I am excited to host this guest post by my friend, Jules Middleton, an ordinand in the Church of England.
Anita has asked me to write about my experiences at Vicar School. I am an Ordinand (ie: hoping to end up as a Vicar in the CofE), studying a 3 year part-time Foundation Degree in Theology for Ministry at SEITE (South East Institute for Theological Education). The college covers four dioceses, including both full and part time students, those doing lay courses (ie: they won’t get ordained at the end); and those hoping for paid jobs like me (stipendiary ministry) or those who will be self supporting (NSM or SSM). We all come from a wide range of churchmanship and traditions and are a very mixed bunch.
* * *
So, Vicar School – sounds so jolly nice doesn’t it? Almost conjures up images of greying men in tweed and middle-aged women in twin sets in wood panelled rooms, bibles open on our desks listening intently whilst we are taught good exegesis. Of course, the reality is rather different. On my course, we are very mixed: in age, churchmanship and dress – not sure I’ve seen a single twin set actually!
And it’s nice that we are all so different because we can learn so much from each other, but because so many of us are doing different things it can be harder to form strong relationships. For example there are people I only ever see when we’re away on study weekends which is about twice a term. It does get a bit confusing – I am just over half way through my first year and I think I’m just about getting the hang of it all!
So how did I end up here? Well, just getting into Vicar School is a slog in itself. Getting selected for me meant going through the ‘discernment process’ in the Church of England. My husband always jokes that this sounds like a bunch of bearded polo-necked men in a room thinking a lot, and well, there certainly was a lot of thinking involved. It’s a pretty thorough process that I usually describe as like going through intensive therapy. Very worthwhile but hard work and a bit of an emotional roller coaster too. So when I was finally selected and ready to go to college, it felt like the end of a rather long journey when the reality is, it’s actually just the beginning of another hard slog.
So, the course began back in September last year, with a weekend away with the other first years. Literally thrown in at the deep end: a weekend away with a bunch of strangers in surroundings that would be at home in a Harry Potter movie (ever been to Aylesford Priory?) Trouble with the weekends is that they start on a Friday evening and if you’re anything like me, by Friday evening all I am capable of is vegging on the sofa with a glass of red and some trashy telly.
And yet, here I was, all ready for some academic hard stuff. I’ve got to admit I wrote in my journal on that first evening ‘what the **** I doing here?!’ Since then it’s been pretty full on. We’ve had several weekends away, had some fantastic teaching, done our Mission Placement and begun to form friendships too.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at God working through the course to teach me, mould me and guide me, but I am. From the first term’s teaching on church history, which I thought would be massively dull but actually really loved; to getting fed up with more traditional worship styles (I’m a charismatic) and then finding myself weeping uncontrollably during a Eucharist. From reluctantly starting the discipline of the Daily Office and then finding that God speaks to me through it every day; to realising that at heart I am an Anglican. It’s been quite staggering really (especially the Anglican bit…).
I’m also loving how what I am studying is really feeding into my work – I work for my church and it’s amazing how things that seem pretty irrelevant just slot into what I am working on. For instance, I’m currently preparing a report for church on mission and growth, most of which will also feature in an essay I’m doing (rather convenient that one…)
Of course there are still moments when I wonder what on earth God has got me into. Weeks when I have work and college deadlines looming, or when my kids are on school hols and I still have to find time to study, or, as is coming up shortly, planning for the dreaded whole week away at Easter. There have been days when I have wished that I were the kind of person who would be content to be a stay at home mum, when it all seems just too much.
And yet these are the moments when I am reliant on God more than ever. To be honest, without him I think I’d have walked away after the first evening.
So, as I look ahead there is a certain level of mild panic at what the future holds, at where God might send us, but at the same time there is excitement too. I have learned so much already and yet I still have so much to learn. I am loving learning, loving getting back into academic writing, loving the reading (well most of it, not so sure on Kantian ethics….) and the research.
This is a path that whilst being terrifying and unsettling, also feels completely right and where I am meant to be.
Over to you: Have you considered ordination, or been through the selection process or “Vicar School”? Share your story?
P.S. Jules is asking for your help if you’ve been through the discernment process.
Jules Middleton is a mum and wife, Christian, artist, ordinand and blogger. Her blog Apples of Gold reflects her Christian journey in every day life.