Milestones and fuelling stations

First published 9th June 2015

Vocation in any form is costly in all sorts of ways and does involve leaving things behind. Be prepared to be surprised if you genuinely open yourself up to following God's call wherever it leads.

James Harris reflects on his forthcoming ordination to deacon at Bristol Cathedral on Saturday 4 July; his preparations for it and life afterwards as he starts his curacy in Stoke Bishop.

As I sit down to write this a month before my ordination, Bishop Lee has just posted a blog quoting RS Thomas poem The Bright Field which is strangely relevant to what I want to say about ordination itself, preparation for it and life after it.

The poet cautions against hurrying on to a receding future in favour of turning aside to see promised eternity in the present moment. In this salutary reflection, there is for me something particularly pertinent to this period of preparation for ordination and the important balance there is to be struck between being and doing.

It would be easy to characterise the last three years as a flurry of deadlines, timetables and programmes aimed at building up my gifts and competencies in ministry. I could easily call to mind the essay on Christian doctrine which almost brought me to tears through its sheer mind-bending complexity or the seemingly endless round of self-assessment matrices and reflections required to show how much Id learned and progressed.

But to paint that picture would be to side-line the many spontaneous but deeply meaningful conversations with fellow students, amazing moments of worship and prayer, and a sense throughout of being gently but significantly shaped and built up which is perhaps most easily recognisable only now that Im preparing to move on.

In truth, in the words of the former principal of my training college, it has been the formation rather than the in formation which I have most valued about this period of training and which I feel will equip me best for whatever lies ahead. It manifests itself in various ways both at a deeply spiritual level in things like an enhanced prayer life, a heightened awareness of God and a bolder confidence in my vocation, but also in the everyday: I find I now listen to more Radio 4 than Radio 2, for example - although dont let that put you off; it could just be age!

Although the event of the ordination service looms large on the horizon right now (and it can sometimes feel like all roads are leading to this one morning in the Cathedral), I feel I need to remember that there has been great value in these three years in their own right; they have not just been a means to an end but an important season of drawing close to God and being shaped by him of noticing the treasure in the bright field, to return to Thomas. This would remain of the greatest value even if, for some reason, I did not attend a service at the Cathedral in a few weeks time.

But the likelihood is, of course (God willing) that I will be at the Cathedral on 4th July and, if Im honest, I dont really know what to expect of that service. I hope and believe it will be a time of affirmation and strengthening for the onward journey, an important milestone and fuelling station, if you like, for the next stage of this formational journey. Some believe there will be a moment of ontological change (to use the jargon) in the service at which an old self is left behind and a new one inhabited.

That may or may not be true Ill let you know! - but I think I prefer to express that change in terms of the ongoing transformation of my overall Christian journey; a gradual fleshing out and a fulfilling of the person I was created to be but have only partially inhabited to date. In other words, I am expecting the moment of ordination to be a further step among many (albeit a very special and significant one) towards the fullness of life which Christ promises and to which we are all growing in our own unique ways.

Advice to others? Vocation in any form is costly in all sorts of ways and does involve leaving things behind. Be prepared to be surprised if you genuinely open yourself up to following God's call wherever it leads. And always savour the good things God is giving you here and now, the way he wants to use you right now as well as looking forward to the new things into which he will undoubtedly call you and for which he will equip and anoint you if they are truly the things he is calling you to.

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