I was commissioned as a Church Army Officer in 2000, and spent 9 years working in parishes, mainly with children and families. In 2009, I began ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon. I married Clare in July 2000, and our first child, Nathan, arrived on September 22nd 2010.
Half-term started at lunchtime today (lasts until Monday teatime), and so this is a good opportunity to stop and reflect on the last 5 weeks.
The biggest challenge over this time has been getting the balance right with regards to use of time. It is so important to get this right now - not only for personal well-being, but also for the well-being of Clare & Nathan, and, in the future, to model an appropriate way of 'being' in a Christian community. So I have deliberately been keeping evenings completely work-free, in order to both have some quality family time, and also to give Clare some help, as she is, of course, looking after Nathan all day! (Although this is one of the great things about being in a community, as she is able to come to college for lunch every day, so we see each other for an hour then).
I know there will be some who disagree, but I believe the calling to be ordained is different from, not more important than, the call to be a husband and father. It's something which has concerned me in the past, as a Church Army officer - seeing some Christians (not just clergy) spending far more time engaged in 'churchy' activities than with their families.
This, to me, is simply wrong. I believe God has, for want of a better expression, a 'holistic approach' when he calls individuals. By that I mean that he calls the whole person, which includes everything about them, such as family, interests, previous experiences and so on. This doesn't mean that we stay as we are - more often than not there is transformation, renewal, growth and more. And there will be aspects of our lives that we are called to leave behind. But we remain, intrinsically, the person we were when "God formed us in the womb".
And so to the importance of getting the balance right. Or, more accurately, of not compartmentalising our essential personhood into different categories, but rather allowing our faith and our calling to permeate every aspect of our lives. If Christ is at the heart of our lives, we will find him at the heart of our relationships with others, at the heart of our work, at the heart of our leisure activities. And then the question of balance becomes a moot point, as the God who is interested in every aspect of our lives will prompt us whenever we start paying too much attention to any one at the expense of others.
So last night, I led Compline for the second time since arriving at college. For those wondering, yes I did sing it! This is one of my goals for this year: to become more confident and competent in singing the offices - to that end, I intend to lead Compline at other points during the year, and have signed up to an optional group that will look at singing the liturgy of the Eucharist after Christmas. I have no illusions about becoming an 'expert' singer, but if I can reach the stage where I am at least competent, then I will be happy.
From that point of view, last night went well, I think. Two people who were there commented positively, so that is a good sign! I naturally sing it a little slower than most people - I suspect that is something to do with breath control - but that isn't wrong, simply different.
Compline itself is a lovely service, and one that I sadly don't get to as much as I would like. To quote the Church of England, it is above all a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day. At Cuddesdon, it marks the beginning of the 'Greater Silence', after which no one speaks until breakfast the following day. As a peaceful way of rounding off the day, it is something which I find immensely valuable.
We're into the 3rd week proper of the new year, so time for an update on what this year holds.
Academically, I have to complete 4 more modules this year, each of which is assessed by long essay (6-7000 words). The modules I am doing are:
Doctrine. The lectures are basically following the statements of the Creed, which in theory should be very interesting. Sadly, the two lectures we've had in Oxford so far have been singularly uninspiring. I know they are at undergraduate level, but it feels like they are pitched at 6th form level, if that. Fortunately, we have an excellent lecturer taking weekly seminars at college, so I think most of the learning will be happening there!
Old Testament. There was a choice between Old & New, and I decided to go for this one simply because I know less about it! The set texts are 2 Samuel, 2 Kings, Job, and 10 of the Psalms, and, as with last year, we have to write an essay on each one.
Christian Worship. This comes in 2 parts: Liturgy and the Sacraments - both very important for the future! For my long essay, I've decided to explore the use of vestments in worship - not something which everyone in the Church of England agrees about!
Mission & Ministry. This covers various aspects of mission & ministry, including pastoral care, and my long essay will be a detailed theological reflection based on the summer placement at Dorchester Abbey
My placement this year is at Exeter College, with the Chaplain. There are Sunday morning and evening services, as well as midweek evensongs and a Friday lunchtime discussion group. It is going to be very challenging being with lots of highly intelligent students and academics!