this came about (except I do, really!) but it is amazing how much I am in my comfort zone & love reading the children the Bible story. Although it was not the sort of ministry I envisaged, it works well and I seize the opportunity God has given me.
October 2008 - I finally talk to our priest about the possibilities and opportunities for the future. Rather than sit and laugh at my belief I have a calling to ministry, she is understanding and encouraging. Things feel that they are fitting into place; I am excited! And although the thought of a career in the Church, and the practical steps it will involved, is on my mind, my main feeling is of being filled with God's grace & spirit to be transformed into how/who He wants me to be. My priest feels that enrolling on the Diocesan Certificate course in 2009 will be a good place to start exploring my calling.
November 2008 - "God works out of (human) time, and sometimes subtly, but my role in the huge connected web of the universe is beginning to take on new life now. Not because of me, but because Jesus is in me, or in that part of me which ministers."
January 2009 - "I am just a trainee and I feel confident about my calling but not about my ability to follow it through."
February 2009 - I am more involved in Church life, continuing to help with the Pram Service & also serve on the Women's Group Committee & Baptism Preparation Team. I also start reading from the Bible in Church which is horrendously scary at first, but is now second nature & people often comment on their enjoyment of it (which is lovely but I know it's not their praise that counts.)
March 2009 - "Learning to lead Pram Service & deal with other people's ways is such a huge challenge & I do feel up to the task when God is holding my hand, as He does, but it's still daunting." / "I'm amazed by how RIGHT everything feels. I truly feel that God is taking me by the hand, & is often nearby. And that I've made some 'right' decisions (or I am following my destined path)."
May 2009 - I revisit the Alpha course & this time have more of a function in guiding other believers. I join the ministry team 'Prayer and Praise' group on a Saturday morning and feel completely out of my depth! "Perhaps I need to stop being impatient and see this as preparation time."
June 2009 - I am very much feeling like an enabler in all the intertwined spheres in which I operate, this seems to be my style of leadership. On a Quiet Day with other church members, the image of an oak tree captivates me, and I do feel like a little acorn, which has all its future potential within it from the seed, but it doesn't know it, until over time it puts down roots and begins its growth. I share with the Prayer and Praise team that I intend to start the Diocesan certificate in September.
September 2009 - Beginning the Diocesan Certificate. "I feel the Lord has put me here. It's right, and not more than I can do. But I still resist, & lack faith in myself! This is what I am...wherever it leads. I need to be comfortable realising I don't need to know where it leads (or admit to myself it could lead to leading worship which scares me silly!) Kids, home & family are fine & I would love to rest on my laurels & forget about stretching myself - but I'm determined to start climbing this mountain."
November 2009: During the interregnum at church - "I'm not always filled with ideas about my calling, but despite of (or perhaps because of) the [recent] difficulties I have experienced...I'm feeling it clearly at the moment and I feel I won't budge if threatened by others."
December 2009 onwards: I find out God has blessed us with another pregnancy and spend the next 2 months being completely sick and quite detached from church life (another possible blessing, given the tricky interregnum period.) I find I have to take some time out from my course of study, and my focus in life shifts a little, but the amount I am learning academically and spiritually continues to amaze me, as does the support of my coursemates in my pursuit of my calling.
By July 2010: I have managed to submit all 6 assignments for the course which passed well, and have learned so much. My knowledge of myself, Christianity and ministry have all deepened exponentially in such a short space of time, AND we continue to expand as a family - two things which to me go hand in hand, despite the challenges they may present. Who knows what the next few days will hold, let alone the next few months or years, but I feel I am serving God in many ways and will continue to follow where He is calling me. I have another year of study, with another 6 assignments to possibly write, and then a final year on placement before I 'qualify' as a lay minister in the Church of England. Beyond that? Who knows? God Knows....